Are Shotguns Legal In California? A Close Look At State Laws

For firearm owners and hunting enthusiasts in California, the legality of shotguns is a common question. With some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, what do California statutes say about possessing shotguns? The short answer is yes – shotguns remain legal under state law with proper guidelines followed. However, California does impose limitations around features, configurations, transfers, and use to comply with stringent regulations.

This in-depth guide will examine key definitions, ownership requirements, feature restrictions, and usage rules that apply to shotguns in California. With a clear understanding of relevant statutes, shotgun owners can possess these firearms confidently and legally within the state.

California State Laws and Definitions on Shotguns

Penal Code definitions of shotguns

When it comes to firearms, California has some of the strictest regulations in the United States. To understand the legality of shotguns in the state, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the definitions outlined in the California Penal Code.

According to Section 12020 of the Penal Code, a shotgun is defined as a weapon that is designed or redesigned to be fired from the shoulder and has a barrel length of less than 18 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches.

This definition includes both pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns.

Differentiating shotguns from short-barreled rifles

It’s important to note that shotguns are distinct from short-barreled rifles in California law. While shotguns are defined by their barrel length and overall length, short-barreled rifles have a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches.

The key difference between the two is the type of ammunition they are designed to fire. Shotguns are designed to fire shotgun shells, while short-barreled rifles are designed to fire rifle ammunition.

Understanding the classification criteria

When it comes to classifying shotguns in California, there are a few criteria that determine their legality. First, shotguns must comply with the barrel length and overall length requirements mentioned earlier.

Additionally, they must not have a folding stock or a thumbhole stock, as these features are considered illegal under California law. It’s also important to note that certain types of shotguns, such as those with a revolving cylinder, are classified as “assault weapons” and are subject to additional restrictions.

For more detailed information on California state laws regarding shotguns, it is always recommended to consult the official California Department of Justice website at This website provides comprehensive and up-to-date information on firearms regulations in the state.

Requirements for Purchasing and Owning Shotguns

When it comes to purchasing and owning shotguns in California, there are several requirements that individuals must meet to ensure compliance with state laws. These requirements aim to promote safety and responsible gun ownership.

Background checks and FSC prerequisite

One of the main requirements for purchasing a shotgun in California is undergoing a background check. This check is conducted by the California Department of Justice and is designed to prevent individuals with criminal records or mental health issues from obtaining firearms.

Additionally, individuals must obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) before purchasing a shotgun. The FSC ensures that individuals have a basic understanding of firearm safety laws and regulations.

For more information on background checks and the FSC process, individuals can visit the California Department of Justice’s website.

Compliance with handgun roster

In California, shotguns must comply with the state’s handgun roster. This roster lists handguns that meet certain safety requirements and are deemed legal for sale in the state. While shotguns are not classified as handguns, they still need to adhere to specific safety standards to be lawful in California.

It is important for individuals to ensure that the shotgun they wish to purchase is on the approved roster before making a purchase.

The California Department of Justice’s website provides detailed information on the handgun roster and the approved shotguns.

Rules on transfers, loans, and sharing

California has strict regulations regarding the transfer, loan, and sharing of shotguns. In most cases, shotguns can only be transferred or loaned to individuals who have a valid Firearms Safety Certificate and have undergone a background check.

It is important to note that shotguns cannot be shared with individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law.

For a comprehensive understanding of the rules on transfers, loans, and sharing of shotguns, individuals can refer to the California Department of Justice’s website.

Restrictions on Shotgun Features in California

When it comes to shotguns, California has strict regulations in place to ensure public safety. These regulations cover various aspects of shotgun features, including assault weapon characteristics, magazine types and capacity, and additional prohibited features.

Ban on assault weapon characteristics

California law prohibits shotguns that possess certain assault weapon characteristics. These characteristics include features such as a detachable magazine, a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the shotgun, or a thumbhole stock.

Shotguns with these features are classified as assault weapons and are therefore banned in the state.

Limitations on magazine types and capacity

Shotgun owners in California must also adhere to limitations on magazine types and capacity. The state law restricts the use of detachable magazines that hold more than ten rounds for shotguns. This means that shotguns with detachable magazines exceeding ten rounds are illegal in California.

