Legal Storage of a firearm in California

I keep seeing people writing annoying things like this (bold is mine)

I called the local chp office about [gun] transport laws
and the supervisor told me that basically I could either:
A: Put my unloaded gun in my trunk (locks not needed) and ammo in the cab.
B: Locked guns in the cab (no case) and ammo in the trunk. Yes, I can have the ammo stored in clips and mags.

“…and you’ll be ok

My response:

To say that your ammunition must be stored in a different container from your firearm is incorrect. Here is the text from California Firearms Laws 2007 (local copy)

First, what defines a “loaded” firearm?

A firearm is deemed loaded when there is a live cartridge or shell in, or attached in any manner to, the firearm, including, but not limited to, the firing chamber, magazine, or clip thereof attached to the firearm. A muzzle-loading firearm is deemed loaded when it is capped or primed and has a powder charge and ball or shot in the barrel or cylinder. (Penal Code § 12031(g).)

For the purposes of Penal Code section 12023 (commission or attempted commission of a felony while armed with a loaded firearm), a firearm is deemed loaded when both the firearm and the unexpended ammunition capable of being discharged from the firearm are in the immediate possession of the same person.

Where may a firearm be stored in a vehicle?

Section 12025 (the part about it being an illegally concealed firearm) does not apply to or affect any of the following:

the firearm is within a motor vehicle and it is locked in the vehicle’s trunk or in a locked container in the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment,

To be even more specific, let me refer you to the actual text of the law

12026.1.(a) Section 12025 shall not be construed to prohibit any citizen of the United States over the age of 18 years who resides or is temporarily within this state, and who is not within the excepted classes prescribed by Section 12021 or 12021.1 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, from transporting or carrying any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person, provided that the following applies to the firearm:
(1) The firearm is within a motor vehicle and it is locked in the vehicle’s trunk or in a locked container in the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment.
(2) The firearm is carried by the person directly to or from any motor vehicle for any lawful purpose and, while carrying the firearm, the firearm is contained within a locked container.
(b) The provisions of this section do not prohibit or limit the otherwise lawful carrying or transportation of any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person in accordance with this chapter.
(c) As used in this section, “locked container” means a secure container which is fully enclosed and locked by a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or similar locking device.

(If the above link doesn’t work, go here and do a search checking the “Penal” check and searching for “12026.1”)

You will notice that there is no mention of storing the firearm in a different container from the ammunition. So feel free to put your unloaded (the standard definition… no ammo in the gun) firearm in the same locked container as your loaded magazines. These two things can be loose in your trunk, or in a locked box in the passenger compartment; the glove compartment isn’t considered a locked box but something like a GunVault is.

Also note that the firearm must be unloaded because statute 12031 says that having a loaded firearm in most places is illegal. There’s a list of exceptions like your place of business and your legal residence but they are illegal on public streets, public places and many other places.

28 Comments

  1. Lee says:

    It’s not just the men in blue in this case. CalGuns.net is full of people saying that you “should” store your ammo separate from your firearm. They don’t say “must”… it’s that none of them have read the law.

  2. […] Lee (re) discovers that listening to legal advice from cops is like taking astronavigation advice from lunch ladies. […]

  3. Lee says:

    Here is an important rebuttal I made to someone on Calguns.net

    Mudcamper wrote:
    >”A firearm is deemed loaded when there is a live cartridge or shell in, or
    >attached in any manner to, the firearm, including, but not limited to, the
    >firing chamber, magazine, or clip thereof attached to the firearm.”

    >Note the placement of the comma after the word “magazine”….

    The grammatical structure of the sentence and it’s commas assume that all the parts of the firearm are integral. For example, the firing chamber is (and obviously must be) a part of the firearm. Likewise, the magazine is a part of the firearm in this sentence. If the magazine is a part of the firearm, as it is in any firearm with a fixed magazine (IE a “legalized” AR-15), then this is an important point. In this situation, the firearm may have ammunition in the (fixed) magazine without it being in the chamber. All that is needed to get into a ready-to-fire position is to draw the slide back. Some may consider this “unloaded” but this law does not.

    If the magazine is not integral, then the grammar of the sentence falls apart because a magazine without the rest of a firearm isn’t a “firearm”.

    This leaves us with two situations, though it may be hairsplitting, it helps define what they’re saying:

    1 – a firearm with an integral magazine that is loaded is considered a “loaded firearm” because the magazine is (permanently) attached.

