Child Access Prevention
California generally has strong child access prevention laws that make people legally accountable, under both criminal and civil laws, for leaving firearms accessible to unsupervised minors in various circumstances.
First, California law makes it a crime for a person to negligently store or leave a firearm on premises within the person’s custody or control in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child under 181 is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian. (A person may be found to have violated this law even if a minor never actually accessed or used the firearm). No liability is imposed in this situation if the person took reasonable action to secure the firearm against access by a child.2
Other child access prevention laws in California impose steeper penalties in situations where a minor gains access to or uses an unsafely stored firearm:
- California makes someone criminally liable for keeping a firearm on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access and carries the firearm off the premises.3
- A person is also criminally liable for keeping a loaded firearm where he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or guardian, if the child actually does gain access to the firearm and either carries it to a public place, brandishes it in a threatening manner, or if someone is injured as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.4 The penalty imposed is significantly greater if someone dies or suffers great bodily injury as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.5
- Moreover, a person is criminally liable for keeping any firearm, loaded or unloaded, on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access to it and carries the firearm to any preschool or school grades K-12 or to any school-sponsored event, activity, or performance.6
These laws generally do not apply if:
- The firearm was kept in a locked container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
- The firearm was locked with a locking device that rendered the firearm inoperable;
- The person had no reasonable expectation, based on objective facts and circumstances, that a child was likely to be present on the premises;
- The child obtained the firearm as a result of an illegal entry into any premises by any person;
- The firearm was carried on the person or within such a close proximity to the person that he or she could readily retrieve and use the firearm as if carried on the person;
- The person was a peace officer or a member of the armed forces or national guard and the child obtained the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the person’s duties; or
- The child obtained the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person.7
A parent or guardian is also generally civilly liable for damages resulting from the discharge of a firearm by that person’s child or ward where the parent or guardian either permitted the minor to have the firearm, or left the firearm in a place accessible to the minor. These damages are capped at $30,000 per victim, and $60,000 total.8
California enacted legislation in 2022 that will require K-12 school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to provide annual notices to students’ parents at the beginning of each school year about California’s child access prevention and safe firearm storage laws.9
Safe Storage of Firearms Around People Who Legally Cannot Possess Firearms
Under California law, a person may be held criminally liable for illegally storing firearms around people who legally cannot possess firearms, if all of the following may be proven: (1) the person kept a firearm within premises under their custody or control; (2) they knew or reasonably should have known that another person who was legally prohibited from possessing firearms by state or federal law was likely to gain access to the firearm; (3) the legally prohibited person did in fact gain access to the firearm; and (4) as a result, the legally prohibited person caused injury to themselves or others, carried the firearm to a public place, or illegally brandished the firearm.10
This offense is generally classified as a misdemeanor unless the person who illegally gained access to the firearm used the firearm to cause death or great bodily injury, in which case the offense of “criminal storage of a firearm” may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.11
California Laws Regarding Gun Safes and Other Firearms Safety Devices
All firearms sold or transferred in California by a licensed dealer, including transfers from unlicensed sellers which are processed through a dealer, must include a “firearms safety device” listed on the roster of approved firearms safety devices maintained by the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”).12 The firearms safety device must be listed on the roster as appropriate for that firearm.13 A “firearms safety device” is a device, other than a gun safe, that locks and is designed to prevent children and unauthorized users from firing a firearm. The device may be installed on a firearm, be incorporated into the design of the firearm, or prevent access to the firearm.14
California prohibits anyone, including a licensed dealer, from selling a “firearms safety device” that is not listed on the DOJ roster, or that does not comply with the firearm safety device standards set by DOJ.15 In addition, no person may distribute, as part of an organized firearm safety program, any firearm safety device that is not listed on the DOJ roster or that does not comply with DOJ’s firearm safety device standards.16 The sale or transfer of a firearm does not need to include a firearms safety device, however, if the purchaser or transferee either: 1) provides proof that he or she has purchased or owns a gun safe that meets the gun safe standards set by DOJ ; or 2) presents, with the firearm, an approved firearms safety device to the dealer that the purchaser or transferee purchased no more than 30 days prior, along with an original receipt.17
DOJ’s roster of approved firearms safety devices may only include firearms safety devices that have been tested by a DOJ-certified testing laboratory and that meet DOJ’s firearms safety device standards.18 DOJ may randomly retest roster samples obtained from sources other than the manufacturer to ensure compliance with the requirements of state law.19
Dealers selling long gun safes20 that do not meet DOJ’s standards for gun safes must conspicuously post or display a specified warning, in both English and Spanish, on the gun safe’s packaging or with any materials that accompany the safe, and on a label affixed to the front of the gun safe.
