Are Suppressors Illegal In California?

For gun owners in California, the laws surrounding firearm suppressors, also known as silencers, are complex and constantly evolving. If you’ve asked yourself ‘Are suppressors illegal in California?’, you’re not alone.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, suppressors are illegal for civilian use in California. Very limited exceptions exist for law enforcement and military purposes.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide an overview of California’s suppressor laws, trace how they have changed over time, compare them to federal regulations, outline the limited legal uses, and more. Read on for the complete legal analysis on suppressors in California.

Overview of California Suppressor Laws

When it comes to suppressors, commonly referred to as “silencers,” California has some strict regulations in place. Here’s an overview of the suppressor laws in the state:

Suppressors are Classified as NFA Firearms

In California, suppressors are considered NFA (National Firearms Act) firearms. This means that they are subject to federal regulations and must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The NFA requires individuals to undergo a thorough background check, pay a $200 tax stamp, and obtain approval from the ATF before owning a suppressor.

It’s important to note that although suppressors are legal under federal law, individual states can impose additional restrictions. California is one such state that has placed specific limitations on suppressor ownership.

Banned for Civilian Use Under State Law

Unfortunately for firearm enthusiasts in California, suppressors are prohibited for civilian use under state law. The California Penal Code Section 33410 explicitly states that it is illegal to possess, manufacture, import, or sell a suppressor within the state, unless you fall into one of the few exceptions.

Law enforcement officers, members of the military, and individuals who have obtained a special permit for scientific or research purposes may be exempt from this ban. However, the process of obtaining such a permit is complex and requires approval from multiple authorities.

Penalties for Illegal Possession

The penalties for illegally possessing a suppressor in California can be severe. Violators can face felony charges, which may result in imprisonment, hefty fines, or both. It’s crucial to understand and abide by the state’s laws regarding suppressors to avoid legal consequences.

While some states have relaxed their suppressor laws in recent years, California remains one of the stricter states when it comes to suppressor ownership. It’s always advisable to consult legal counsel and stay informed about any changes in state and federal laws.

History and Changes to California’s Laws

California has a long and complex history when it comes to firearms regulations, and suppressors are no exception. Let’s take a look at the key moments and changes in California’s laws regarding suppressors.

Suppressors Restricted Since Early 1900s

The use of suppressors, also known as silencers, has been heavily regulated in California since the early 1900s. In 1909, the state passed a law making it illegal to possess or use a firearm with a silencer attached.

This was primarily due to concerns over public safety and the potential for criminals to use suppressors to commit crimes without being easily detected.

Since then, California has maintained strict regulations on suppressors, making it one of the few states where they are illegal for civilian use.

Tightened Regulations in the 1980s and 90s

In the 1980s and 1990s, California further tightened its regulations on suppressors. In 1982, the state enacted a law that made it a felony to possess a silencer, with limited exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel.

This law also included strict penalties for anyone caught manufacturing, selling, or importing suppressors.

Then, in 1994, California passed the Assault Weapons Control Act, which expanded the definition of assault weapons and included suppressors in the banned features list. This meant that even if a firearm was legally registered, the possession or use of a suppressor was still illegal.

Failed Attempts to Loosen Restrictions

Over the years, there have been several attempts to loosen the restrictions on suppressors in California, but none have been successful. Proponents of suppressor legalization argue that they can help reduce noise pollution and protect the hearing of shooters, while opponents maintain that they pose a potential risk to public safety.

One notable attempt to change the law was in 2017 when a bill was introduced to legalize suppressors for hunting purposes. However, the bill ultimately failed to pass, and suppressors remain illegal for civilian use in California.

It’s important to note that while California has strict regulations on suppressors, other states have different laws. It is always crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific laws and regulations of the state you reside in or plan to visit.

For more information on California’s firearms laws, you can visit the California Department of Justice’s website.

Comparing California to Federal Regulations

Stricter Than Federal Standards

When it comes to suppressors, commonly referred to as silencers, California has some of the strictest regulations in the country. While federal law allows for the legal ownership and use of suppressors, California law imposes additional restrictions.

In fact, California is one of only a few states that outright bans the civilian use and possession of suppressors, regardless of federal regulations.

The strictness of California’s regulations can be seen in the lengthy and complex process required to obtain a permit. Individuals who wish to possess a suppressor must first apply for a permit through the California Department of Justice.

