See our Child Access Prevention policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
California makes someone criminally liable for keeping a loaded firearm where he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child (a person under age 18)1 is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or guardian, where the child actually does gain access to the firearm and either carries it to a public place, brandishes it in a threatening manner, or if someone is injured as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.2 The penalty imposed is significantly greater if someone dies or suffers great bodily injury as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.3
A person is also criminally liable for keeping a loaded or unloaded handgun on his or her premises, where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to it without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access and carries the handgun off the premises.4
Moreover, a person is criminally liable for keeping any firearm, loaded or unloaded, on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access to it and carries the firearm to any preschool or school grades K-12 or to any school-sponsored event, activity, or performance.5
In addition, under a California law enacted in 2013, a person is criminally liable in any of the circumstances described above, where the person obtaining access to the firearm is an individual prohibited from possessing a firearm pursuant to state or federal law.
Lastly, criminal liability is also imposed if a person negligently stores or leaves, on premises within the person’s custody or control, a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that the child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian (it is not necessary that the firearm actually be carried away or otherwise used by the child). No liability is imposed in this situation if reasonable action is taken to secure the firearm against access by a child.6
These laws do not apply if any of the following is true:
- The firearm was kept in a locked container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
- The firearm was locked with a locking device that rendered the firearm inoperable;
- The person had no reasonable expectation, based on objective facts and circumstances, that a child was likely to be present on the premises;
- The child obtained the firearm as a result of an illegal entry into any premises by any person;
- The firearm was carried on the person or within such a close proximity to the person that he or she could readily retrieve and use the firearm as if carried on the person;
- The person was a peace officer or a member of the armed forces or national guard and the child obtained the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the person’s duties; or
- The child obtained the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person.7
A parent or guardian is generally civilly liable for damages resulting from the discharge of a firearm by that person’s child or ward where the parent or guardian either permitted the minor to have the firearm, or left the firearm in a place accessible to the minor. These damages are capped at $30,000 per victim, and $60,000 total.8
For the warnings that firearms dealers must post regarding preventing children from gaining access to firearms, see our Dealer Regulations in California section.
For more information about firearm locking devices required in California, see our Locking Devices in California section.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25000. ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(b). This section references Cal. Penal Code § 417, which prohibits the drawing or exhibiting of a firearm in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or unlawfully using a firearm in a fight or quarrel. ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100(a), 25110. ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(a). ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(b). ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(c). ⤴︎
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25105, 25205. California law also includes the statement that “[i]t is the Legislature’s intent that a parent or guardian of a child who is injured or who dies as the result of an accidental shooting must be prosecuted only in those instances in which the parent or guardian behaved in a grossly negligent manner or where similarly egregious circumstances exist.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115 and 25210. In such cases, no arrest may occur until at least seven days after the accidental shooting, and law enforcement officials are encouraged “to delay the arrest of a parent or guardian of a seriously injured child while the child remains on life-support equipment or is in a similarly critical medical condition.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25120, 25215. ⤴︎
- Cal. Civil Code § 1714.3. ⤴︎