California law prohibits any person from selling a long gun safe that does not comply with DOJ’s standards for gun safes, unless the long gun safe is labeled in this manner.21 In addition, long gun safes must have a locking system consisting of either a mechanical combination lock or an electronic combination lock that has at least 1,000 possible unique combinations consisting of a minimum of three numbers, letters or symbols per combination.22
DOJ may order the recall and replacement of any gun safe or firearms safety device model that does not conform with its safety standards, or order that the gun safe or firearm safety device model be brought into conformity with those requirements.23
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- Cal. Penal Code § 25000.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(c). See also, Cal. Penal Code § 25105 for other defenses to this crime.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(b). This section references Cal. Penal Code § 417, which prohibits the drawing or exhibiting of a firearm in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or unlawfully using a firearm in a fight or quarrel.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100(a), 25110.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(b).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25105, 25205. California law also includes the statement that “[i]t is the Legislature’s intent that a parent or guardian of a child who is injured or who dies as the result of an accidental shooting must be prosecuted only in those instances in which the parent or guardian behaved in a grossly negligent manner or where similarly egregious circumstances exist.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115 and 25210. In such cases, no arrest may occur until at least seven days after the accidental shooting, and law enforcement officials are encouraged “to delay the arrest of a parent or guardian of a seriously injured child while the child remains on life-support equipment or is in a similarly critical medical condition.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25120, 25215.
- Cal. Civil Code § 1714.3.
- See 2022 CA AB 452; 2022 CA SB 906; Cal. Education Code §§ 48986; 49392.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(a), (b).
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100; 25110.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23635(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 16540.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23660(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 23660(b). DOJ’s firearm safety device standards exist at Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4094.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23635(b), (c). Dealers must collect and maintain records demonstrating which exception applies. Id. DOJ’s standards for gun safes exist at Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4100.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23655(d). By January 1, 2002, DOJ was required to set minimum safety standards for firearm safety devices and gun safes to significantly reduce the risk of firearms-related injuries to children 17 years of age and younger. Cal. Penal Code § 23650. A certified testing laboratory, after receiving a firearms safety device from the manufacturer, is required to test the device and submit a copy of the final test report to DOJ, along with the device. DOJ must then notify the manufacturer or dealer of its receipt of the final test report and of DOJ’s determination as to whether the device tested may be sold in California. Cal. Penal Code § 23655(c) . DOJ’s regulations regarding certified firearms safety laboratories, firearms safety device testing and standards, and standards for gun safes are detailed in Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 4080-4109.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23655(f).
- Defined to mean a locking container designed to fully contain and secure a rifle or shotgun,which has a locking system consisting of either a mechanical combination lock or an electronic combination lock that has at least 1,000 possible unique combinations consisting of a minimum of three numbers, letters, or symbols per combination, and is not listed on DOJ’s roster of approved firearms safety devices. Cal. Penal Code § 16870.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 23665-23670. Similarly, any person who sells a long gun safe that does not comply with state standards for gun safes, and who removes the warning label required by Cal. Penal Code § 23635, is subject to penalty. Cal. Penal Code § 23665(b).
- Cal. Penal Code § 16870.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23680(a). If the firearms safety device can be separated and reattached to the firearm without damaging the firearm, the licensed dealer must immediately provide a conforming replacement as instructed by the Attorney General. Cal. Penal Code § 23680(b) . If the device cannot be separated from a firearm without damaging the firearm, the Attorney General may order the recall and replacement of the firearm. Cal. Penal Code § 23680(c) .