Assault Weapons – .50 BMG Rifles

Assault RiflesThese terms are a category of firearms restricted due to their potential to be used to commit crimes. By definition “Assault weapons” are semiautomatic firearms, including rifles, pistols, and shotguns, listed by statute or identified by their tradenames1 , or by description.2

A “.50 BMG rifle” is a similar form of firearm, it is a center fire rifle that can fire a .50 BMG cartridge, although not classified an assault weapon or a machinegun, it is consider potentially dangerous.3 There exists in California numerous statutes governing the control of firearms falling within these categories that place either requirements or restrictions on the manufacturing, selling, purchasing and possessing these weapons.

A person wishing to acquire an assault weapon or a .50 BMG rifle must first obtain a permit from the Department of Justice.4 A person who has registered an assault weapon or a .50 BMG rifle may possess it only under limited specified conditions, such as on the person's private property or at a target range or shooting club, unless a permit allowing additional uses is first obtained from the Department of Justice.5

The manufacture and sale of this form of firearm is also controlled. The Department of Justice may, on a finding of good cause, issue permits for manufacturing assault weapons or .50 BMG rifles. This is limited to manufacture, and sale for and to specified agencies and persons.6



Anyone who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports, keeps for sale, offers or exposes for sale, or gives or lends an assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 4, 6, or 8 years.7 The sentence is increased by 1 year if the weapon is transferred, loaned, sold, or given to a minor.8


  1. If an unauthorized person is convicted of possessing of an assault weapon in California they can be sentence to a county jail for up to 1 year as a misdemeanor, or by imprisonment as a felony. It is a defense for a person to shows it was possessed prior to the date it was defined as an assault weapon.9

  2. An unauthorized person possessing a .50 BMG rifle can be convicted of a misdemeanor.10 It is a defense if the person demonstrates they possessed the .50 BMG rifle before January 1, 2005;11 and the person has not previously been convicted of a violation of P.C. 30600 et seq;12 and the person had the .50 BMG rifle within 1 year following the end of the .50 BMG rifle registration period.13

  3. If a weapon classified as a .50 BMG rifle is seized from a person entitled to possess it, it must be returned. However, if the court finds that returning it would not be in the interest of public safety the court can prohibit returning it and the .50 BMG rifle will be destroyed.14 All other .50 BMG that don’t meet these conditions will be seized and destroyed. 15

1 Section 30510 of the California Penal Code.
2 Section 30515 of the California Penal Code.
3 Section 30530(a) of the California Penal Code.
4 Section 31000(c) of the California Penal Code.
5 Sections 31000; 30945 of the California Penal Code.
6 Section 31005 of the California Penal Code.
7 Section 30600(a) of the California Penal Code.
8 Section 30600(b) of the California Penal Code.
9 Section 30605(b)(1) of the California Penal Code.
10 Section 30610(a) of the California Penal Code; People v. James, 174 C.A.4th 676.
11 Section 30610(b)(1) of the California Penal Code.
12 Section 30610(b)(2) of the California Penal Code.
13 Sections 30905; 30610(b)(3) of the California Penal Code.
14 Sections 18000; 18005 of the California Penal Code.
15 Sections 18000; 18005; 30610(c) of the California Penal Code.