California is many things to many people, but those of us who love the 2nd Amendment and care about protecting ourselves and our families, California represents just about everything wrong with government-run amok.
With the perpetual air of an overbearing parent, there is no limit to the pointless and arbitrary laws they pass restricting citizens’ rights to own, carry and use various weapons.
In fact, plenty of people from other, better, and freer states think that average joe citizens cannot own weapons at all in the Golden State. Happily, that is not entirely true.
So, what self-defense weapons are legal in California?
Citizens in California may legally own and carry tactical flashlights, tactical pens, stun guns, tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, knives, and guns, though the latter two are heavily restricted compared to most states.
Despite these transgressions, despite the fact that they make it difficult for people to own the best tools to protect themselves, the fact remains that there are still ways to do so in California.
We’ll talk more about what self-defense weapons are available to residents and visitors in the state, along with any relevant need-to-know info.
Are You Even Allowed to Protect Yourself in California?
In most areas, despite popular conception, yes, you are.
In fact, California has the functional equivalent of castle doctrine through the use of jury instructions, and the rest of the state statutes to make allowances for the use of force in self-defense, including deadly force.
This is a big deal because the castle doctrine conceptually provides that your home is your “castle”, and you have the right to defend it against violent intruders using whatever force you deem necessary to halt the home invasion, up to and including lethal force.
While this doesn’t exist as an explicit law in California (compared to some other states) and is not as robust or reliable a legal concept as elsewhere, it is definitely a good thing.
Now, something to keep in mind is that many places in California are, surprise surprise, highly liberal. This liberal culture permeates every facet of society, including the courts.
Keep that in mind, because despite what the law says on the books in black and white your actions taken in any self-defense encounter will be dissected by a judge and jury in excruciating detail.
They might well decide that the 7-time felon and murderer that broke into your home or mugged you on the street was just a good boy who didn’t mean any harm, and was only acting up because of his unhappy domestic environment.
Your shooting or stabbing of him cut short a life that was destined for greatness. Now you are the one facing charges…
So, legal weapons or no, you should always attempt to avoid or disengage from trouble in California whenever and however possible.
Legal Self-Defense Weapons in California
The following weapons are those that are completely, totally legal with no questions, even if certain varieties or features are restricted or forbidden.
In the case of other weapons that don’t appear on this list, such as kubotans, they are omitted either because they are not legal by name or because they are in a legal grey area owing to nebulous definitions.
If you’re unsure about something, your best bet is always to check with an attorney beforehand.
1. Tactical Flashlights
A good flashlight is an incredibly versatile and potent tool, one that can be used for self-defense, signaling for help, finding your way in the dark, and a whole host of other applications. Truly they are a prepper’s best friend.
The ideal flashlights for self-defense are those that are bright enough to temporarily blind or disorient an attacker by removing their visual horizon, and also have a crenellated or “castle” bezel (the part surrounding the lens) that can be used to strike or rake an assailant.
A sturdy, aircraft aluminum or steel flashlight can make a hell of an impact weapon or fist load in a fight!
Also note that in California, any flashlight that does not fall under the definition of a “billy club” is legal to own and carry for self-defense, which will include virtually every pocket-sized tactical light on the market.
Just make sure you don’t buy one with an overly long, built-in grip or handle designed to serve as a baton or other bludgeoning instrument, as those are likely to be considered billy clubs and thus illegal in CA.
2. Tactical Pens
A tactical pen is essentially an innocuous writing instrument, but one designed in such a way that it is durable enough and shaped correctly to be used as a self-defense weapon.
This is usually done by way of their metal construction, hardened tips, and sometimes crenellations on cap or reverse end of the pen.
These can be used for self-defense in much the same way as a kubotan could be(or other non-lethal self defense weapons), for locks, holds, pressure points, and the like but also as a fist load weapon for striking.
Tactical pens are legal to own and carry in California, with the only caveat being that they cannot have a sharpened dagger-like point, as that would turn them into stabbing weapons. More on those in a bit.
3. Pepper Spray and Tear Gas
Pepper spray is legal in California and in all of the rest of the US states. Good news, since pepper spray is ounce for ounce one of the very best self-defense tools anyone can carry.
California is surprisingly lenient when it comes to self-defense sprays of all kinds, and there are only a few significant laws to be aware of.
First, no civilian may carry a canister that holds more than 2.5oz of solution, of any kind.
Second, it may not be legally carried by anyone with a felony conviction in their background or anyone under 18 (or 16 with written parental permission).
Finally, it must have a label that includes the name and address of the manufacturer, a serial number, and an expiration date.
Other than that, all common formulations and blend of pepper spray, tear gas, and other chemicals are legal!
4. Tasers and Stun Guns
Tasers and stun guns function similarly, both relying on pain and the disruption of muscle control via electrical current to stop or deter an attacker, but there are some key differences.
Tasers fire two darts connected to the device by wires, allowing the defender to strike from a distance.
A stun gun must, counter-intuitively, be placed directly against an assailant’s body and triggered to work. Both deliver a painful electric shock that may cause temporary paralysis.
In California, it is currently legal to purchase and possess both tasers and stun guns for self-defense, however there are some caveats.
First, you must be 18 years of age or older to purchase or possess either one (or again, 16 or older with written permission from parent).
Second, you may not bring either type of device into any airport terminal or onto any aircraft, into a school, or into any public meeting. Other than that, though, you can own and carry with no issue.
Knives can be incredibly useful tools, but they can also be deadly and decisive defensive weapons.
In California, the laws governing knives are pretty restrictive compared to most places, with several common types, blade styles, and actions being completely illegal.
Some knives are legal to carry openly, others are legal to carry concealed, and still, others can be carried openly or concealed.
In short, switchblades, ballistic knives, non-metallic knives, and belt-buckle knives are totally illegal.
Dirks, daggers and pretty much all fixed-blade knives may only be carried openly, and most folding knives may be carried concealed legally as long as they are closed and otherwise legal to possess.
Make sure you brush up thoroughly on Cali’s knife laws before you commit; they are a doozy!
This one should come as no surprise: firearms are heavily regulated and “neutered” in California, but handguns, shotguns, and rifles are all legal.
In order to purchase or possess a firearm, you must first obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate from the California Department of Justice.
Depending on what kind of firearm you are buying- handgun or long gun- there may be additional requirements beyond the usual show ID and do a background check.
California bans many guns by name or type, bans (what they call) high-capacity magazines, and prohibits many ergonomic and aesthetic features from guns entirely.
That being said, you can still own a gun for home defense and might possibly get a concealed weapons to permit allowing you to carry if you are persistent and very lucky.
Not easy, not straightforward, but doable.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.