The short answer is that it is against California law to drive with a gun in your car if you do not have a license to carry the firearm. This restriction is set forth under California Penal Code (PC) §§ 25400 and 26100. However, the law does allow for the transport of firearms in a motor vehicle under certain circumstances, provided you are 18 years old or over.
The long answer is more complicated because the gun must also be unloaded and locked away while driving. In addition, there are certain exceptions to the rules that may affect whether you can be charged with unlawfully driving with a gun in your car in California, and some cities have additional restrictions in place.
You Cannot Drive in Los Angeles with a Loaded and Visible Gun
According to California gun laws, if you carry a gun in your vehicle, it must be unloaded. The legal definition of unloaded depends on the circumstances. In most circumstances, a firearm is considered unloaded when it does not have a live round of ammunition in it.
This means the gun does not have a clip or firing chamber magazine attached to it. If your gun is loaded, you cannot drive with it in Los Angeles. In addition, California law prevents you from driving in your motor vehicle with an unloaded gun that is not locked away. If you choose to drive with a gun in your vehicle, you must lock the unloaded firearm in your vehicle’s trunk.
If you cannot store the unloaded weapon in your trunk, it must be in a locked container located inside your motor vehicle.
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What Is Considered a Locked Container?
The term “locked container” refers to a secured container that can be fully closed and locked by one of the following:
- Combination lock
- Key lock
- Similar locking device
A locked container does not include your glove compartment or utility compartment. California law does not define utility compartments, but the law applies to any unlocked storage compartment. For example, you are prohibited from storing an unloaded gun in your locked or unlocked center console or any storage area located behind a rear seat in a hatchback vehicle.
If you are driving with a shotgun, it is against the law if the gun is loaded and not locked away. If you do not have a trunk, place the rifle or shotgun in a locked hard case.
What to Do if You’re Unsure You Can Secure Your Firearm
Do you wish to transport or carry your gun in a motor vehicle in California but aren’t sure you can have it properly secured? If so, it is best to contact law enforcement or a concealed weapons attorney to clarify.
If the police arrest you for carrying a gun in your car in violation of California laws, a firearm attorney can also help you navigate the legal process.
What About Motorhomes?
A motor home can be a grey area when driving with a gun in California. California law focuses on driving in a passenger vehicle, but you must follow the same rules when driving your motorhome. Keep your firearm unloaded and locked away.
However, your motorhome is treated as your residence when parked at a campsite. In this case, you would not be required to keep your gun unloaded and locked away. Sometimes, other laws and safeguards may apply—even when keeping a gun in your own home. To protect yourself and your loved ones, be aware of the laws and regulations pertaining to gun ownership at the local and state level.
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Misdemeanor for Driving with a Loaded and Concealed Weapon
It is against the law to drive in Los Angeles with a loaded or concealed gun according to California law. If convicted, you could face 12 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
To convict you of driving with a gun that was loaded and not locked away, a prosecutor must show:
- You had a gun in your motor vehicle that could be concealed on you or carried by you.
- The firearm was concealed in your car.
- Your motor vehicle was under your physical direction or control at the time the police found the weapon.
If there is insufficient evidence to prove the above, you could fight the misdemeanor charges. You can consult a concealed firearms lawyer to discuss how to defend your legal rights.
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Are There Ever Felony Charges?
You may be charged with a felony for driving in Los Angeles with a loaded gun that is visible. A felony is a harsher charge than a misdemeanor and often requires prison time. You can be charged with a felony if:
- You are not allowed to own and/or be in possession of a gun
- You have a gun in your possession, not listed in the California Automated Firearms System database (AFS)
- You have a loaded gun that is not listed in your name in the AFS database
- You had ammunition readily accessible or in your immediate possession in your motor vehicle.
Gun Charges and the CA Three Strikes Law
There are multiple types of gun charges that can be charged at the felony level. This could be devastating if you have previously been charged with or convicted of another violent offense or felony-level crime.
The state of California operates under a three-strikes system. Here, if you have previously been convicted of two violent or felony charges, the third strike could result in a sentence enhancement of 25 years to life in prison.
This means even if the original charge you have been arrested for is a lesser offense, you can still spend the rest of your life in jail or prison. For this reason, it is imperative that you get a gun charge attorney on your side who can help protect your future.
How Can a Firearms Defense Attorney Assist with My Case?
If you face felony charges for a gun in your car in California, reach out to a criminal defense lawyer familiar with firearms laws and cases. Although no outcome is guaranteed, a criminal defense attorney can review the evidence—including the circumstances of the arrest and how law enforcement handled the situation—and seek a dismissal or reduction of charges.
In addition to prison time and a fine, a felony charge can dramatically affect your quality of life. Your employment, long-term career options, housing, and even access to credit can all be negatively affected if a background check shows a firearm felony on your record.
An attorney with experience handling California firearms cases can work with the authorities, prosecution, and other involved parties to try and reduce your charges to a misdemeanor if they can’t get the charges dismissed. Even though you will still face penalties for a misdemeanor conviction, you are less likely to face incarceration or the long-term effects of a felony conviction.
Common Defenses Against a Firearms Charge
When you hire a criminal defense lawyer, you gain a knowledgeable ally whose primary goal is to defend your legal rights in court. Your lawyer will obtain evidence—including documents, photographs, witness statements, and expert testimony—to establish a solid defense on your behalf.
There are many common defenses when fighting a charge for illegally driving with a firearm in your vehicle. Some of the most common arguments include:
- No knowledge of the weapon.
- The gun was properly locked away and unloaded.
- You have a concealed carry permit.
No Knowledge of the Weapon
If you were unaware that you were driving with a gun in your vehicle, you should not be convicted of a crime for doing so. However, proving that you were unaware that the weapon was in your car can be difficult.
Fortunately, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. As long as you can show that it is reasonable to believe that you did not have knowledge of the gun, it will be difficult for them to prove otherwise.
The Gun Was Properly Locked Away and Unloaded
If you were transporting the weapon from one location to another, and the gun was unloaded and locked away in your trunk or a proper lockbox within your vehicle, you have not committed a crime. You are legally allowed to transport a gun from one location to another in this manner.
You Have a Concealed Carry Permit
If you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, it is legal for you to drive with a loaded handgun in your vehicle in California. If you can prove that you had this permit when you were arrested, you should not be convicted for a violation.
If the firearm in question is a long gun, however, a concealed carry permit will not protect you. Only members of law enforcement are allowed to drive with loaded long guns in their vehicles.
Skip a Trial and Enter a Pretrial Diversion Program
Going to court is not necessarily your best option. If this is your first time being charged with a gun crime, working with a criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor is a good opportunity to avoid trial altogether. Instead, going through a pretrial diversion program could be a better fit.
You will need to meet specific requirements, but once you do so, the prosecutor will dismiss or drop the charges against you. However, since not everyone will qualify for pretrial diversion, it is important to consider your options with your gun charge attorney as you work out your defense strategy.
Get Help from a Criminal Defense Attorney
Have you been accused or charged with driving with a loaded gun that was not locked away? If you face misdemeanor or felony charges for driving with a gun in your car under California law, you need the help of an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Simmrin Law Group.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We will explain the law and possible defenses we can use to resolve this criminal charge. We will review the details of your case and answer any questions that you may have. There is no obligation to retain our services.