    2 – a firearm with a detachable magazine with the magazine in the firearm is considered a “loaded firearm” because the magazine is (temporarily) attached.

    Likewise, a firearm with a detachable magazine with the magazine NOT in the firearm is not considered a “loaded firearm” because the magazine is not attached.

    Therefore, a firearm with a detachable magazine is not considered “loaded” unless the loaded magazine is in the firearm.

    Stated very simply: “Gun and ammo in one machine = loaded. Gun and ammo in separate places = not loaded”

    A corollary that is unimportant to our current discussion is that if you are in the process of committing a felony, a different statute applies.

  4. Lee says:

    In the discussion on Calguns, hoffmang mentioned (and then discussed very well) a precedent that reinforces my interpretation.

  5. savage says:

    Just a warning. During a Police Academy course, a visiting California D.A. made it perfectly clear the he and other D.A.s have succesfully stretched, to the point of conviction, that a firearm and it’s munition, which are both witihin arms reach of a vehicle occupant (i.e. gun in the glove compartment, ammo in the back seat) constitutes a loaded firearm.

  6. Lee says:

    Savage, maybe in the situation mentioned, the person was committing a crime and a gun charge was added because, as I mention at the bottom of comment #3, if you are in the process of committing a felony, the laws in this statute don’t apply.

    update: The email address that savage left on my site is invalid so there is no way to contact him :-(

  7. Brian Dinday says:

    I’m a criminal defense attorney in California. There was a case in which a man was in possession of a shotgun with an extra magazine of shells attached to the STOCK of the gun. A prosecutor tried to make that a case of a “loaded” shotgun, as the ammo was a “clip thereof ATTACHED to the firearm”. The prosecutor failed.

    The Court ruled that the statute means “attached” in the normal fashion for chambering the ammo. Just to be safe however, I would store my loaded magazines NOT in physical contact with the firearm. It is just too easy for a judge one day to rule that being in physical contact, the magazine was “functionally” loaded into the gun, since it only takes a split second to slip it in.

    Brian Dinday

  8. Lee says:

    Brian, you say that you’re a lawyer so you should know better. Stop fear-mongering. Just cut it out.

    You said yourself that the prosecutor tried and failed to call a gun with ammunition attached to the stock “loaded”. This is a perfect example of precedent confirming my statements above. So why do you say “Just to be safe however, I would store my loaded magazines NOT in physical contact with the firearm”???

    Please direct me to the case you mention because it confirms my interpretation and refutes yours.

  9. Justin says:

    I travel to California for buisness and I’m wondering how in the world I would defend my life legaly in the case of a split second life altering situation were some would be criminal would try to victomize me or my own? I am a legal ccw holder in the state of Colorado so I am aware of all the states were i can and can not cary concealed while traveling. Does the state of California like law abiding people to be the victims?

  10. Lee says:

    Justin, maybe you could try to organize groups from Colorado and California to enable CCW reciprocity legislation between our two states. It might happen, though it’d probably take a stupid amount of letter writing and telephoning…

  11. […] to take to the range because I just throw the thing in the car and go. I like that it’s legal to leave a GunVault in my front seat if I choose […]

  12. GR says:

    I’m a Texas CHL holder. Suppose I’m driving in California at night with my gun locked in a case on the passenger seat, with the key already inserted in the lock. I pull up to a red light, look to my left, and see a man running toward my car with something long in his hand. I deftly turn the gun case key, whip out my Glock 23C and take aim through the window. He stops about ten feet away. I look both ways, see no cars, and run the light to get out of there. Two blocks away, a police car turns on its lights and pulls me over. My hands are now shaking so hard, I can’t get the gun back into the case and lock it before the cop is right outside my car looking in at me. I don’t want him to think I’m going for the gun, so I stop trying to lock it up and I put my hands on the steering wheel. What’s the likely legal outcome?

    Scenario 2: Same as above, but the running man doesn’t stop until he’s closer than 10 feet. I lean to the right as far as I can and fire through my window, covering me in glass and cutting me. I assume the bullet has been deflected by the glass, and that the man would still have sufficient momentum to get close to me and do me lethal harm, so I fire again three times in rapid succession, hitting the man at least a couple of times. When the light turns green, I pull the car through the intersection and dial 911 on my cell phone. Right then, a cop on foot patrol comes running up to my car on the right and sees the handgun where I’ve left it on the passenger seat — no time to lock it back up. What’s the likely legal outcome?

