Contact Us for a Free Consultation (213) 542-0979


What Are the Legal Self-Defense Weapons?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | May 25, 2024

All states recognize a person's right to self-defense, including the weapons you can legally possess. In California, Various self-defense weapons, such as tasers, stun guns, certain knives, and specific firearms. Personal alarms are also legal, which are devices typically attached to keychains and designed to release loud, deafening sounds when triggered.

Simply put, you're permitted by law to purchase, own, and carry tasers or stun guns for self-defense purposes. Notably, however, this does not apply to people with a prior felony conviction, drug addicts, minors, or anyone with a previous history of misusing a stun gun.

Legal Self-Defense Weapons in California
A variety of self-defense weapons are legal in California, such as tasers and stun guns.

California residents can legally carry folding knives if they are in the folded state, but this does not include switchblades. Some examples of legal knives include pocket knives, Swiss Army knives, box cutters, and similar utility knives.

Most firearms are strictly regulated under California law, which determines the type of firearm you can own, their intended use, and guidelines for safe storage and transportation. Most people over 21 can legally own and possess conventional firearms like handguns and shotguns.

However, California does restrict the use of specific firearms for self-defense. For example, Penal Code 16590 PC prohibits creating, selling, owning, and using certain hazardous weapons, such as brass knuckles, leaded canes, blackjacks, and certain martial arts weapons like shurikens.

Possessing specific knives and weapons is also illegal in California. For example, concealing dirks and daggers violates Penal Code 21310 PC. Owning or possessing assault weapons violates Penal Code 30605 PC. California law also prohibits the possession of zip guns, undetectable firearms, and short-barreled shotguns. Let's discuss this issue in more detail below.

The Right to Self-Defense in California

California's self-defense statutes permit individuals to take a stand and defend themselves without retreating if they reasonably sense imminent physical danger.

This includes a reasonable belief that using force is essential to stop the perceived threat. Notably, however, the force exerted must be proportionate and not exceed what is necessary to end the perceived risk.

California law recognizes the legal right to self-defense and allows using certain weapons for this purpose, including the "Stand Your Ground" and "Castle Doctrine" laws. Consider the following:

  • Stand your ground refers to a scenario where you are threatened. You are not obligated to retreat to defend yourself and have the right to remain present and protect yourself.
  • The Castle Doctrine says you are not obligated to retreat if an intruder enters your home, which is considered a situation of reasonable fear of imminent harm.

California Penal Code PC 198.5 says, "Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

As this section uses, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury."

The Castle doctrine is based on the theory that a person's home is their castle, and they can defend it with no duty to retreat. Simply put, residents have the legal right to use deadly force within their homes, including self-defense weapons, if they reasonably perceive imminent danger, such as illegal intrusions into their homes.

This doctrine assumes that residents reasonably fear death or serious injury if an intruder unlawfully enters their dwelling. Without a permit or license, you can carry a lawfully possessed handgun anywhere in your residence, business place, or private property.

Which Weapons Are Legal for Self-Defense?

Typically, weapons you're legally allowed to possess can be used in self-defense, such as the following:

  • Stun guns and tasers. These are generally described as proximity devices requiring physical contact with your attacker. They use a painful shock to discourage an attack with projectile prongs attached to a target. These are legal as defined under Penal Code 22610 PC, but with restrictions, such as convicted felons and drug addicts are prohibited from using them, and they are also not allowed in public buildings and schools.
  • Folding knives. This includes Swiss army knives, pocket knives, and box cutters, but they must remain closed in public.
  • Pepper spray. This can be used for the purpose of self-defense purposes if the canister does not exceed 2.5 ounces of active product.
  • Personal alarms. There are no restrictions on possessing or using them.
  • Some types of firearms. This includes handguns, rifles, and shotguns, but you must pass a background pass a background check and pass a safety course to own them. You must obtain a concealed carry permit (CCW) to carry one in public.

Convicted felons and those with restraining orders against them or declared mentally ill are prohibited from carrying these self-defense weapons.

Which Weapons Are Prohibited?

Various California laws prohibit certain weapons are illegal to possess or be used in self-defense, such as the following:

  • Penal Code 21810 PC - Brass Knuckles,
  • Penal Code 21310 PC - Dirks and Daggers,
  • Penal Code 22010 PC - Nunchucks,
  • Penal Code 21510 PC - Switchblades,
  • Penal Code 33215 PC - Short-Barreled Shotguns,
  • Penal Code 16590 PC - Dangerous Weapons,
  • Penal Code 25850 PC - Carry Handguns in Public,
  • Penal Code 30605 PC - Assault Weapons,
  • Penal Code 22210 PC - Batons and Leaded Canes,
  • Penal Code 33600 PC - Zip Guns,
  • Penal Code 22410 PC - Shurikens.

Convicted felons are prohibited from owning, purchasing, receiving, controlling, or possessing a firearm as defined by Penal Code 29800 PC, and anyone addicted to drugs or has an outstanding felony warrant.

What is Acting in Self-Defense?

As discussed above, you can use legal weapons in self-defense, but there are criteria for what counts as lawful self-defense, such as the following:

  • You must reasonably believe that you are in immediate danger and facing an imminent threat.
  • You must reasonably believe using force is necessary to stop the danger.
  • You can only use a level of force that is reasonably required to stop the threat.

If you fail to satisfy these requirements, you could face criminal charges or civil actions against you. California has strict firearms laws, including the type of weapons that can be used in self-defense. Contact us for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

Related Content:

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.