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Legal Self-Defense Weapons in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 18, 2024

California law recognizes the right to self-defense and allows using certain weapons. It has “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws.

Stand your ground refers to a situation in which somebody threatens you. You are not obligated to retreat to defend yourself; you have the right to remain present and protect yourself.

Legal Self-Defense Weapons in California
Some self-defense weapons are legal in California, such as pepper spray and tasers.

Under the Castle Doctrine, you are not obligated to retreat if an intruder enters your home or other personal space, such as a vehicle, covered by California Penal Code 198.5 PC. A home intruder is considered a situation of reasonable fear of imminent harm.

PC 198.5 says, “Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred. As this section uses, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury.”

The doctrine is based on the idea that a person's home is their castle, and they have the right to defend it with no duty to retreat. This means that residents have the right to use deadly force within their homes, including self-defense weapons, if they reasonably perceive imminent grave danger, especially during illegal intrusions. 

The Castle Doctrine assumes that residents reasonably fear death or serious injury if an intruder unlawfully enters their dwelling.

You can carry a handgun you lawfully possess anywhere within your residence, place of business, or private property without a permit or license. However, it's illegal in California for residents to openly carry loaded handguns in public, as defined by Penal Code 25850 PC, with a few small county exceptions.

Convicted felons are prohibited from owning, purchasing, receiving, controlling, or possessing a firearm as defined by Penal Code 29800 PC, and also include anyone addicted to narcotics or has an outstanding felony warrant.  

Stun Gun or Taser

It's legal in California to purchase, possess, or carry a stun gun or taser for lawful self-defense as defined under Penal Code 22610 PC. However, you are prohibited from possessing a taser if:

  • You are a convicted felon,
  • Drug addict,
  • Minor under 18 or
  • Have a prior conviction for assault or misuse of a stun gun.

Stun guns are generally described as proximity devices requiring physical contact with your attacker. They use a painful shock to discourage an attack with projectile prongs that attach to a target at distances of up to 15 feet.

However, strict regulations exist regarding which weapons can be possessed and carried and who can carry them. Not all self-defense weapons are legal, and even legal weapons have certain restrictions.

What are the Legal Self-Defense Weapons?

Generally, almost any weapon you're legally allowed to possess may be used in self-defense. However, many still question which weapons are legal in California and which are prohibited. Many ask whether they meet the qualifications for carrying certain weapons. Below are some examples of legal self-defense weapons in California:

  • Pepper spray is allowed for self-defense if the canister size does not exceed 2.5 ounces of active product.
  • Stun guns and tasers are legal, but there are restrictions. Convicted felons, drug addicts, and minors are not allowed to own a stun gun. They are prohibited in public buildings and schools.
  • Folding knives such as Swiss army knives, pocketknives, and box cutters are legal to carry but must remain in a closed position when carried in public.
  • There are no restrictions on possessing or using personal alarms.
  • Certain types of firearms, such as handguns, rifles, and shotguns, are legal, but you must be of lawful age, pass a background check, have no felony convictions, and pass a safety course to own one. You must obtain a concealed carry permit (CCW) if you wish to carry one in public. 

Notably, even with legal self-defense weapons, certain conditions can disqualify someone from carrying them, such as convicted felons as people with restraining orders against them or declared mentally ill.

What are the Prohibited Weapons?

Some California laws make it illegal to use certain weapons in self-defense, such as Penal Code 16590 PC, which prohibits manufacturing, selling, possessing, and using certain deadly weapons. There is a long list of weapons that are illegal in the state, either to possess or to use in self-defense, such as the following:

  • Assault Weapons (Penal Code 30605 PC).
  • Short-Barreled Shotguns (Penal Code 33215 PC).
  • Brass Knuckles (Penal Code 21810 PC).
  • Dirks and Daggers (Penal Code 21310).
  • Nunchucks (Penal Code 22010 PC).
  • Switchblades (Penal Code 21510 PC).
  • Batons and Leaded Canes (Penal Code 22210 PC).
  • Throwing Stars (Penal Code 22410 PC).
  • Zip Guns (Penal Code 33600 PC).
  • Modified Weapons that were initially legal but became illegal due to alterations.

What is Acting Lawfully in Self-Defense?

As noted, California law permits citizens to use legal weapons in self-defense but has specific criteria for what counts as lawful self-defense. Failing to meet the requirements can result in criminal charges and civil actions.  The requirements for acting lawfully in self-defense are as follows:

  • Reasonable belief of imminent danger: You reasonably believe you are in immediate danger and facing an imminent threat.
  • Necessary use of force: You must reasonably believe that using force is necessary to stop the danger.
  • No more force than necessary: You act with only a level of force that is reasonably required to stop the threat.

California has a stringent and complex firearms law. Certain types of firearms are legal, but you must be of lawful age, pass a background check, have no felony convictions, and pass a safety course to own one. 

There are strict rules for storing these weapons, and you must obtain a concealed carry permit (CCW) if you wish to carry one in public. Contact our law firm, Eisner Gorin LLP, in Los Angeles, CA, for more information.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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