California generally prohibits a person from:
- Selling a BB device to a person under age 18.1
- Furnishing a BB device to a person under age 18 without the permission of the minor’s parent or legal guardian.2
- Possessing any “instrument that expels a metallic projectile such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun,” on the grounds of or within any public or private school providing instruction in grades K-12, without the written permission of the school principal.3
- Drawing or exhibiting an imitation firearm in a threatening manner in such a way that a reasonable person would fear bodily harm, except in self-defense.4 An “imitation firearm” is any BB device, toy gun, replica of a firearm, or other device that is so substantially similar in coloration and overall appearance to an existing firearm that a reasonable person would perceive that the device is a firearm.5
- Openly displaying or exposing any imitation firearm in a “public place.”6
- Knowingly possessing an imitation firearm or any instrument that expels a metallic projectile, such as a BB or pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO[2 ]pressure, or spring action, within the sterile area of a public transit facility, if the sterile area is posted with a statement providing reasonable notice of the prohibition.7
- Carrying or possessing an instrument that expels a metallic projectile, such as a BB or pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO pressure, or spring action, in the State Capitol, any legislative office, any office of the Governor or other constitutional officer, or any hearing room in which any committee of the Senate or Assembly is conducting a hearing, or upon the grounds of the State Capitol, which is bounded by 10th, L, 15th, and N Streets in the City of Sacramento, as long as the area is posted with a statement providing reasonable notice that prosecution may result from doing so.8
California also prohibits purchasing, selling, manufacturing, shipping, transporting, distributing, or receiving an imitation firearm9 for commercial purposes unless the imitation firearm is one of the following:
- A non-firing collector’s replica that is historically significant and offered for sale in conjunction with a wall plaque or presentation case;
- A BB device;10
- A device where the entire surface is certain bright colors, or which is entirely transparent so that the contents are completely visible; or
- Starting January 1, 2016, a spot marker gun which expels a projectile that is greater than 10mm caliber.11
This prohibition does not prevent the manufacture, purchase, sale, shipping, transport, distribution, or receipt, by mail or in any other manner, of imitation firearms:
- Solely for export in interstate or foreign commerce;
- Solely for lawful use in theatrical productions, including motion picture, television, and stage productions;
- For use in a certified or regulated sporting event or competition;
- For use in military or civil defense activities, or ceremonial activities; or
- For public displays authorized by public or private schools.12
California law also prohibits changing, altering, removing, or obliterating of any coloration or markings required for any imitation firearm or device as described above in any way that makes the imitation firearm or device look more like a firearm.13
California requires any imitation firearm manufactured after July 1, 2005 to have, at the time of offer for sale in California, a conspicuous advisory in writing as part of the packaging, stating that: 1) the product may be mistaken for a real firearm by law enforcement officers or others; 2) altering the coloration or markings required by law to make the product look more like an actual firearm is dangerous and possibly illegal; and 3) brandishing or displaying the imitation firearm in public may cause confusion and be a crime.14
See our Non-powder & Toy Guns policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
- Cal. Penal Code § 19910. California defines a “BB device” as any instrument that expels a projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, not exceeding 6mm caliber, through the force of air pressure, gas pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun. Starting January 1, 2016, the 6mm restriction will be removed and “not exceeding 6mm caliber” will be deleted from the definition. Cal. Penal Code § 16250.
- Cal. Penal Code § 19915.
- Cal. Penal Code § 626.10(a)(1), (f).
- Cal. Penal Code § 417.4.
- Cal. Penal Code § 16700(a).
- “Public place” means any area open to the public and includes streets, sidewalks, bridges, alleys, plazas, parks, driveways, front yards, parking lots, automobiles (whether moving or not), buildings open to the general public, including those that serve food or drink or provide entertainment, the doorways and entrances to buildings or dwellings, and public schools and public or private colleges and universities. Cal. Penal Code § 20170-20180. This prohibition does not apply in various circumstances, including to an imitation firearm whose entire surface is certain bright colors, or which is entirely transparent so that the contents are completely visible. Cal. Penal Code § 20175. More specifically, this prohibition does not apply to an imitation firearm whose entire surface is white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright blue, bright pink, or bright purple, either singly or as the predominant color in combination with other colors in any pattern, or which is entirely constructed of transparent or translucent materials that permit unmistakable observation of the device’s complete contents. Cal. Penal Code § 20175(m).
- Cal. Penal Code § 171.7(b)(3). “Sterile area” means any portion of a public transit facility that is generally controlled in a manner consistent with the public transit authority’s security plan. Cal. Penal Code § 171.7(a)(2) .
- Cal. Penal Code § 171c(a)(1).
- An “imitation firearm” is any BB device, toy gun, replica of a firearm, or other device that is so substantially similar in coloration and overall appearance to an existing firearm that a reasonable person would perceive that the device is a firearm. Cal. Penal Code § 16700(a).
- Pursuant to a California law passed in 2014, starting on January 1, 2016, a BB device that is 6mm or 8mm caliber will only be exempt if, when configured as a handgun, it has a trigger guard with fluorescent coloration over the entire guard and a fluorescent adhesive band around the pistol grip, or, when configured as a long gun, has a fluorescent trigger guard and a fluorescent adhesive band around the circumference of any two of the following: 1) the pistol grip, 2) the buttstock, or 3) a protruding ammunition magazine or clip; all of these requirements are in addition to the blaze orange ring on the barrel required by federal law. This new law is designed to prevent situations where law enforcement officers may confuse BB or Airsoft guns with real firearms.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 16700(b), 20165.
- Cal. Penal Code § 20165(b) .
- Cal. Penal Code § 20150(a). This provision does not apply to any manufacturer, importer, or distributor of imitation firearms, or to their lawful use in theatrical productions. Cal. Penal Code § 20150(b), (c).
- Cal. Penal Code § 20160(a). Any manufacturer, importer, or distributor that fails to comply with this requirement is liable for maximum civil fines of $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the section violation, and $10,000 for the third and subsequent violations. Cal. Penal Code § 20160(b).