is my AR-15 CA legal

With the recent changes to the AR-15 laws, many California gun owners are a little worried that their firearm might not be compliant.  To complicate things, who do you ask?  If you call your friendly DOJ office and they tell you you’re currently in possession of a felony firearm… oops?  This post is to answer any questions you may have on the new CA assault weapon laws.  (If you want some [good] options on what to do to make your AR-15 legal again if it doesn’t comply with current laws, read this post).

What IS the new law for AR-15’s?

If you want to see the complete law, click here.  Below are the highlights, with it paraphrased afterward:

First, the old law, penal code 30510 and 30515.  These define what is considered an assault weapon.  30510 lists specifics models, and 30515 lists features.  This is important. The definition of an assault weapon, copied and pasted from the California Penal Code is:

  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that does not have a fixed magazine but has any one of the following:
    • A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.
    • A thumbhole stock.
    • A folding or telescoping stock.                            
    • A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
    • A flash suppressor.
    • A forward pistol grip.
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches.

This means that for your AR-15 to be CA-legal, it must EITHER be featureless (not have features “a-f” above) OR have a fixed magazine.  It also can’t hold more than 10 rounds or be less than 30’’ long, but this isn’t new.

What IS new is the additional wording which excludes a bullet button as an acceptable way to fix the magazine: 

Any person who, from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2016, inclusive, lawfully possessed an assault weapon that does not have a fixed magazine, as defined in Penal Code section 30515, including those weapons with an ammunition feeding device that can be readily removed from the firearm with the use of a tool (commonly referred to as a bullet-button weapon) must register the firearm before July 1, 2018

So if you bought an AR-15 before the end of 2016 and haven’t updated it yet, it most likely has a bullet button.  These are not legal as-is anymore.  It’s also too late to register your firearm on the assault weapons registry.  Don’t panic, it’s easy to un-felonize yourself.  Just take apart the upper from the lower by removing the two takedown pins.  You no longer have a working firearm, and you’re not breaking the law as long as it stays like this until you update it:

With regards to an AR-15 style firearm, if a complete upper receiver and a complete lower receiver are completely detached from one another, but still in the possession or under the custody or control of the same person, the firearm is not a semiautomatic firearm (CCR 5471)

If you bought an AR-15 in 2017 or later, it should have been updated to be CA legal before you bought it.


Many people have wondered what EXACTLY counts as fixing the magazine or separating the action.  DOJ has kindly supplied a vocabulary list in CCR 5471:

Featureless” means a semiautomatic firearm (rifle, pistol, or shotgun) lacking the characteristics associated with that weapon, as listed in Penal Code section 30515.

Pretty straightforward.  No grenade launchers, etc.

Fixed magazine” means an ammunition feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action

Action” means the working mechanism of a semiautomatic firearm, which is the combination of the receiver or frame and breech bolt together with the other parts of the mechanism by which a firearm is loaded, fired, and unloaded

Disassembly of the firearm action” means the fire control assembly is detached from the action in such a way that the action has been interrupted and will not function. For example, disassembling the action on a two part receiver, like that on an AR-15 style firearm, would require the rear take down pin to be removed, the upper receiver lifted upwards and away from the lower receiver using the front pivot pin as the fulcrum, before the magazine may be removed

Lots of words to say a fixed magazine means your magazine can only come out if you split open your upper from your lower.

And, in case you want a little more clarification…

Detachable magazine” means any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm without disassembly of the firearm action or use of a tool. A bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool. An ammunition feeding device includes any belted or linked ammunition, but does not include clips, en bloc clips, or stripper clips that load cartridges into the magazine. An AR-15 style firearm that has a bullet-button style magazine release with a magnet left on the bullet-button constitutes a detachable magazine. An AR-15 style firearm lacking a magazine catch assembly (magazine catch, magazine catch spring and magazine release button) constitutes a detachable magazine. 

 “Contained in” means that the magazine cannot be released from the firearm while the action is assembled. For AR-15 style firearms this means the magazine cannot be released from the firearm while the upper receiver and lower receiver are joined together.

Now that you have an understanding of what your options are, you can relax, cancel your plans to move out of state (for now), and decide if you want to go featureless or fix your mag.  See this article for more info on your current choices and best products to use for this.  (BTW, if you registered your rifle thinking it was your only option and wish you hadn’t, you can deregister it by following the instructions here.)

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