It’s important for shotgun owners to be aware of these limitations and ensure compliance to avoid any legal complications.

Additional prohibited features

Along with assault weapon characteristics and magazine restrictions, there are additional features that are prohibited for shotguns in California. These include features such as a forward pistol grip, a flash suppressor, or a grenade or flare launcher.

Possessing a shotgun with any of these prohibited features is against the law in California.

It’s crucial for shotgun owners in California to familiarize themselves with these restrictions and ensure that their firearms comply with the state’s laws. Violating these regulations can have serious consequences, including criminal charges and the confiscation of firearms.

For more information on California’s laws regarding shotguns, you can refer to the official website of the California Department of Justice at

Exceptions for Law Enforcement and Military Personnel

When it comes to firearms regulations, California has strict laws in place. However, there are certain exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel regarding shotguns. These exceptions are in recognition of the unique responsibilities and duties that these individuals have in ensuring public safety and national security.

Exemption from assault weapon ban

Under California law, law enforcement officers and military personnel are exempt from the assault weapon ban when it comes to shotguns. While civilians are prohibited from owning certain types of shotguns classified as assault weapons, those serving in law enforcement or the military can legally possess and use them in the course of their duties.

This exemption acknowledges that these individuals often face dangerous situations and require specialized firearms to effectively carry out their responsibilities. It is important to note that strict regulations and oversight are still in place to ensure these weapons are used responsibly and solely for official purposes.

Waiver for duty-related shotguns

In addition to the exemption from the assault weapon ban, law enforcement and military personnel are also granted a waiver for duty-related shotguns. This means that they are allowed to possess and use shotguns that may have features or modifications that would otherwise be prohibited for civilians.

These duty-related shotguns are typically equipped with features such as extended magazines, folding or collapsible stocks, and pistol grips, which may provide tactical advantages in certain situations.

The waiver allows law enforcement and military personnel to utilize these firearms effectively while carrying out their duties.

It is important to note that these exemptions and waivers are granted with the understanding that these individuals undergo specialized training and are subject to strict regulations and oversight. Regular evaluations and assessments are conducted to ensure adherence to protocols and guidelines.

If you would like to learn more about the specific laws and regulations surrounding shotguns in California, you can visit the official website of the California Attorney General’s Office. They provide comprehensive information on firearms laws, including exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel.

Guidelines for Shotgun Use and Possession in California

California has specific laws and regulations regarding the use and possession of shotguns. It is important for gun owners and enthusiasts to understand these guidelines to ensure compliance with the state’s firearm laws.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to shotguns in California:

Rules for transport and storage

When transporting a shotgun in California, it is required by law to be unloaded and stored in a locked container or the trunk of a vehicle. This ensures that the firearm is not easily accessible and minimizes the risk of accidents or unauthorized use.

It is also important to note that shotguns with a folding stock must be transported in the closed position.

For storage at home, shotguns must be stored in a locked container or equipped with a locking device, such as a trigger lock or a cable lock. This helps to prevent unauthorized access, particularly in households with children or individuals who should not have access to firearms.

Hunting regulations and licensing

Shotguns are commonly used for hunting in California, but it is crucial to follow the state’s hunting regulations and obtain the necessary licenses and permits. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is responsible for managing and enforcing these regulations.

Before going hunting with a shotgun, individuals must first obtain a valid hunting license issued by the CDFW. Additionally, specific hunting seasons and bag limits apply to different game species, so it is important to check the CDFW website or consult the appropriate regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Where possession is prohibited

While shotguns are generally legal in California, there are certain locations where the possession of firearms, including shotguns, is prohibited. These include federal facilities, schools, government buildings, and private properties where firearms are not allowed.

It is important to respect these restrictions and be aware of the areas where firearms are not permitted. Violating these rules can result in serious legal consequences.

For more information on California’s firearm laws and regulations, it is recommended to visit the official website of the California Department of Justice’s Firearms Division at


In summary, while regulated, shotguns can be legally owned in California when all requirements are met. Being informed on state laws for features, transfers, usage guidelines and prohibited areas is key for responsible shotgun possession. Overall, firearms remain accessible within the restrictions Californians face to balance public safety and 2nd Amendment rights.

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