Are Semi-Automatic Shotguns Legal In California? A Close Look At The Laws

For shotgun owners and prospective buyers in California, the legality of semi-automatic models often raises questions. With the state’s strict gun laws, are these popular firearms allowed? The quick answer is yes – with caveats. Generally, semi-auto shotguns are legal for California residents who can legally possess firearms. However, these shotguns must comply with strict requirements on features and configuration under state laws.

This comprehensive guide will examine California’s evolving semi-auto shotgun statutes in detail. We’ll cover legal definitions, restricted features, purchasing requirements, grandfathering rules, and more to clarify the legal standing of these firearms for owners in the Golden State.

Semi-Auto Shotgun Definitions in California

Understanding the definitions and criteria surrounding semi-automatic shotguns is crucial for gun owners in California. The state has specific laws and regulations governing the possession and use of these firearms.

Let’s take a closer look at what exactly constitutes a semi-automatic shotgun in California.

What is a semi-automatic shotgun?

A semi-automatic shotgun is a type of firearm that uses the energy from a discharged round to automatically cycle the action and load the next round into the chamber. Unlike pump-action shotguns, which require the shooter to manually cycle the action after each shot, semi-automatic shotguns allow for rapid-fire without the need for manual operation.

Criteria that classify shotguns as semi-auto

California law defines a semi-automatic shotgun as any shotgun that has a non-manual reloading mechanism and can accept a detachable magazine. This means that the shotgun can automatically load a new round into the chamber without the shooter having to manually operate the action.

Additionally, the ability to accept a detachable magazine allows for quick and easy reloading.

It’s important to note that even shotguns with fixed magazines can still be classified as semi-automatic if they meet the other criteria. This distinction is significant because certain restrictions and requirements apply specifically to semi-automatic shotguns in California.

Centerfire vs. rimfire mechanisms

Shotguns can have either centerfire or rimfire mechanisms. Centerfire shotguns use a firing pin to strike a primer located in the center of the cartridge base, igniting the gunpowder and propelling the shot.

Rimfire shotguns, on the other hand, have the primer located around the rim of the cartridge base.

In California, the classification of a shotgun as semi-automatic is not dependent on whether it is centerfire or rimfire. The criteria mentioned earlier, such as having a non-manual reloading mechanism and the ability to accept a detachable magazine, are the key factors in determining whether a shotgun is considered semi-automatic or not.

For more detailed information on the laws and regulations surrounding semi-automatic shotguns in California, it is advisable to consult the official website of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms

California Semi-Auto Shotgun Restrictions

California has strict laws regarding the possession and use of semi-automatic shotguns. These laws aim to regulate the features and capabilities of these firearms to promote public safety. It is important for gun owners and enthusiasts to be aware of these restrictions to ensure compliance with the law.

Ban on undesirable features

California law prohibits the possession of semi-automatic shotguns with certain features deemed as “undesirable.” These features include pistol grips, folding or telescoping stocks, and thumbhole stocks.

The reasoning behind this ban is to prevent the quick and easy concealment of these firearms, as well as to discourage their use in criminal activities.

Additionally, semi-automatic shotguns with a fixed magazine capacity of over 10 rounds are also prohibited in California. This limitation is intended to limit the potential for mass shootings and increase the difficulty of rapid-fire capabilities.

Limitations on tubular magazines

Another restriction on semi-automatic shotguns in California relates to the capacity of tubular magazines. According to the law, shotguns with a fixed tubular magazine cannot have a capacity exceeding 10 rounds.

This regulation is in line with the state’s efforts to prevent high-capacity firearms from being easily accessible.

It is worth noting that detachable magazines are not subject to this limitation, as long as they comply with the overall magazine capacity restrictions mentioned earlier.

Compliance with gun roster requirements

In California, all firearms, including semi-automatic shotguns, must be listed on the state’s roster of approved handguns. This roster ensures that firearms meet certain safety and design standards. However, it is important to note that not all semi-automatic shotguns are listed on the roster, as they are subject to specific testing and certification requirements.

Gun owners should consult the California Department of Justice’s website for the most up-to-date information on which semi-automatic shotguns are approved for sale and possession in the state.

It is crucial for individuals to familiarize themselves with these regulations and remain compliant with California law. Failure to do so may result in serious legal consequences. Always consult with a legal professional or reliable sources, such as the California Department of Justice, for accurate and current information regarding the legality of semi-automatic shotguns in the state.

Purchasing a Semi-Auto Shotgun in California

Waiting period and background checks

When it comes to purchasing a semi-automatic shotgun in California, there are certain regulations that need to be followed. One of these regulations is the waiting period, which requires individuals to wait a specified number of days before they can take possession of the firearm.

