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Large Capacity Magazines, California Penal Code § 32310, and “Freedom Week”

Many people know that large capacity magazines are illegal in California. However, what many people may be unaware of are the caveats and history that affect the ownership and possession of “large capacity” magazines. California Penal Code § 32310 involves the importation, manufacture, and now possession of large capacity magazines. California Penal Code § 32310 is a “wobbler” meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, in application it is often charged as a felony which can have massive implications on an individual’s rights. The law makes it illegal to import magazines that hold more than 10 rounds into the state unless individuals hold the required permits.  The law also makes it an infraction or misdemeanor to possess large capacity magazines.  

A quick internet search will reveal examples of California Department of Justice Peace Officers conducting sting operations near the California border. Even going as far as sending operatives into other states to observe gun show transactions and those frequenting popular sporting goods stores. While it remains unclear how focused the CA DOJ remains on “Large Capacity Magazine” enforcement it seems that they have made dedicated efforts to show that they are enforcing the large capacity magazine laws.  

For many years, the law allowed companies and individuals to sell “parts kits,” which were ostensibly the dissembled versions of complete large capacity magazines. The idea being that individuals could use the parts to repair magazines that they already legally possessed before the § 32310 law came into effect. However, utilizing the combined parts an individual could “manufacture” a large capacity magazine illegally simply by putting all the parts back together. Such an act of reassembling parts could be a felony.  

Thanks to a federal court’s ruling, so called “freedom week” occurred between the hours of Friday afternoon on March 29, and 5:00 p.m. Friday, April 5, during that time hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds were lawfully purchased by California gun owners. There have been some examples of California courts upholding the legality of magazines acquired during “freedom week” as legal to own and possess. Although, law enforcement officers who may be unfamiliar with the law may still choose to arrest or cite individuals resulting in a costly, difficult, and uncomfortable situation for any of those who must resort to litigation to keep their rights and legally owned property.  

The prosecution must meet the burden of proof and demonstrate that magazines were not obtained and possessed legally, which at times can be a difficult showing.  However, people should consider that many modern magazine designs have the date of manufacture placed on them during the manufacturing process or may have only been produced after the time periods that they could have been legally obtained.  Those facts may allow the prosecution to easily prove that such magazines were not legally imported or possessed.  

To further complicate the issue, placing a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds into an otherwise legal rifle may result in the creation of an “assault weapon” and thus have much greater legal implications that are not explored in this article.  Additionally, the political climate and events such as mass shootings can quickly refocus both government interest and popular opinion against large capacity magazines and gun ownership.  

Firearms laws can be a complex and confusing area of practice for many lawyers who do not have familiarity with firearms, or experience dealing with firearms law violations. If you have been accused of a crime, or need to discuss whether your firearms or magazines are legal, make sure that you are working with an attorney who has experience in these areas. Chastaine Jones is a leading criminal defense firm in the greater Sacramento area and has the required knowledge and experience to assist you with your needs.  

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