This process involves a thorough background check, fingerprinting, and an extensive waiting period. Once the permit is obtained, it must be renewed every two years.

No Civilian Use Allowed, Unlike in Many States

Unlike many other states where suppressors are legal for civilian use, California prohibits their possession and use by civilians. This ban extends to both firearms dealers and individual gun owners. The reasoning behind this ban is rooted in concerns over public safety and the potential for increased crime.

However, proponents of suppressor use argue that these devices actually enhance safety by reducing noise pollution and recoil, making shooting ranges and hunting environments more enjoyable and less disruptive to surrounding communities.

It’s worth noting that there are a few exceptions to this ban. Law enforcement officers and military personnel are allowed to possess and use suppressors in the line of duty. Additionally, individuals who hold a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and are engaged in certain occupational activities, such as gunsmithing or firearms manufacturing, may be granted a special exemption to possess and use suppressors.

Special Occupational Exemptions Mirrored Federally

California’s special occupational exemptions for suppressors mirror those outlined in federal law. This means that individuals who meet the federal criteria for an exemption, such as gunsmiths or firearms manufacturers, may also be granted an exemption under California law.

However, it’s important to note that even with an exemption, strict regulations and oversight still apply. These individuals must adhere to specific guidelines and maintain accurate records of their suppressor-related activities.

It’s important for individuals in California to understand the state’s regulations regarding suppressors and to comply with the law. Violations of these regulations can result in criminal charges and severe penalties.

For more information on California’s suppressor laws, you can visit the official website of the California Department of Justice:

Limited Legal Uses in California

While the possession and use of suppressors, commonly known as silencers, are generally restricted in California, there are a few limited legal uses for these devices.

By Sworn Peace Officers

One of the exceptions to the general ban on suppressors in California is for sworn peace officers. These officers, who have undergone specialized training and are authorized to carry firearms, are allowed to use suppressors in the line of duty.

This exception is based on the belief that suppressors can help protect officers from hearing damage and improve their overall situational awareness.

For Film and Entertainment Purposes

Another permitted use of suppressors in California is for film and entertainment purposes. When used in the context of a movie or television production, suppressors are often employed to create a more realistic audio experience without compromising the safety of the cast and crew.

However, strict regulations and permits are required for the use of suppressors in these settings, and they must be handled by licensed professionals.

For Some Pest Control Activities

In certain cases, suppressors are allowed for use in pest control activities. Farmers and ranchers may use suppressors when managing pests on their properties, such as dealing with invasive species that could cause significant damage to crops or livestock.

However, it’s important to note that specific permits and licenses are required for this use, and the suppressors must be used in accordance with local and state laws.

It is crucial to understand that these limited legal uses of suppressors in California are subject to strict regulations and requirements. Any individual or entity wishing to use a suppressor must ensure they are in compliance with all applicable laws and obtain the necessary permits and licenses.

For more information on the legal use of suppressors in California, you can visit the California Attorney General’s website for detailed guidelines and resources.

Owning a Suppressor in Neighboring States

Legal in Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon

While suppressors, also known as silencers, are heavily regulated in many states, there are neighboring states where owning a suppressor is legal. Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon all have laws that allow individuals to own and use suppressors for firearms.

This means that residents of these states can enjoy the benefits of reduced noise and recoil when shooting their firearms.

Can’t Legally Cross State Lines into California

However, it’s important to note that just because owning a suppressor is legal in neighboring states, it does not mean that you can bring it into California. California has strict regulations on suppressors and considers them to be illegal.

It is illegal to possess, sell, or transport a suppressor in California, even if it is legally owned in a neighboring state. Violating these laws can result in severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

Special Rules for Military Orders

There are special rules and exceptions when it comes to suppressors for military or law enforcement personnel in California. These individuals may be able to obtain and use suppressors as part of their official duties.

However, these exceptions do not apply to civilians, and the average person cannot legally own a suppressor in California.


In summary, civilian ownership and use of suppressors remains illegal in California, with only very limited exceptions. The state maintains strict regulations compared to federal law and many other states.

While there have been efforts to loosen these laws, suppressors continue to be heavily controlled and prohibited for the average gun owner within California. Understanding the complex legal landscape is crucial for complying with California’s suppressor restrictions.

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