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California Gun Laws - Transporting a Gun in Your Vehicle

Colt .45 AP

Colt .45 AP

Felony Anyone?

It is a potential felony in California to carry a loaded handgun in your vehicle unless you have a conceal carry permit, and your pistol has been registered in the California Department of Justice (sic) Automated Firearms System. If caught transporting a handgun unlawfully you could be arrested and jailed, spend thousands of dollars on legal defense fees and still receive a felony conviction. As a convicted felon you lose your right to own firearms.

If you are an honest, law-abiding gun owner in California you better be darn sure you know the rules for transporting a gun in your car. If you are a gang-banger or a criminal, don’t worry. These laws don’t pertain to you.

  • California Gun Laws
    California Gun Laws your source for all California legal resources on gun-related law, litigation, and legislation
  • CRPA
    California Rifle and Pistol Association.
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Read the laws

Log on to the website of the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) listed in the box to the right. Go to “Contact Us” and ask them for a copy of their pamphlet “Summary of California Gun Laws & Basic Safety Rules”. This is one of the best summaries available of California’s complex gun laws. When you receive your copy, read pages 5 through 7. Then send CRPA a donation or, better yet, become a member. They are fighting for your 2nd Amendment rights, which are rapidly dwindling away in California. While you are at it, join the NRA too.

Unloaded only

If you do not have a concealed carry permit, you can only lawfully transport a concealed handgun in your vehicle if it is (1) unloaded and (2) locked in the vehicle’s trunk, or in a separate locked container other than the utility or glove compartment. This means you cannot carry the gun in your vehicle’s center console, even if it is locked, or in the storage area behind the rear seat in hatchbacks. Penal Code Section 12026.1 defines a locked container as “a secure container which is fully enclosed and locked by a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or similar locking device”. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, CRPA recommends you put your unloaded Kimber CDP in a locking hard case. A small, portable safe bolted to the floor of your trunk is also a good option.



Sean Penn carries

One caveat: The trunk of you car is not the safest place to store your cherished .45 Colt SAA. A pistol belonging to actor Sean Penn was stolen from the trunk of his car while it was parked on a city street in peaceful, utopian Berkeley, California. This is the same liberal, anti-gun Sean Penn who actually has a concealed carry permit even though he is a known hot-head who once punched a photographer for taking a picture of Penn and his then wife Madonna.

Colt Python revolver

Colt Python revolver

Loaded or not?

Under Penal Code Section 12031 (g) a firearm is consider loaded when there is a live round of ammunition “…in, or attached in ANY MANNER to, the firearm”. Using certain accessories which attach to the firearm and are designed to store additional ammunition (speed loader anyone?) may cause the firearm to be "loaded". Under Penal Code Section 171(e) a firearm is loaded whenever the firearm and the ammunition are in the immediate possession of the same person. CRPA recommends you do not store the ammunition in the same locked box with your prized .38 Colt Detective Special because it would put both pistol and bullets within your immediate possession when you open the box.

Ruger birdshead revolver

Ruger birdshead revolver

Specific purposes

The legal authorization to transport a “concealed handgun” without a permit in your vehicle applies ONLY while going to or from the specific places, and for the specific purposes, identified in Penal Code Section 12026.2. These purposes are going hunting, going to a range, going to a gunsmith etc. It is illegal to transport a concealed pistol in your vehicle for GENERAL PURPOSES (such as self defense), even though it is unloaded and locked in a separate container. In other words, if you forget and leave your Taurus Judge 3” Magnum in the truck after coming back from the range, and later drive with it to the grocery store, you are unlawfully transporting the pistol.

Do you feel lucky?

California Penal Code 12025 reads: “Any person who commits the crime (sic) of carrying a concealed handgun and ammunition for that handgun…in his/her vehicle may be subject to a FELONY enhancement if the handgun is not on file (registered) in the Department of Justice’s (sic) Automated Firearms System.” In other words, if your Smith & Wesson M&P 45 is not registered, you are subject to a potential felony conviction just for having it unloaded and locked in a box in your vehicle if you are not on your way to the range.

