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California Penal Code Section 171.5: Bringing a Weapon to an Airport in California

What Is PC 171.5 and What Constitutes a Violation of It?

California Penal Code section 171.5 is a California statute that makes it illegal to possess a firearm or several other kinds of weapons in an airport under certain circumstances. To be charged with a violation of this law, it is required that you:

  1. Willfully possessed a prohibited weapon specified in PC section 171.5 (c) 
  2. Possessed the weapon in  a “sterile” area of an airport

The statute lists various different types of weapons and items that resemble weapons that are illegal to bring to the airport. They include:

  • Firearms
  • Knives with a blade longer than 4 inches
  • Box cutters
  • Explosives/Grenades
  • Tear gas/Chemical gas
  • Imitation firearms/grenades/weapons
  • Tasers/Stun guns
  • Ammunitions/Magazines/Parts of firearms
  • “BB” guns/Paintball guns and their respective ammunition

It also specifies that it is not necessarily illegal to have these items anywhere in an airport, but only in “sterile” areas, which refers to anywhere past the TSA screening. 

What Are the Punishments for Violating PC 171.5?

Possession of a weapon in an airport is considered a misdemeanor offense in California. The punishments could consist of:

  • Up to 6 months in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

How Can I Defend Myself if I Am Accused of Possession of a Weapon at an Airport?

There are several possible ways to defend yourself if you are wrongfully charged with violating PC 171.5. Some of them include:

  • You are an individual that is exempt from PC 171.5 as specified in the same code
  • You did not know you were in possession of weapons
  • You did not bring the weapons into a “sterile” area
  • Your items are not classified as weapons under PC 171.5 (c) 

Many individuals, mainly members of law enforcement, are exempt from airport gun laws. Included in this are peace officers, retired peace officers, certain military and ex-military personnel, and airport security. 

It is common for people to accidentally bring items in their luggage that they did not mean to bring. For example, if you left a box cutter in a small pocket by accident, you couldn’t be charged with violating PC 171.5.

You can also defend yourself by showing that you didn’t bring the weapon into a sterile area. For example, if you were picking up a friend from the airport, and a security guard saw your weapon, you wouldn’t be guilty of violating PC 171.5 if you didn’t bring the weapon past TSA.

Lastly, it is possible for the prosecution to make a mistake when classifying your items as a “weapon.” The most common example of this is for knives, which you may be bringing with you for a purpose other than use as a weapon. As long as the knife is under 4 inches, it cannot be classified as a weapon under this law section.

 

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