    Seems to me in either case, a careerist California DA could prosecute me for unlawful possession of a handgun. In neither case would it be justified, but I’d probably have an easier time with a jury after Scenario 2. Does the fact that in both cases I was either preparing to defend myself or had just done so invoke Part (b) above? ((b) The provisions of this section do not prohibit or limit the otherwise lawful carrying or transportation of any pistol.”)

  13. Lee says:

    I don’t know. There’s a lot legally going on. Importantly, you’re not licensed in California.

    The parts about putting the gun back in the case are superfluous. It comes down to that you took your gun out while in a car, but to rightfully defend yourself. Of course, there’s some he-said/she-said there. I recommend making a convincing argument that there was an attacker.

    Deciding which law is most relevant, “can’t wield b/c not licensed” or “rightfully defending” depends on a lot of things…. what city you’re in, how convincing you sound to the jury…

    I’d recommend you learn up on the laws. Use my links in the post above. Then repost here and tell us what you found out.

  14. Lars says:

    I own 3 handguns, 2 rifles, and 1 shotgun. I do not have children, and I do not have a gun safe (just gun safety cables) at home. Am I required to own/have a gun safe by the CA law for my guns? Is it MUST or should?

  15. lee says:

    As per the California Firearms Laws 2007 (see my original post) on page 31 it says you can do whatever you want in your home. Leave your whole arsenal loaded and fully cocked on your kitchen table if you want. But don’t trust me, read the California Firearms Laws 2007 above. :-)

    If you had a child, it’d be different. There’s a thing on page 48 about that… search for “children”. I haven’t read up on it. It’s possible that if a child snuck into your house and shot himself, you’d be in trouble. Read up on it and tell me what you find.

  16. Kevin says:

    I recently bought a shotgun that I plan to transport often in my truck. My truck of course does not have a trunk and it has no other locking compartment (such as a locking tool box) other than the cab itself. Is there any way I can legally carry both the shotgun and the ammunition in the cab compartment? According to one excerpt I read above, if the gun and its ammo are both “within arms reach” the gun can be considered loaded. Does this mean I can’t carry, for example, the ammo in the glove box and the shotgun on a rack behind the backseat? There is a lot of gray area here.

  17. lee says:

    Read “California Firearms Laws 2007” above. It reads

    A lawfully possessed assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle may be transported for any lawful purpose if it is unloaded and either securely locked in the trunk of a vehicle or in a locked container carried inside the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment. (Penal Code §§ 12280(m),12285(c)(7), 12026.1.)

    So you should find a lockable box that will fit in your pickup. It doesn’t look like just having a trigger lock is enough. From how I read it, it the locked box has to entirely enclose the gun.

    I think the “within arms reach” bit you found refers to someone who is actively committing a felony. Something like (not an actual legal quote) “If you are holding a gun and the ammunition and committing a crime, the law considers the weapon as being loaded”. Since you (hopefully) are not committing crimes, that doesn’t affect you.

    Please point out the “arms reach” part and we can discuss it.

    Update 6-9-09: this advice is incorrect. See my comment from 6-9-09 below – Lee

  18. fred says:

    seems that if you lock your pistol in the trunk, and the ammo is in an ammo ‘can’ in the seat, you’re fine. What I find funny is to get your pistol to and from the trunk, are you supposed to have it in a ‘locked’ case? Or can you carry it out to your car in a gym bag (uncle mikes), and into the range in your uncle mikes? Or did I read that you have to have your gun in a locked case to walk to and from the range from your vehicle?

  19. Monique says:

    Excuse me!!??!! I’m a “lunch lady” and I read your comment while researching gun storage laws. No, I don’t know anything about astronavigation but by no means are “lunch ladies” uneducated. For the most part we are on our second or third career and enjoy spending our time working with the students.

  20. lee says:

    Monique, the comment you are referring to was a pingback. you’d do well to direct your comments to the web site it originated from.

  21. saminthia says:

    GR, these statutes don’t apply when one is legally stopping the commission of a felony that could involve grievous bodily injury. Read up on the law.

  22. lee says:

    Saminthia, could you say more about that? I know that if you are committing a felony, the laws are more stringent but I don’t know what you mean otherwise.

    Update: I tried to email Saminthia for clarification but my email to her bounced. Bad address.

