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Which Weapons Are Legal for Self-Defense?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 05, 2023

In the State of California, the law acknowledges the right to self-defense, and the state permits using certain weapons for this purpose.  California has “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws.

Stand Your Ground” means that if somebody threatens you, you are not obligated to retreat to defend yourself. You have the right to remain present and protect yourself.

The “Castle Doctrine” says you are not obligated to retreat if an intruder enters your home or other personal space, such as a vehicle. Under California Penal Code 198.5 PC, a home intruder is considered a situation of reasonable fear of imminent harm.

Which Weapons Are Legal for Self-Defense in California?
In California, there are certain weapons that are legal to use in the act of self-defense.

Adults can legally carry a handgun that is lawfully possessed anywhere within their residence, place of business, or private property without a permit or license. However, it is illegal for residents to openly carry loaded handguns in public as defined under Penal Code 25850 PC, with a few exceptions in small counties.

Convicted felons are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm as defined under Penal Code 29800 PC. This law includes anyone convicted of a felony or addicted to narcotics. They are prohibited from owning, purchasing, receiving, or controlling firearms. Also, people with outstanding felony warrants are forbidden from owning or possessing a gun.

It is legal to purchase, possess, or carry a stun gun or taser for lawful self-defense as defined under Penal Code 22610 PC. However, you are prohibited from possessing a taser if you are a convicted felon, drug addict, minor under 18, or have a prior conviction for assault or misuse of a stun gun.

Stun guns are close proximity devices requiring you to be in physical contact with your attacker, which use a painful shock to discourage an attack. A taser uses projectile prongs that attach to a target at distances of up to 15 feet.

However, California also has strict regulations regarding which weapons can be possessed and carried—and who can carry them. Not all self-defense weapons are legal; even those legal have certain restrictions.

What are Legal Self-Defense Weapons in California?

As a general rule of thumb, if you're a civilian in California, almost any weapon you're legally allowed to possess may be used in self-defense, if necessary. The questions effectively boil down to the following:

  • Which weapons are legal to possess in California?
  • Which weapons are prohibited?
  • Whether you meet the qualifications for carrying certain weapons, such as firearms and
  • Whether you have been disqualified from possessing a weapon (e.g., a felony conviction).

That being said, let's look at some examples of legal self-defense weapons:

  • Pepper Spray: Pepper spray is allowed in California for self-defense purposes, provided the canister size does not exceed 2.5 ounces of active product.
  • Stun Guns and Tasers: Stun guns and tasers are legal in California, but there are restrictions. For example, you cannot own a stun gun if you are a convicted felon, a minor, addicted to narcotics, or have a prior conviction for misuse of a stun gun. There are also specific areas, like public buildings and schools, where these devices are prohibited.
  • Folding Knives: With the exception of switchblades (which are illegal), folding knives such as Swiss army knives, pocket knives, and box cutters are legal to carry. However, they must be in a closed position when carried in public.
  • Personal Alarms: California has no restrictions on possessing or using personal alarms.
  • Guns: California has a stringent and complex set of laws around firearms. Generally speaking, certain types of firearms like handguns, rifles, and shotguns are legal, but you must be of lawful age, pass a background check, have no felony convictions, and pass a safety course to own one. There are strict rules for storing these weapons, and you must obtain a concealed carry permit (CCW) if you wish to carry one in public.

Even with legal self-defense weapons, certain conditions disqualify an individual from carrying them. These include being under the prescribed age limit, having prior felony convictions, or being addicted to narcotics. Furthermore, individuals with restraining orders or declared mentally ill are also disqualified.

Some California laws make it illegal to use some weapons in self-defense, such as Penal Code 16590 PC, which prohibits manufacturing, selling, possessing, and using certain deadly weapons.

These include leaded canes, blackjacks, brass knuckles, and certain martial arts weapons such as shurikens.  Possessing or using specific knives, such as concealed dirks and daggers, is also illegal.

What are the Prohibited Weapons?

California maintains a long list of weapons that are illegal in the state, either to possess or to use in self-defense, as defined under Penal Code 16590. These include, but are not limited to:

What is Acting Lawfully in Self-Defense?

California law permits citizens to use legal weapons in self-defense but lists specific criteria for what counts as lawful self-defense. Exceeding or failing to meet these criteria can result in criminal charges and civil actions.  The requirements for acting lawfully in self-defense are:

  • Reasonable belief of imminent danger: You reasonably believe that you are in immediate danger—i.e., facing an imminent threat.
  • Necessary use of force: You must reasonably believe that using force is necessary to stop the danger.
  • No more force than necessary: You act with only a level of force that is reasonably required to stop the threat.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

California honors the "Castle Doctrine" in reference to self-defense, the use of weapons, and the use of deadly force. The doctrine is based on the idea that an individual's home is their castle, and they have the right to defend it with no duty to retreat.

Thus, in California, residents have the right to use deadly force within their homes (including self-defense weapons) if they reasonably perceive imminent grave danger, especially during illegal intrusions.

In effect, the Castle Doctrine assumes that residents have a reasonable fear of death or serious injury if an intruder unlawfully enters their dwelling. You can contact our law firm by phone or through the contact form for a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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