Penal Code 33600 PC - Zip Gun Law in California
In simplest terms, zip guns are illegal in California. Under Penal Code 33600 PC, it's a crime to manufacture, import, give, lend, sell, or even possess a zip gun.
A zip gun is an inexpensive makeshift gun that can be built with materials lying around in a garage or bought in the hardware section of any store. In other words, they are improvised firearms. A gun manufacturer does not make them.
Often, a simple rubber band is used for firing the weapon. Since zip guns are cheap, they are often thrown away after just one shot.
As noted, Penal Code 33600 PC makes it a crime to possess a zip gun, manufacture it, import it into California, offer or keep it for sale, or give it away to someone.
PC 33600 says, “…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 zip gun is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”
If convicted under this law, you could face up to 3 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
What Is a Zip Gun?
Legally speaking, a zip gun is defined as any weapon or device that meets the following criteria under California law:
- It was not imported as a firearm by a licensed importer;
- It was not originally designed to be a firearm by a duly licensed manufacturer;
- No tax was paid on the weapon or device, nor was it legally exempt from taxation; and
- It is either made or modified to expel a projectile (e.g., a bullet).
Put more simply; a zip gun is a homemade or improvised firearm. It is a weapon made from readily available materials, often using basic tools and methods. As a result, these firearms are typically crude, simple, and inexpensive compared to conventional firearms.
Zip guns come in various shapes, sizes, and calibers, ranging from small handguns to larger rifles or shotguns.
They are considered dangerous because they are nearly impossible to trace and are often designed to be single-use weapons. In addition, because they aren't made to manufacturer specifications, they can also be dangerous to the user.
What Is Prohibited Under PC 33600?
Under California Penal Code 33600 PC, it is a crime to do any of the following:
- Manufacture a zip gun, or cause one to be manufactured;
- Import a zip gun into the state;
- Sell a zip gun or offer one for sale;
- Keep a zip gun for the purposes of sale;
- Give, lend, or offer to give or lend a zip gun; or
- Possess a zip gun, meaning the gun is either on your person or within your control.
Exceptions to the Rule
As with similar offenses, California law stipulates that specific individuals are exempt from prosecution under PC 33600 firearms offenses. Such exceptions include, but are not limited to:
- Members of law enforcement and authorized military personnel; and
- Certain licensed antique dealers.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jerry assembles a zip gun using certain household items following instructions he found on the Internet. Even if Jerry doesn't use the weapon or has no intent to use it, he can be charged under PC 33600 for manufacturing the zip gun.
EXAMPLE 2: Darrell visits a friend in Nevada who gives him a homemade gun as a gift. Darrell stows the gun in his trunk and drives home to California. On a traffic stop, police open the trunk and find the zip gun. Darrell can be charged under PC 33600 for transporting the zip gun across state lines into California.
EXAMPLE 3: Tim accompanies his friend Jack on a hunting trip, and Jack lends him a rifle. Tim does not know that the rifle is a zip gun Jack made himself. Tim will likely not be charged under PC 33600 because he didn't think he was holding a zip gun; Jack, however, can be charged for making it and lending it.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 33600 zip guns, such as the following:
- Penal Code 12556 PC – imitation firearms,
- Penal Code 21510 PC – possession of a switchblade,
- Penal Code 22010 PC – possession of nunchucks,
- Penal Code 21110 PC – ballistic knife,
- Penal Code 22210 PC – possession of a baton,
- Penal Code 20610 PC – lipstick case knife,
- Penal Code 20910 PC – writing pen knives,
- Penal Code 16470 PC – carrying a dirk or dagger,
- Penal Code 20410 PC – belt buckle knives,
- Penal Code 24410 PC – possessing a cane gun,
- Penal Code 22410 PC – shurikens,
- Penal Code 22610 PC – stun guns,
- Penal Code 22810 PC – tear gas,
- Penal Code 171.7 PC – weapon at public transit,
- Penal Code 417.6 PC - brandishing a firearm causing injury;
- Penal Code 12022,3 PC - use of a firearm in a sex crime;
- Penal Code 12022.4 PC - aiding or abetting a felony with firearm;
- Penal Code 17500 PC - possess a deadly weapon to assault;
- Penal Code 11418 PC – weapon of mass destruction.
What Are the Penalties for PC 33600?
Violating PC 33600 is a "wobbler" offense, meaning prosecutors can charge it either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on certain factors such as the extent of the crime, your prior criminal record, etc.
- If you're convicted of a misdemeanor: You could face up to one year in county jail.
- If you're convicted of a felony: You could face 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison and a fine between $1000 and $10,000.
What Are the Defenses for PC 33600?
As discussed below, a California criminal defense lawyer can use several legal strategies to contest a zip gun charge under California Penal Code 33600.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. For example, if you were unaware that the object in your possession was a zip gun, you might say you did not knowingly possess or manufacture a prohibited weapon. This defense requires demonstrating that you had no reasonable cause to believe the item was a zip gun.
Perhaps we can argue that there was an illegal search or seizure. Evidence obtained might be inadmissible if the zip gun was discovered during an unlawful search or seizure. This could lead to the dismissal of the charges against you, as the prosecution would be unable to prove their case without critical evidence.
Perhaps we can argue that you qualify for an exemption from prosecution. For example, if you were a member of law enforcement in possession of the zip gun as part of your duties, or if you are a qualified antique dealer, you would not be eligible for prosecution.
Perhaps we can negotiate prefiling with the prosecutor to persuade them not to file formal criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.” You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.