Can a Felon Own a Pellet Rifle in California?

••• sport shooting image by Kostyantyn Ivanyshen from

Felons are not allowed to possess, own or use a gun in America, thanks to the Gun Control Act of 1968. However, BB guns and other air-powered weapons are not considered firearms in California, so, while a felon may not possess a gun that uses any type of gun powder to power its shot, pellet rifles are allowed.

Defining Firearms in California

Under California law, a firearm is defined as a "device designed to be used as a weapon from which is expelled through a barrel a projectile by the force of an explosion or another form of combustion." The detail about "the force of an explosion or another form of combustion" is the statement that specifically excludes pellet guns from the definition. Even BB gun pistols using a CO2 cartridge for additional projectile power are not considered to employ combustion.

When Can Felons Own Guns

While felons cannot generally possess guns in California, there are some exceptions. If a convicted felon has obtained a stay of imposition, a pardon or an expungement for his crime, then he can own a firearm once again.

Read More: Federal Gun Laws for Convicted Felons

Misdemeanors That Prohibit Gun Ownership

It is worth noting that, while no felons can own guns in California, some misdemeanors ban firearm possession as well. Specifically, convictions for domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a weapon, and certain sex crimes can result in firearm possession bans. However, those convicted of these crimes can be excluded from the prohibition on gun ownership if they obtain a stay of imposition, a pardon or expungement.

BB Gun Pistol Laws

While there are few BB gun laws in Arizona and many other states, California has several laws about the ownership and use of these devices. For example, they cannot be sold or provided to anyone under 18 without parental permission. It is also illegal to use the devices in a public place.

BB guns must be sold and manufactured with bright colors and an orange tip so they are easily identifiable as an imitation firearm, and removing or altering such markings to make the toy look more like a firearm is against the law. Additionally, any such devices manufactured after 2005 must have an advisory as part of the package stating that the product: 1) could be mistaken as a firearm by law enforcement officers or others; 2) that it is a crime to alter the coloration or other markings to make the device look more like an actual gun; and 3) that brandishing the BB gun in public could cause confusion and may be a crime.


  • Because pellet rifles and other air-powered weapons are not considered firearms under state law, felons can own and use them in California.

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