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Limited Rights: .50 BMG Rifle Ownership in California

In California, .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) rifles are illegal. The state’s strict firearms regulations specifically prohibit the possession, sale, and manufacture of these high-caliber rifles.
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Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark

What is a .50 BMG Rifle?

According to Wikipedia, the .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun), also known as the 12.7×99mm NATO, and designated as the 50 Browning by the C.I.P., is a .50 inch (12.7 mm) caliber cartridge developed for the M2 Browning heavy machine gun in the late 1910s [1]. It officially entered service in 1921. Recognized under STANAG 4383, it serves as a standard cartridge for NATO forces and numerous non-NATO countries.

Variants and Uses
The .50 BMG cartridge has been produced in various forms, including:

  • Regular ball rounds
  • Tracer rounds
  • Armor-piercing (AP) rounds
  • Incendiary rounds
  • Saboted sub-caliber rounds

These rounds are typically assembled into a continuous ammunition belt using metallic links for use in machine guns.

The .50 BMG cartridge is also used in anti-materiel rifles. A wide variety of ammunition is available, and the availability of match grade ammunition has increased the usefulness of .50 caliber rifles by allowing more accurate fire than lower-quality rounds – Wikipedia

Fifty Caliber Rifle Laws in California

California generally prohibits the manufacture, distribution, transportation, importation, keeping or offering for sale, giving, or lending of a .50 BMG rifle without a California Department of Justice (“DOJ”)-issued permit. Such permits may only be issued upon a finding of good cause to certain law enforcement agencies and officers or to individuals over the age of 18.5.

Here’s an overview of the current laws and recent legislative changes:

General Prohibitions
California generally prohibits the following activities involving .50 BMG rifles without a permit issued by the California Department of Justice (DOJ):

  • Manufacture
  • Distribution
  • Transportation
  • Importation
  • Sale or offering for sale
  • Giving or lending

Such permits are granted only to certain law enforcement agencies and officers or to individuals over the age of 18, provided there is a finding of good cause.

Possession Regulations
Possession of .50 BMG rifles is also generally prohibited, except for individuals who lawfully registered their rifles before April 30, 2006. Since the registration period has long expired, new registrations are not accepted by the DOJ.

Owners of lawfully registered .50 BMG rifles can only possess these firearms under specific conditions unless they obtain a permit for additional uses. These conditions include:

  • At the owner’s residence, place of business, or other owned property, or on another’s property with the owner’s explicit permission.
  • At certain target ranges and shooting clubs.
  • On publicly owned land if specifically permitted by the managing agency.
  • While transporting the firearm between any of the aforementioned locations or to a licensed gun dealer for servicing and repair.

Possession of a .50 BMG rifle in violation of state laws is considered a public nuisance.

Recent Legislative Changes
1. SB 1327 (Effective January 1, 2023)

This law integrates the state’s criminal laws regarding .50 BMG rifles into the Business and Professions Code, establishing a process for private civil suits to enforce the law. It prohibits:

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, importation into the state, keeping for sale, offering for sale, giving, lending, or causing the manufacture, distribution, or transportation of .50 BMG rifles.

Private individuals (excluding state or local government officers or employees) are authorized to file civil actions and seek court-ordered remedies and statutory damages of at least $10,000 per weapon involved in a violation.

2. Firearm Industry Responsibility Act (Effective July 1, 2023)

This law mandates that firearm industry members comply with a “firearm industry standard of conduct.” It prohibits the manufacture, marketing, importation, or sale of any firearm or firearm-related product that is deemed “abnormally dangerous and likely to cause an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety.”

Certain features that make a firearm more suitable for assault rather than lawful self-defense, hunting, or legitimate sport and recreational activities are presumed to create an unreasonable risk. Victims of violations, the state Attorney General, or any county counsel or city attorney may bring a civil action for remedies and damages.

Penalties for Machine Gun Possession in California

In California, possessing a machine gun is considered a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be prosecuted either as a felony or a misdemeanor.

The penalties vary based on how the offense is charged:

Possession of a Machine Gun

  • Misdemeanor: If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties are less severe.
  • Felony: If charged as a felony, the defendant could face up to three years in prison.

Converting a Firearm into a Machine Gun

  • Always a Felony: Converting a firearm into a machine gun is a more severe offense and is always charged as a felony.
  • Penalties: Those convicted of this offense can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.

Additional Consequences

  • Loss of Gun Rights: Any individual convicted of either possessing or converting a machine gun will automatically lose their gun rights for 10 years.

Understanding the serious legal implications of these offenses is crucial for firearm owners. Compliance with California’s strict gun laws is essential to avoid severe penalties and long-term consequences.

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