Penal Code Section 171b – Unauthorized Possession of Weapons in Public Buildings and Meetings

Penal Code Section 171b punishes individuals who bring specified weapons into public buildings and meetings open to the public.

This blog post is for information purposes only.   In the author’s opinion, a person should always refrain from carrying anything even closely resembling a weapon in a state or local agency, or during the meeting of any government body open to the public.  You should immediately contact a competent criminal defense attorney if arrested for violating Section 171b.

Penal Code Section 171b applies to the following weapons:

(1) Firearms;
(2) Switchblade Knives as defined by Penal Code Section 17235.1
(3) Weapons listed under Section 165902, including:

(a) Air gauge knives3;
(b) Flechette dart ammunition4;
(c) ballistic knives5;
(d) belt buckle knives6;
(e) explosive bullets7
(f) camouflaged firearm containers8
(g) cane guns9;
(h) cane swords10;
(i) concealed dirks or daggers11;
(f) concealed explosives other than ammunition12;
(g) disguised firearms13;
(h) large-capacity magazines14;
(i) leaded cane15;
(j) billy clubs16;
(k) lipstick case knife17;
(h) metal knuckles18;
(i) replica hand grenades19;
(j) multi-burst trigger activators20;
(k) nunchakus21
(l) shobi-zue22
(m) short-barrelled rifles or shotguns23;
(n) shurikens24;
(o) unconventional pistols25;
(p) undetectable firearms26;
(q) wallet guns27;
(r) writing pen knives28;
(s) zip guns29.

(4) fixed blade knives with a blade exceeding four inches, or capable of being fixed in an unguarded position by the use of one or two hands.30
(5) any unauthorized tear gas weapon;
(6) any taser or stun gun31;
(7) BB guns, pellet guns, spring action guns or paint guns32.

Prohibited Acts Under Section 171b:

It is a crime to possess one of the above weapons within any state or local public building, or during the open meetings of public agencies.

“State and Local Building” Defined:

A building owned or leased by the state or local government, if state or local public employees are regularly present to perform their official duties. Public buildings include buildings containing courtrooms.

Exceptions to Section 171b Violations:

Section 171b contains certain exceptions:

Exception: Certain individuals who are licensed to carry concealed firearms.33 However, a person authorized to carry a concealed firearm may not carry a firearm into court if he or she is a party to the action!34
Exception: A person with written permission from a duly authorized official of a state or local government building.
Exception: A person who resides in, owns, or possesses portions of the building not owned or leased by the state or local government.
Exception: Individuals holding specified licenses outlined in Section 171b(b)(6) who have been hired and permitted by the owner or manager of the building to carry a weapon.35
Exception: Weapons possessed for sale or trade during guns shows.36
Exception: A person who possesses weapons in, or transports weapons into court to be used as evidence.37

Punishment of Section 171b Violations:

Section 171b violations are referred to as “wobblers,” in that they may be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor offense.

If prosecuted as a misdemeanor, a Penal Code Section 171b crime is punishable by a grant of probation and up to 364 days a county jail.

If prosecuted as a felony, a Penal Code Section 171b violation carries a term of 16 months, two years or three years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A court may also place a defendant on a grant of felony probation and order that he or she serve up to a year in the county jail.

About the Author:

Bill Haney is a Ventura County criminal defense attorney.  Mr. Haney is a former supervising prosecutor in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.  He has also enjoyed the privilege of teaching criminal justice students at the prestigious Pepperdine University School of Law.

Penal Code Section 171b Notes / Sources Cited:

1 See Penal Code Section 17235, defining a “switchblade knife.” The definition includes spring-blade knives, snap-blade knives, gravity knives or any similar type of knife with a blade greater than two inches in length.  Video examples of switchblade knives may be located here.
2 Penal Code Section 16590.
3 See Penal Code Section 20310. Penal Code Section 20310 prohibits the manufacture, import, sale, supply or possession of any air gauge knife.
4 See Penal Code Section 30210.
5 See Penal Code Section 21110.
6 See Penal Code Section 20410. Section 20410 prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, supply or possession of a belt buckle knife. Irrespective of Section 171b, the simple possession of a belt buckle knife may be prosecuted either a misdemeanor or felony offense.  For a video example of a belt buckle knife, click here.
7 See Penal Code Section 30210.
8 See Penal Code Section 24310. Camouflaging a firearm container is illegal in California.  Any person who manufactures, imports, keeps for sale, offers for sale, gives, lends or possesses any camouflaged firearm container may be punished with either a felony or misdemeanor offense.
9 See Penal Code Section 24410.
10 See Penal Code Section 20510.
11 See Penal Code Section 21310.
12 See Penal Code Section 19100.
13 See Penal Code Section 24510.
14 See Penal Code Section 32310.
15 See Penal Code Section 22210.
16 See Penal Code Section 22210. Section 171b refers to all weapons identified as a billy, blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap or slungshot as prohibited by Section 22210.
17 See Penal Code Section 20610.  To see a video example of a lipstick case knife, click here.
18 See Penal Code Section 21810.
19 See Penal Code Section 19200.
20 See Penal Code Section 32900.
21 See Penal Code Section 22010.
22 See Penal Code Section 20710.
23 See Penal Code Section 33125.
24 See Penal Code Section 22410. For a video example of a shuriken, click here.
25 See Penal Code Section 31500.
26 See Penal Code Section 24610.
27 See Penal Code Section 24710.
28 See Penal Code Section 20910. For a video example of a zip gun, click here.
29 See Penal Code Section 33600.
30 Penal Code Section 171b(a)(3)
31 Penal Code Section 171b(a)(5) & 244.5. Penal Code Section 244.5 defines a “stun gun” as any item capable of temporarily immobilizing a person by the infliction of an electrical charge.
32 Penal Code Section 171b(a)(6)
33 See Penal Code Section 171b(b)(2)
34 Penal Code Section 171b(b)2(B).
35 Penal Code Section 171b(b)(6).
36 Penal Code Section 171b(b)(7).
37 Penal Code Section 171b(b)(1). Attorneys should always inform the judge and bailiff before bringing evidence in the form of a weapon into a courtroom. Firearms and other weapons will be professionally secured and stored by the bailiff during court proceedings. In many instances, a judge may not allow the admission of a weapon into evidence for court security.