In California, the waiting period for purchasing a firearm, including semi-automatic shotguns, is generally 10 days. During this time, a background check is conducted to ensure the buyer is eligible to own a firearm.

One gun a month limit

Another important factor to consider when purchasing a semi-automatic shotgun in California is the “one gun a month” limit. This means that individuals are restricted to purchasing no more than one firearm within a 30-day period.

This rule applies to all firearms, including semi-automatic shotguns, and is in place to prevent the stockpiling of firearms.

Firearm safety certificate prerequisite

Prior to purchasing a semi-automatic shotgun in California, individuals must obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). This certificate demonstrates that the buyer has successfully completed a written test on firearm safety and laws.

The FSC is valid for a period of 5 years and is required for the purchase of any firearm, including semi-automatic shotguns.

It is important to note that these regulations and requirements may be subject to change, so it is always advisable to check the most up-to-date laws and regulations on the official California Department of Justice website

Possession and Grandfathering Rules in California

When it comes to the possession of semi-automatic shotguns in California, it’s important to understand the state’s laws and regulations. In recent years, there has been increased scrutiny and debate surrounding firearms, leading to stricter regulations in some areas.

However, semi-automatic shotguns are still legal to possess in California under certain conditions.

Grandfathering of legally owned models

California law allows for the possession of semi-automatic shotguns that were legally owned and registered before specific dates. These shotguns are often referred to as “grandfathered” models. The exact dates and specific requirements may vary, so it’s crucial to consult the California Department of Justice’s official website for the most up-to-date information.

It’s important to note that the possession of semi-automatic shotguns that were not legally owned or registered before the specified dates is generally prohibited. Violating this law can result in serious consequences, including criminal charges and the loss of firearm privileges.

If you are unsure about the legality of your specific semi-automatic shotgun, it is always recommended to consult with a knowledgeable attorney or contact the California Department of Justice for guidance.

Inheritance and interstate transfer rules

California law also addresses inheritance and interstate transfer of semi-automatic shotguns. If you inherit a semi-automatic shotgun from a family member or receive one through interstate transfer, it’s crucial to understand the legal requirements and restrictions.

Under California law, the transfer of firearms through inheritance is generally allowed, but there are certain protocols and procedures that must be followed. This may include filing appropriate paperwork, obtaining proper permits, and ensuring compliance with all state and federal regulations.

It is advisable to consult with an attorney or legal expert to navigate this process smoothly.

When it comes to interstate transfer of firearms, including semi-automatic shotguns, federal laws apply in addition to state regulations. These laws outline the necessary steps and paperwork required for a legal transfer.

It is essential to consult with legal professionals and to thoroughly research the applicable laws to ensure compliance.

For more information on possession, grandfathering rules, and inheritance or interstate transfer of semi-automatic shotguns, visit the official California Department of Justice website at

They provide detailed information and resources that can help you better understand the laws and regulations surrounding firearms in California.

Penalties for Violating CA Semi-Auto Shotgun Laws

Criminal offenses and prohibitions

California has strict regulations regarding the possession and use of semi-automatic shotguns. It is important for gun owners to understand and abide by these laws to avoid serious legal consequences. Violating the semi-auto shotgun laws can result in criminal charges and prohibitions.

Under California law, it is illegal to possess a semi-automatic shotgun that has certain features, such as a folding or telescoping stock, a thumbhole stock, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, or a detachable magazine.

These features are considered to be characteristic of assault weapons and are prohibited.

If a person is found to be in possession of a prohibited semi-automatic shotgun, they may face criminal charges, including a felony conviction. It is important to note that California has a “strict liability” standard when it comes to these firearms, meaning that intent to possess or use the prohibited features is not necessary for a conviction.

Merely possessing the firearm with the prohibited features is enough to face charges.

Fines and imprisonment terms

The penalties for violating the semi-auto shotgun laws in California can be severe. The exact fines and imprisonment terms vary depending on the specific circumstances and the individual’s criminal history.

However, individuals found guilty of possessing a prohibited semi-automatic shotgun could face fines of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.

In addition to the criminal penalties, individuals convicted of violating these laws may also face the confiscation of the prohibited firearm and a prohibition on owning or possessing firearms in the future.

These consequences can have a significant impact on a person’s personal and professional life.

It is crucial to remember that the information provided here is not legal advice. Gun owners in California should consult with an attorney or refer to official government resources, such as the California Department of Justice website (, for the most up-to-date and accurate information on the state’s semi-automatic shotgun laws and the penalties for violation.


In summary, while legal to own under most circumstances, semi-automatic shotguns face stringent regulations in California. Adhering to all state requirements on compliant configurations and transfers is essential for lawful possession. With sound information and adherence to the laws, firearm enthusiasts can exercise their 2nd Amendment rights while owning semi-auto shotguns in California.

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