Don't believe me? You may need an attorney soon so I have provided some resource links in the box to the right.

Your tax dollars at work

Your tax dollars at work

Rules don't apply to politicians

Write a letter to former California State Senator Don Perata (D, Alameda), thanking him for his role in passing the felony enhancement law. This is the same fervently anti-gun Don Perata who has a concealed carry permit because he says he receives death threats from pro-gun crazies. (Can you spell i-r-o-n-y?) This is also the same Don Perata who was carjacked in broad daylight in downtown Oakland by a career criminal who reportedly coveted the Senator’s state-leased Dodge Charger R/T with its set of 22” Panther chrome rims. Perata is running for mayor of Oakland so maybe he can do something about getting criminals off the street rather than criminalizing honest citizens.

Then again, maybe not.

  • California Gun Laws - Transfer a Firearm
    The laws in California concerning the lawful private sale or transfer of a firearm to another party are quite strict. Long gone are the days when you could purchase a 45/70 Marlin rifle from a private seller...


haitham mohammad from cairo, egypt on April 13, 2020:

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Interesting article

fadare dele on October 16, 2015:

I love this . It is very informative.

flacoinohio from Ohio on December 29, 2013:

Interesting article, in Ohio you can legally open carry without a CCW permit. However, as soon as that firearm that is openly carried outside a vehicle enters a vehicle it becomes a concealed weapon. As in California, an individual cannot carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle unless they are a police/law enforcement officer or possess a CCW permit. It is ironic how laws are written.

KaosSh3ph3rd on October 02, 2013:

This info is extremely valuable to almost anyone who ones a gun here in CA thank you! I'll be sure to include it in my site

Alan Hiatt on May 16, 2013:

Was thinking of joining until I realized you are giving out bogus information. Ever hear of The People vs Harvey Lee Clark? Check it out. It changes things considerably. California Penal Code, Section 26400 is of interest. It appears that if one is in legal possession of a firearm and it is within a vehicle, one CAN have ammunition and weapon in the same immediate vicinity. This in conjunction with the Clark case, I believe backs up my point.

Randy on March 19, 2013:

Anyone wonder why crime is so rampent in Ca. Actors,public officials and bangers are laughing at the rest of us.

Robert J. on April 17, 2012:

Criminals in CA must LOVE the strict gun laws there. After all, wouldn't highway robbery, rape and carjacking seem so much more appealing when you know that 70-90 percent of travelers are probably actually following the laws by leaving their guns at home, or locked safely away in a trunk to steal later with the car? Yeah, that really makes sense California. NOT!

A friend from the UK told me once that the laws there (UK) benefit the criminal more than the victim (you basically have NO RIGHT to self-defense, even in your own home with a knife or club).

Bad Info on April 14, 2012:

I posted a comment here last year outlining the multiple errors in this article. It is full of misinformation. I am a lawyer. My post was deleted. Do not follow ANY of the advice in this article.

ASH on February 28, 2012:

"Under Penal Code Section 171(e) a firearm is loaded whenever the firearm and the ammunition are in the immediate possession of the same person. "

While this is true, section 171 refers to being on state capital property and or the governer's mansion or property. This doesn't apply to 12025 as a "loaded weapon"

Dan on February 19, 2012:

So it is illegal to LUCC your handgun lets say, while taking the wife and kids to Denny's? I have been LUCC'ing my handgun since Open Carry was banned here in California. I put my gun in a locking soft side zipper case with a TSA padlock to secure the zipper. I bring it when we go out to restaurants. Am I breaking the law?

Mike on February 18, 2012:

That's California for you. Ours laws make carrying a gun completely useless in terms of using it for self-defense.

