Definition of a firearm/gun

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Definition of a firearm

Knowing what is and is not a 'firearm' is important when mailing and transporting.

Generally, the serialized receiver or frame is considered a 'firearm'; everything else is just parts.

Contents

Federal law

Despite the reference in California Penal Code, US Code has the definition in USC 921:

(a) As used in this chapter—
...
(3) The term "firearm" means
(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to
or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an
explosive;
(B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon;
(C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or
(D) any destructive device. 
Such term does not include an antique firearm.

...

(16) The term "antique firearm" means—
(A) any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock,
percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or
before 1898; or
(B) any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph (A) if such
replica—
(i) is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional
centerfire fixed ammunition, or
(ii) uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is
no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily
available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade; or
(C) any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle
loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black
powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. For purposes
of this subparagraph, the term "antique firearm" shall not include any
weapon which incorporates a firearm frame or receiver, any firearm
which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon, or any muzzle loading
weapon which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by
replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof.

California law

Penal Code Section 16520

  (a) As used in this part, "firearm" means any device,
designed to be used as a weapon, from which is expelled through a
barrel, a projectile by the force of any explosion or other form of
combustion.
  (b) As used in the following provisions, "firearm" includes the
frame or receiver of the weapon
...
  (c) As used in the following provisions, "firearm" also includes
any rocket, rocket propelled projectile launcher, or similar device
containing any explosive or incendiary material whether or not the
device is designed for emergency or distress signaling purposes
...
  (e) As used in Sections 34005 and 34010, "firearm" does not
include a destructive device.
  (f) As used in Sections 17280 and 24680, "firearm" has the same
meaning as in Section 922 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
  (g) As used in Sections 29010 to 29150, inclusive, "firearm"
includes the unfinished frame or receiver of a weapon that can be
readily converted to the functional condition of a finished frame or
receiver.

Air guns are not firearms - no combustion.

Magazines are not firearms - no barrel.

Modern Tasers (1994 and later) are not firearms - no combustion; the original Tasers did use an explosive charge to launch the projectiles.

California antique firearms

Penal Code 16170

16170.  (a) As used in Sections 30515 and 30530, "antique firearm"
means any firearm manufactured before January 1, 1899.
  (b) As used in Section 16520, Section 16650, subdivision (a) of
Section 23630, paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of Section 27505, and
subdivision (a) of Section 31615, "antique firearm" has the same
meaning as in Section 921(a)(16) of Title 18 of the United States
Code.
  (c) As used in Section 17700, "antique firearm" means either of
the following:
  (1) Any firearm not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or
conventional center fire ignition with fixed ammunition and
manufactured in or before 1898. This includes any matchlock,
flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system or
replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before or after the
year 1898.
  (2) Any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before
1898, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United
States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of
commercial trade.
 
16180.  As used in this part, "antique rifle" means a firearm
conforming to the definition of an "antique firearm" in Section
479.11 of Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

For purposes of commerce, antique firearms need not use an FFL. Buyers of antique handguns need not have an HSC. Antique firearms are not PC 16590 'generally prohibited weapons'.

But for purposes of transport and concealed carry, and in the commission of crimes, antique firearms are firearms.

Disassembled firearms

Because of the definition of firearm, a firearm disassembled into a collection of parts is still a firearm. That the weapon cannot be fired is not relevant.

Definition of a rifle

PC 17090

As used in Sections 16530, 16640, 16650, 16660, 16870, and
17170, Sections 17720 to 17730, inclusive, Section 17740, subdivision
(f) of Section 27555, Article 2 (commencing with Section 30300) of
Chapter 1 of Division 10 of Title 4, and Article 1 (commencing with
Section 33210) of Chapter 8 of Division 10 of Title 4, 
"rifle" means
a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be
fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade
to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed cartridge to fire only
a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of
the trigger.

Definition of a handgun

Handguns have a barrel less than 16 inches long.

Penal Code 16530

   (a) As used in this part, the terms "firearm capable of
being concealed upon the person," "pistol," and "revolver" apply to
and include any device 
  designed to be used as a weapon, 
  from which is expelled a projectile by the force of any explosion,   
  or other form of combustion, and 
  that has a barrel less than 16 inches in length.
These terms also include any device that has a barrel 16 inches or
more in length which is designed to be interchanged with a barrel
less than 16 inches in length.
  (b) Nothing shall prevent a device defined as a "firearm capable
of being concealed upon the person," "pistol," or "revolver" from
also being found to be a short-barreled rifle or a short-barreled
shotgun.

Note that Findlaw has not updated Penal Code to the 2012 numbering, and oncle has accidentally omitted 16530(a).

Penal Code 16640

  (a) As used in this part, "handgun" means any pistol,
revolver, or firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.
  (b) Nothing shall prevent a device defined as a "handgun" from
also being found to be a short-barreled rifle or a short-barreled
shotgun.
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