Possession of UNregistered California "assault weapons"

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Unregistered 'assault weapons' are a serious risk.

  • Get a lawyer and do what he/she says
  • Stop talking or posting about it
  • Read the rest of this article for the explanation.

Possession of UNregistered California "assault weapons"

One can hope this situation will not happen to you, but questions about it continue to surface at Calguns.


A common mistake seems to have been presuming that the Federal 4473 and/or the California Dealers Record of Sale (DROS) 'registered' the "assault weapon".

This is not correct. Proper registration required a separate form and fee submitted to the California Department of Justice, and would have resulted in a letter back from DOJ indicating successful registration.

( Photobucket copies of the documents have gone away; apologies.)

Registration is no longer possible

There were two major registration periods associated with California "assault weapons". The first was 12285.

(a) (1) Any person who lawfully possesses an assault  
weapon, as defined in Section 12276, prior to June 1, 1989,  
shall register the firearm by January 1, 1991

That registration period was for the 'named' weapons in the original Roberti-Roos bill.

The second was

Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 12280, any
person who lawfully possessed an assault weapon prior to the
date it was defined as an assault weapon pursuant to Section
12276.1, and which was not specified as an assault weapon under
Section 12276 or 12276.5, shall register the firearm within one
year of the effective date of Section 12276.1

Penal Code section 30515 (old 12276.1) was established by SB-23, and

(e) This section shall become operative January 1, 2000.

so the end-date of that period of registration was January 1, 2001.

That registration was for the weapons classified as "assault weapons" by feature, most notably

30515.  (a) Notwithstanding Section 30510, "assault weapon"
shall also mean any of the following:
  (1) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to
accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
  (A) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the
action of the weapon.
  (B) A thumbhole stock.
  (C) A folding or telescoping stock.
  (D) A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
  (E) A flash suppressor.
  (F) A forward pistol grip.

With the passing of AB2728, the Attorney General no longer has the power to declare new weapons to be "assault weapons". All of the prior registration periods are long passed. Without new legislation, there will never be another registration period.

Let me repeat that:

  • All registration periods are over.
  • There will never be another registration period.
  • No one can register any more "assault weapons".

(But see the special case for law enforcement, below.)

See also the History of Assault Weapon Laws article.

Registration, by repute, was very sparsely obeyed

Published estimates generally group around 10% compliance with the registration requirement. A number of influencing factors have been suggested, including

  • the mistake of DROS for "assault weapon" registration
  • poor communication to gun owners of the requirement
  • a lack of attention by gun owners to changes in the law
  • an erroneous assumption, especially among law enforcement, that some individuals were exempt
  • a severe distrust of the government


Possession is a 'wobbler'

A "clean" first offense can be relatively minor:

  (b) Any person who, within this state, possesses any assault
weapon, except as provided in this chapter, shall be punished by
imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding one
year, or by imprisonment in the state prison.  

There was a lesser penalty for violations within one year of the end of registration, but such times are gone.

Transport is a FELONY

Sometimes a suggestion is made just to take a suspected unregistered "assault weapon" out of state. This is a very poor idea:

30600 (old 12280).  (a) (1) Any person who, within this state, manufactures
or causes to be manufactured, distributes, transports, or
imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes
for sale, or who gives or lends any assault weapon or any .50
BMG rifle, except as provided by this chapter, is guilty of a
felony, and upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment
in the state prison for four, six, or eight years.

Trying to avoid the loss of a few hundred dollars for the lower receiver, at a risk of four years in the state prison, is a serious misunderstanding of risk/reward.

What to do

Get a lawyer!

Do not, under any circumstances, consult your buddies, your brother, or your neighbor the cop. They are not the ones risking a year in jail - you are.

Do what your lawyer tells you. Certainly you will have to surrender the "assault weapon", at least the lower receiver; the upper receiver, barrel, stock set, magazines and internal parts are NOT the "assault weapon" so you may keep those.

Your lawyer should be able to arrange to surrender the "assault weapon" with minimal further problems.

Stop talking/posting!

It is extremely unwise to admit to a crime in a public forum, especially one read by many police agencies and the Department of Justice.

Special note for Law Enforcement

Officers have been authorized to purchase, and register, firearms which might be California "assault weapons" for duty use, if they get a letter on department letterhead and signed by an appropriate official - Penal Code 30630(b) (old 12280(f)(2)):

     (b) (1) Sections 30600, 30605, and 30610 shall not
prohibit the sale, delivery, or transfer of an assault weapon
or a .50 BMG rifle to, or the possession of an assault weapon
or a .50 BMG rifle by, a sworn peace officer member of an
agency specified in Section 30625 if the peace officer is
authorized by the officer's employer to possess or receive the
assault weapon or the .50 BMG rifle. Required authorization is
defined as verifiable written certification from the head of
the agency, identifying the recipient or possessor of the
assault weapon as a peace officer and authorizing that person
to receive or possess the specific assault weapon.

(2) ... In the case of a peace officer who possesses or
receives the assault weapon on or after January 1, 2002, the
officer shall, not later than 90 days after possession or
receipt, register the assault weapon pursuant to Article 5
(commencing with Section 30900), or pursuant to former
Section 12285, as it read at any time from when it was amended
by Section 9 of Chapter 129 of the Statutes of 1999 to when it
was repealed by the Deadly Weapons Recodification Act of 2010.