Rick.0 on February 16, 2012:

Per California's CHP page,(Regarding ammo in the same container)

I will be traveling to California and want to carry my weapon. I currently have a concealed weapon permit. How can I legally transport my weapon while driving through the state?

California law does not recognize concealed weapon permits from other states; therefore, they would not be held valid. If you wish to transport a handgun during your California visit, it should be carried unloaded in a locked container. In the absence of a suitable container, you may secure the unloaded handgun in the locked trunk of a passenger car. Ammunition may be kept in the same container or trunk, but the handgun must remain unloaded with no rounds in the cylinder and no loaded magazines in the magazine well.

Joe Grose on February 14, 2012:

I am an Arizona resident and have a carry concealed permit which is still current . I no longer need it in AZ. You wrote in jest about criminals and gang bangers not needing any permit ! You actually stated a fact ! There are most likely more illegal guns being packed in Cali. than anywhere in the world ! Their laws are a joke to everyone in the U.S.A.

Larry O on February 06, 2012:

This all changed with the passing of H.R. 822

Jonny Boy on February 05, 2012:

I have A question. what are the laws regarding a minor (16 or 17 years old) transporting a firearm. specifically a 20 guage shotgun. Unloaded, disassembled, and not near ammunition.

Ryan on January 23, 2012:

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure there are some gross inaccuracies on this page, as others have said. Namely:

Speedloaders don't fit within the definition of loaded according to 12031 because they aren't attached.

As pointed out above, section 171(e) applies to the State Capitol.

Section 12026.1 states that 12025 doesn't apply when your firearm is locked and unloaded. I have seen nothing suggesting it's illegal to transport an unloaded firearm in a locked container for any purpose.

Be accurate... on December 11, 2011:

171(e) has only to do with carrying a weapon inside a state capitol building.... not when you are out and about... quit promoting such gross inaccuracies.

asdf on December 11, 2011:


JD on May 05, 2011:

"Under Penal Code Section 171(e) a firearm is loaded whenever the firearm and the ammunition are in the immediate possession of the same person."

This only applies to PC 171(C&D)

"who brings a loaded firearm into, or possesses a loaded firearm

within, the State Capitol, any legislative office, any office of the

Governor or other constitutional officer, or any hearing room in

which any committee of the Senate or Assembly is conducting a

hearing, or upon the grounds of the State Capitol, which is bounded

by 10th, L, 15th, and N Streets in the City of Sacramento"(PC 171(c))


"(a) Brings a loaded firearm into, or possesses a loaded firearm

within, the Governor's Mansion, or any other residence of the

Governor, the residence of any other constitutional officer, or the

residence of any Member of the Legislature.

(b) Brings a loaded firearm upon, or possesses a loaded firearm

upon, the grounds of the Governor's Mansion or any other residence of

the Governor, the residence of any other constitutional officer, or

the residence of any Member of the Legislature."(PC 171(d))

Me on February 15, 2011:

No government has the right to take away any law abiding individuals from protecting his property or his family or his person. This right comes from god not any government. They will not take this right and responsibility away from me. Hey California!. I carry in your state. We can take this to the supreme court if you want.

gerard71powell from Glasbury, UK on November 19, 2010:

Nice overview, thanks for this. Every American should know their rights, front and back, to be prepared when you need them most.

dave on September 04, 2010:

well California probably has the most narcissistic people per capita of any state in the United States.that is why we have the most gun laws of any state in the United States. I'm pretty liberal pro-abortion .Pro Gay marriage.none of my business. You have four groups in the California legislature. Gays,ex-hippies, feminist, agents of Mexico. all of them feel their lives are more important than the Constitution.

Martin on August 16, 2010:

I appreciate your attitude on these oppressive gun laws for law abiding citizens.

Bryce Jackson on July 06, 2010:

Interesting hub. These laws seem quite confusing and contradictory however.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on May 01, 2010:

Great Hub. God Bless You.

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