See our Child Access Prevention policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
California generally has strong child access prevention laws that make people criminally liable for leaving firearms accessible to 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
For the warnings that firearms dealers must post regarding preventing children from gaining access to firearms, see our Dealer Regulations in California section.
For more information about firearm locking devices required in California, see our Locking Devices in California section.
- 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.