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Penal Code 33215 PC - Short-Barreled Rifles and Sawed-Off Shotguns

California has strict laws regulating firearms possession, sale, and use. Penal Code 33215 PC specifically outlaws short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns.  This law aims to protect public safety by limiting the accessibility of these highly dangerous and concealable firearms.

Short-Barreled Rifles and Sawed-Off Shotguns - Penal Code 33215 PC
Penal Code 33215 PC prohibits the possession or sale of short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns.

This statute makes it illegal to possess, manufacture, import, keep or offer to sell or give them to someone.

Regarding “possession,” courts have ruled that someone can be guilty of this crime even if the rifle or shotgun was broken down into individual component parts as long as the firearm could be assembled quickly.

PC 33215 says, “Except as provided in Sections 33220 and 33225, any person in this state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses any short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”

If you are convicted of a crime under this law, depending on the circumstances of the case and your prior record, you could face up to 3 years in prison. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

PC 33215 Explained

Under California Penal Code 33215 PC, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, transport, import, keep for sale, offer for sale, or give away any short-barreled rifle or sawed-off shotgun in the state of California. 

A short-barreled rifle is defined under Penal Code 17170 PC as the following:

  • A rifle with a barrel length of fewer than 16 inches;
  • A rifle with an overall length of fewer than 26 inches.

A sawed-off shotgun is defined under Penal Code 17180 PC as the following:

  • A shotgun with a barrel length of fewer than 18 inches;
  • A shotgun with an overall length of fewer than 26 inches.

A sawed-off shotgun is also called a short-barreled shotgun.

What Are the Exceptions to PC 33215?

Several individuals and scenarios are exempted from prosecution for violating PC 33215 like other firearm offenses are handled under California law.

The exceptions include but are not limited to the following:

  • Law Enforcement Officers. In certain circumstances, active-duty law enforcement officers may possess short-barreled rifles or sawed-off shotguns as part of their official duties.
  • Military Personnel. Active-duty military personnel may possess these firearms in connection with their service.
  • Licensed Collectors. Antique dealers with valid federal firearms licenses may possess short-barreled rifles or sawed-off shotguns as part of their collection, provided they adhere to federal regulations.
  • Special Permits. In certain instances, the Department of Justice may issue a permit to possess one of these weapons if the applicant shows "good cause" and the permit "does not endanger the public safety." (PC 33300) The permit must be renewed annually. As long as the permit is in effect and the applicant abides by the rules, they are exempt from prosecution with this permit.

For those exempt from Penal Code 33215 PC, following California's registration requirements for firearms is essential. These individuals must register their short-barreled rifles or sawed-off shotguns with the California Department of Justice and comply with all state and federal regulations.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Benny purchases a sawed-off shotgun in another state and drives it back to California in his trunk. During a traffic stop, the CHP searches the vehicle and discovers the weapon. Benny can be charged under PC 33215 for transporting the sawed-off shotgun into the state.

EXAMPLE 2: Julie is a licensed antique firearms collector in California and has several short-barreled rifles as part of her collection. She is registered with the state and complies with all applicable laws. In this case, Julie would not be charged with violating PC 33215 because she is exempt from prosecution under the law.

EXAMPLE 3: Tom owns an illegal sawed-off shotgun. Since he is suspected of other criminal activities, he offers to sell the gun to his buddy Neil to get the gun out of his possession. Tom can be charged under PC 33215 for owning an illegal weapon and attempting to sell it.

What Are the Related Laws?

California Penal Code 16590 PC is the statute that regulates generally prohibited weapons. It lists several weapons or ammunition that are typically prohibited.  Some other related laws for Penal Code 33215 PC short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns include the following:

What Are the Penalties for PC 33215?

PC 33215 is a "wobbler offense," meaning it can result in either misdemeanor https://www.egattorneys.com/criminal-case-process-california/misdemeanor-crimes-in-californiaor felony charges, depending on the circumstances and the defendant's criminal history.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor and are convicted, you may face up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

If you're charged with a felony and are convicted, you may face 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Are the Defenses for PC 33215?

If you are charged under PC 33215, a California criminal defense attorney may be able to apply several strategies to combat the charge, as discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you had a lack of knowledge. For example, your attorney may claim you were unaware that the firearm in question was a short-barreled rifle or sawed-off shotgun. In other words, you did not willfully break the law.

Defenses for Unlawful Weapon Possession
Contact our law firm to review the case details.

Perhaps we can argue that you qualified for an exemption. For example, you may say that they were legally allowed to possess the firearm under specific exemptions in the law, such as if you were a member of law enforcement or had a special DOJ permit.

Perhaps we can argue that there was an inaccurate measurement. Your attorney may assert that the firearm's measurements were inaccurately taken and that it does not meet the criteria for a short-barreled rifle or sawed-off shotgun.

Perhaps we can argue that there was an unlawful search and seizure. If law enforcement officers violate your Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unlawful search and seizure, any evidence they obtain, including the weapon, cannot be used to convict you, and the charges will likely be dismissed.

You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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