REPORTING LOST OR STOLEN FIREARM
Like many other states, California has several different laws regarding firearms. The California Penal Code has many different regulations regarding the use, carrying, and concealment of firearms. There are also laws regarding the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
Failing to properly report a lost or stolen firearm could be an offense under California Penal Code Section 25250.
Under California Penal Code Section 25250, a person must report the loss or theft of a firearm that they own or possess within five (5) days of when they knew or reasonably should know of the loss or theft.
Penal Code Section 25250 also requires that, after reporting a lost or stolen firearm, you must then notify local law enforcement that you got it back within five (5) days of recovering it.
How can I be found guilty of failing to report a lost or stolen firearm?
To prove you guilty of failing to report a lost or stolen firearm, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:
- You owned or possessed a firearm
- The firearm was lost or stolen
- You knew or should have known that the firearm was lost or stolen AND
- That you did not report the loss or theft within five days of when you learned, or should have learned of it, to the law enforcement agency where the loss or theft occurred
A person can also be found in violation of Penal Code Section 25250 if the government proves
- That they previously reported their firearm lost or stolen
- That they recovered the firearm later AND
- That they did not report the recovery to the relevant local law enforcement within five (5) days of the recovery
What are the defenses to “failing to report a lost or stolen firearm”?
There are some defenses available to someone charged with a violation of Penal Code Section 25250.
You Are Exempt from Reporting Obligations under Penal Code Section 25250
The California Penal Code carves out certain exceptions to the “general” obligation to report lost or stolen firearms. If you belong to any of the following groups, then you cannot be prosecuted under Penal Code Section 25250:
- Peace officers acting within the scope of their official duties (if they still report the loss or theft to their respective agency)
- U.S. Marshals, while engaged in their official duties
- Members of the US Armed Services or National Guard, while engaged in their official duties
- Licensed Firearms dealers, who report the loss or theft in accordance with federal law
- Anyone whose firearm was lost or stolen prior to July 1, 2017
- Also, the law about reporting lost or stolen firearms does not apply to certain “antique” firearms specified in other sections of California law.
- You did not know, and could not have known, that the firearm was stolen
Penal Code Section 25250 has a “knowledge” requirement. It only punishes people who fail to take action when they know or should know that their firearm was stolen. Sometimes a gun might be stolen, and the owner might not realize this until authorities recover it much later during their own investigation. This might happen, for example, when a burglar breaks into a home unnoticed, steals the gun, and the gun is used in an related robbery. The original owner might not have known his gun was missing. In that case, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that the original owner “knew or should have known” his gun was stolen within any given five-day period.
Sometimes a person will report their firearm missing, but will do so more than five days out from the firearm’s disappearance. Here it becomes incumbent on the government to show that you somehow knew or should have known of the loss more than five days before you reported it.
Sometimes the above “knowledge” element can be proven with statements from the defendant about what they knew and when they knew it. If such statements appear “inconsistent” or otherwise incriminating, then the government might use them to prove that you actually did know or that you “should have known” about the loss or theft of your gun within the crucial five-day time period. You should take care to see if any such statements can be admissible in court.
The U.S. Constitution places certain limits on how police take statements from suspects. If you are questioned during “custodial interrogation”, police must first advise you of your right to counsel and right to remain silent-your “Miranda rights”-before questioning. If they fail to do this, then your answers could be suppressed, or thrown out, of your case. Similarly, if police obtain statements from you as part of an illegal detention, then statements you give could be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree”, made inadmissible based on the initial police misconduct.
What is the punishment for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm?
The punishment for violating section 25250 depends on what history, if any, you have for prior offenses. Failing to report a lost or stolen firearm is an INFRACTION as a first or second offense.
An “infraction” is the lowest level of offense under California law, and is often referred to as a “non-criminal” matter, similar in severity to a traffic ticket. As an INFRACTION, failing to report a lost or stolen firearm (or failing to report its recovery on time) is punishable by a fine of up to $1000.
As a third or subsequent offense, failing to report a lost or stolen firearm is a MISDEMEANOR. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that can be punished with jail time, probation, fines, or all three. As a MISDEMEANOR, failing to report a lost or stolen firearm is punishable by a period of up to six (6) months incarceration and a fine of up to $1000. Probation can also be imposed if convicted of a misdemeanor violation.