  23. Jogusto says:

    Read “California Firearms Laws 2007″ above. It reads

    A lawfully possessed assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle may be transported for any lawful purpose if it is unloaded and either securely locked in the trunk of a vehicle or in a locked container carried inside the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment. (Penal Code §§ 12280(m),12285(c)(7), 12026.1.)

    So you should find a lockable box that will fit in your pickup. It doesn’t look like just having a trigger lock is enough. From how I read it, it the locked box has to entirely enclose the gun.

    He’s talking about a shotgun. You’re quoting laws applicable only to BMG’s and assault rifles. Sheesh. Are you even awake?

    I’m going to stop reading now; you’re not making any sense at all.

  24. lee says:

    Jogusto, you have a very good point. Thank you. Kevin was asking about a shotgun but I quoted laws applicable only to BMG’s and assault rifles.

    Jogusto, instead of trying to insult me, you’d do well for everyone to read the California Firearms Laws document and find the section relevant to Kevin’s question. I think it’s at the very top of page 31.

  25. Donald says:

    I have recently moved into a new place and would like to know what my “legal” storage options are for my firearms in my apartment. I have 2 handguns, 2 rifles, and a shotgun. Lee, you keep referring to “California Firearms Laws 2007” when asked about home storage. I have been unable to find this post on your blog or on the web anywhere. Can you enlighten me? I have heard conflicting things from gun dealers and other firearm owners in my area. I have heard that all firearms must locked in a storage devices in my home and that if my home is within 100 yard of a school I am prohibited from having a firearm on the property. I do not have children and want to keep a gun near my bed for the protection of myself and my wife but I also do not want to find myself behind bars. What are the laws about home storage?

  26. lee says:

    Hi Donald. You can find “California Firearms Laws 2007” as a link in my post above in the paragraph that starts “To say that your ammunition must be stored…”

    > I have heard that all firearms must locked in a storage devices in my home
    Untrue. In your home, leave it loaded and cocked on the kitchen table if you like. Though if minors have easy access to the area, it gets fuzzy (search “California Firearms Laws 2007” for “minor” for more info. Mine is locked in a GunVault near my bed.

    >I have heard that all firearms must locked in a storage devices in my home and that
    >if my home is within 100 yard of a school

    Untrue. Check “California Firearms Laws 2007” above. Starting on page 42 it says
    —- Start of Snippet —-
    It is unlawful for any person to possess or bring a firearm upon the grounds of, into, or within a
    distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a school

    Exceptions

    Within a place of residence or place of business or on private property, if the place
    of residence, place of business, or private property is not part of the school grounds
    and the possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful.
    —- End of Snippet —-

  27. paul says:

    It seems to me that as long as the ammo is locked up and away from the gun, the gun can be in plain sight in the truck. The law has to do with concealed weapons. Having a truck or SUV with no locking compartments outside of the vehicle, you have to do the best you can.

    Using the idea that any bolted down box is a utility compartment, would make the rear closet of a motorhome a bad place to store a weapon. I am not a lawyer, but I believe “utility compartment” to mean a compartment that is accessible from the normally seated(and belted in) position of the driver(maybe a passenger, but I don’t think the law specifies that). Many SUVs have a compartment in the “wayback” across from the tire compartment and/or under/behind the rear seat. Since I have a Suburban, the pistol goes into that compartment and the ammo stays up front with me. I do not leave the gun in the vehicle, I only transport to the gunshop or to the range.

    A longgun would NOT be accessible by the driver if it were behind the seat in a regular cab p/u, or in many locations in a suv or crewcab. If the gun is in the open and the ammo is in a locked box away from the weapon, I do not feel that you are breaking the law. Now, the leo might not like you for whatever reason and may try to give you some grief, but at the end, I believe that you would get your legal weapons back.

    Is a rifle rack legal in calif? I haven’t seen one in a while, since it makes the vehicle a target, but…..

    They are very handy for transporting a long level say, if you are a contractor.

  28. lee says:

    >the gun can be in plain sight in the truck

    Unfortunately no. Look above where I quote the law, “Where may a firearm be stored in a vehicle… Section 12025”

    >rear closet of a motorhome a bad place to store a weapon
    Its hard to say. There is no legal definition of a utility compartment. Calguns has good discussions about this.

    >rifle rack legal in calif
    yes, but storing rifles on it is not in most places. I don’t recall the exact penal code right now. Let me google that for you. (sorry, I know that link is a little rude, but you’ve got to admit it’s funny, eh?)

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