Friday, February 14, 2014

What Kinds of Weapons Can I Legally Possess in California?


The laws regarding weapons in California are (like most of our laws), complicated, nuanced, counter-intuitive and not entirely rational.  We have specific rules to govern all sorts of weapons, including some you've probably never even heard of (what the hell is a "sandclub"?).

Today, I want to talk specifically about knives, clubs / batons, martial arts weapons, and a few other favorites.  I'll reserve firearms for another day because guns probably deserve their own post. 

For the sake of easily organizing and conceptualizing the different laws that work together to govern weapons in California, I've created my own handy 4-tier classification system.  This is an over-simplified glance at a few common weapons and the restrictions regarding their possession and use.  Since I invented this chart, you won't find it in any law book.  Don't cite to this chart in court or when dealing with police.  Nobody will know what you're talking about if you argue that your folding knife is a "Class-4 pocket knife" and not a "Class-2 switchblade".  The chart is just a simplified way to wrap your head around a complicated and poorly-organized series of laws.

My 4 tiers are as follows:

-Class 1:  Weapons that are illegal to own, possess, manufacture, import, sell, loan, give away, offer for sale, etc.  Put simply, these weapons are ILLEGAL in California for any purpose. Theoretically, you could be arrested just for having them in your own home for self-defense (subject to some exceptions).  
  • Any weapon that is disguised or not immediately recognizable as a weapon (any type of knife that is designed to look like an air gauge, lipstick case, writing pen, walking cane, belt buckle, hair brush, etc.)
  • Any type of hardened knuckles (wooden, metal or composite / plastic)
  • Any type of billy club, blackjack, sap, sandbag, sandclub, sap or slungshot (this is not a typo. a "slungshot", also called a "monkey fist", is a weighted ball on a rope).  Courts have determined that "billy club" includes any type of bat, stick, club or baton if it's kept for use as a weapon, even for home defense.  Wait, that can't be right.  But it is.  Keeping a baseball bat under your bed as a weapon for home defense is arguably illegal in California.  That's right, a loaded shotgun under the bed = legal.  Baseball bat under the bed = illegal.  Of course, it would be virtually impossible for police to enforce this absurd law unless the bat were used to commit some sort of crime.  In the absence of some other criminal activity, courts would likely find that the 2nd Amendment's Right to Bear Arms trumps California's nonsensical rule against club-type weapons in the home for self-defense.  
  • Class 1 also includes "nunchaku" / "martial arts"-type weapons, with exceptions for martial arts schools and instructors.  

-Class 2:  Weapons that may be owned or possessed at home, but may not be carried in public or within the passenger area of any vehicle.  Class 2 weapons may be manufactured and / or imported into the state, but may not be sold, loaned, transferred or given away in California.
  • Switchblades and butterfly knives with blades longer than 2 inches fall within this class -- they may be owned and possessed at home, but not in public or in your car.  You may not sell them, loan them to a friend, give them away, or transfer them to any other person.  

-Class 3:  Weapons that may be carried openly upon the person or within the passenger area of a vehicle, but may not be concealed upon the person.  
  • Any dirk or dagger.  "Dirk" and "dagger" are both synonymous terms for stabbing weapons. This includes anything with a fixed blade, capable of being used to inflict death or serious injury by stabbing.  Folding knifes don't count, no matter how big they are, as long as the blade is not extended and locked into place while concealed.  If you've ever watched an episode of "Sons of Anarchy", you probably noticed Jax wearing a large Bowie knife on his belt.  Jax must have studied section 20200 of the California Penal Code, which reads, "A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer is not concealed within the meaning of [this code]".  If you want to carry a fixed-blade knife, you must wear it openly on your belt, or else leave it in your car.  Do not wear a knife on a lanyard around your neck or concealed under your shirt.  Aside from being stupid, it's also illegal.  

-Class 4:  Weapons that may be carried and concealed upon the person, subject to some restrictions.  Generally, law-abiding adults may possess weapons in this category for self-defense. Felons, addicts, minors and people with certain misdemeanor convictions may be prohibited from carrying even class-4 weapons.  Class-4 weapons include:
  • Tear gas / pepper spray
  • Stun guns
  • Folding knifes, as long as the blade is not open and locked into place while concealed.

There are many possible defenses to weapons charges in California.  Often, illegal weapons are discovered by police during illegal searches of your property.  If a search is performed without your permission, without probable cause and without a warrant, there may be grounds to suppress anything discovered as a result of that search.  Only a qualified criminal defense attorney can tell you whether or not you might have a defense based on a violation of your right to privacy.  

Even if you are found to be in possession of an item that fits the legal description of a prohibited weapon, you might have a compelling argument that the item itself is not actually a "weapon".  If it's an antique, an heirloom, a movie prop or the possessor has some innocent explanation for the item, then the item might not be a "weapon" within the meaning of the law.  For example, a baseball bat could be used to play baseball or it could be used to break the knees of a rival bookie. If a person is found in possession of a baseball bat, a baseball glove, a bucket of baseballs and a pair of baseball cleats, then the bat itself is clearly a piece of sporting equipment and not a weapon. Of course, baseball bats may be used to legally play baseball in California.  On the other hand, if a person is found with a baseball bat behind the seat of his car, with no other sporting goods in the vehicle, he's going to be arrested on suspicion of carrying an illegal baton.  

If you or a loved one is accused of possessing an illegal weapon in California, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John. 

For more information visit out webiste.  Orange County Weapons Attorney.

Thanks for reading.