Large-capacity magazine restrictions

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A 'large-capacity magazine' is defined in Penal Code to be one that holds more than 10 rounds. Other terms such as 'high-capacity' or 'standard capacity' have no legal meaning for California.

Importing or manufacturing a large-capacity magazine can be charged as a felony.

Effective September 19, 2015, the City of Los Angeles has imposed its own ban.

Both San Francisco and Sunnyvale also have their own city laws banning large-capacity magazines; residents and visitors all should be aware of the problem.

History

As part of expanding the definition of Assault Weapons with the passage of SB-23 in July 1999, prohibitions on magazine capacity sizes were introduced into the Penal Code. SB-23 added a new term, "large-capacity magazine." The penalty for violating Penal Code 12020 is a "wobbler" with a statute of limitations of three years.

Here's what the Senate thought it was doing

3.  Large-Capacity Magazines and Firearms in This Bill

This bill would make it a crime to do anything with detachable
large capacity magazines after January 1, 2000--except possess
and personally use them--punishable as a misdemeanor/felony.
Large-capacity magazines are defined to mean any ammunition-
feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 19
rounds.  That definition is not limited to "centerfire"
ammunition so would include "rimfire" ammunition as well,
which is generally .22 caliber ammunition.  One could still
possess those magazines after January 1, 2000, but could
generally only transfer them to anyone but [other than] a
licensed dealer or gunsmith (for modification) if the magazine
"has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate
more than 10 rounds."

[Note the incorrect "19" which was from an earlier version of
the bill.] From the Senate Public Safety bill analysis.

Current Restrictions

Penal Code 32310 (Was 12020 (a)(2)) states:

Except as provided in Article 2 (commencing with Section
32400) of this chapter and in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section
17700) of Division 2 of Title 2, commencing January 1, 2000, any
person in this state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured,
imports into the state, 
keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or 
who gives, or lends, buys, or receives any large-capacity magazine is
punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or
in the state prison.


Penal Code 16740 (was 12020 (c)(25)) defines "large capacity magazine"

As used in this part, "large-capacity magazine" means any
ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10
rounds, but shall not be construed to include any of the following:
  (a) A feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it
cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds.
  (b) A .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device.
  (c) A tubular magazine that is contained in a lever-action
firearm.

The California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms FAQ summarizes the restrictions well:

9. If I have a large-capacity magazine, do I need to get rid of
it?

No.  Continued possession of large-capacity magazines (able to
accept more than 10 rounds) that you owned in California before
January 1, 2000, is not prohibited.  However as of January 1,
2000, it is illegal to buy, manufacture, import, keep for sale,
expose for sale, give or lend any large-capacity magazine in
California except  by law enforcement agencies, California
peace officers, or licensed dealers.

(PC Section 12020 (b)(19-29))

Simple possession of a large-capacity magazine is not prohibited. Note that it is illegal to offer or expose for sale a large-capacity magazine in California. This has the practical implication that one can not list a large-capacity magazine for sale on the internet to in or out of state buyers. One can disassemble the large-capacity magazine and sell the parts in or out of state. Note that the Bureau of Firearms statement that you can not buy large-capacity magazines is finally supported by the Penal Code, effective in 2014.

Large-capacity magazines that were legally possessed by their owner in California at any time prior to January 1, 2000 can be legally re-imported into California. If you were a past resident of California that possessed large-capacity magazines in the state prior to the ban, you can move back in with them. Current residents that legally possess large-capacity magazines can travel out of the state with those large-capacity magazines and return to the state (Penal Code 32420 (was 12020 (b)(23))).

Repairing existing large-capacity magazines

In a letter dated November 10, 2005, Deputy Attorney General Alison Merrilees answered a list of questions about the legality of repairing and replacing parts of legally possessed large-capacity magazines.

The letter clarifies that it is legal to replace parts of a legally possessed large-capacity magazine with parts of any vintage. It also states that the possession, sale, or import of all the parts of an otherwise prohibited large-capacity magazine is not illegal though assembling them into a new large-capacity magazine would be a crime.

The general rules regarding magazine repair appear to be that as long as one ends up with the same number of legally possessed large-capacity magazines, has a plausible path of replacement parts from the original possessed large-capacity magazine to the repaired magazine, and the magazine continues to work in the firearm it was originally designed to operate in, one would not be violating the law.

There are no restrictions on modifying a legally possessed large-capacity magazine to work in another firearm as long as the magazine continues to operate in the firearm it was originally designed for. This concept, however, has not been tested - 'appear to be' is all we have.

Manufacturing non large-capacity magazines

Penal Code 16740 states:

As used in this section, "large-capacity magazine"
means any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept
more than 10 rounds, but shall not be construed to include any of
the following:
 (A) A feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it
  cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds.

This means that one can manufacture non large-capacity magazines if the alterations to what would otherwise be a large-capacity magazine are permanent.

In sworn testimony, representatives of the California Department of Justice have stated that it is their opinion that the types of modifications presented in the failed "detachable magazine permanence" rulemaking would suffice to be permanent alterations to large-capacity magazines to exclude them from the law. The relevant alterations from the failed rulemaking include:

  • Continuous ribbon or ribbons of welding
  • A rivet fixed in place with epoxy

Magazine "Parts Kits"

With the change in the law for 2014 (Penal Code 32311), it appears to be illegal to acquire or transfer "parts kits", though still legal to own those possessed before Jan 1, 2014. The law is not clear if there might be a distinction between "repair kits" and "large capacity magazine conversion kits".

It it further unclear that taking a legally owned parts kit out of state, assembling it for use there, and disassembling the magazine back to a kit to return to California is legal. That may be illegal importing of a parts kit.

Exceptions

There are various exceptions to the prohibitions on import or sale of large-capacity magazines outlined in 32400 through 32450 (was 12020 (b)(19) - 12020 (b)(32)).

A few of the notable exceptions:

  • Sworn police officers can import, buy (PC 120210(b)(20) and manufacture large-capacity magazines.
  • One can temporarily loan a large-capacity magazine to another person who is eligible to possess firearms and within the immediate vicinity of the owner of the large-capacity magazine - most commonly at a range.
  • All California FFLs can purchase large-capacity magazines from anyone in the state of California.
  • California FFLs can obtain a permit to purchase, import, or sell to certain allowed individuals.
  • Armored Car Services can import, buy, or sell large-capacity magazines to or from anyone eligible to possess firearms.

Statute of Limitations

A violation of 32310 is considered a "wobbler" (see e.g. In re Jorge M. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 866, 880.) in California as it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The current jurisprudence in California is that the statute of limitations for a "wobbler" is the same as the statute of limitations for a felony.

Penal Code Section 801:

801 Except as provided in Sections 799 and 800, prosecution
for an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison
shall be commenced within three years after commission of the offense.

A district attorney must prove that a violator has actually imported or manufactured a large capacity magazine within the last three years.