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Penal Code 171.7 | Weapons at Public Transit Facilities

Penal Code 171.7 – Weapons Prohibited in California Public Transit Facilities

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. One of these laws is Penal Code 171.7, which makes it illegal to bring weapons into certain areas of public transportation facilities. This law can cause a lot of confusion and lead to criminal charges for well-meaning citizens. Let’s break it down so you understand what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to weapons and public transit in California.

What Does California Penal Code 171.7 Prohibit?

Penal Code 171.7 prohibits bringing firearms, ammunition, and other dangerous weapons into the “sterile area” of a public transit facility (PTF) in California. A sterile area is any part of a PTF that has controlled access for security reasons. This usually includes areas past security checkpoints where you have to show a ticket or pass to enter.

So if you pass through a security screening to access part of a bus station, subway station, train station, etc., you are entering a sterile area. Carrying a weapon in these areas is illegal according to PC 171.7.

What Qualifies as a “Public Transit Facility” Under This Law?

A PTF refers to any public transportation system or building with controlled access. This includes:

  • Buses
  • Subways
  • Trains
  • Light rail systems
  • Ferries
  • Any stations or buildings associated with these systems

Airports are not included here – they fall under a separate law, Penal Code 171.5.

What Type of Weapons Are Prohibited?

PC 171.7 lists several types of weapons that are illegal to bring into a PTF sterile area. These include but are not limited to:

  • Firearms
  • Imitation firearms
  • BB guns
  • Stun guns
  • Hand grenades
  • Switchblade knives
  • Any knife that is undetectable by metal detectors

Basically any item that could be used as a weapon to threaten or harm others is prohibited in sterile areas of California PTFs.

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Are There Exceptions?

Yes, there are some exceptions to Penal Code 171.7. Active duty peace officers and authorized security personnel are allowed to carry firearms and other weapons into PTF sterile areas. This makes sense, since we want trained law enforcement officers to have the tools they need to respond to any security threats.

What Are the Penalties?

Bringing a prohibited weapon into a sterile area of a California PTF is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you face:

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

In some cases, the judge may grant probation instead of jail time. But you will still have a criminal record if convicted under PC 171.7.

Related Offenses

There are other similar laws regarding weapons in certain public areas of California:

  • PC 171.5 – Prohibits weapons in airports
  • PC 171b – Prohibits weapons in government buildings, courthouses, polling places, etc.
  • PC 11418 – Prohibits weapons of mass destruction

Violating any of these laws can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances.

What Defenses Work?

There are several legal defenses that a skilled criminal defense lawyer could use to contest Penal Code 171.7 weapon charges. Some examples include:

  • You did not knowingly bring the weapon into the sterile area because:
    • You forgot it was there
    • You did not know the item qualified as a prohibited weapon
    • Someone else planted it without your knowledge
  • You were forced or coerced into carrying the weapon (duress)
  • You fall into one of the exceptions (active duty peace officer, security guard, etc)

An experienced attorney will evaluate the specifics of your case to determine the best defense strategy.

Takeaways on California PC 171.7

The main takeaways about Penal Code 171.7 include:

  • It prohibits weapons in sterile areas of public transit facilities
  • Sterile areas are past security checkpoints where you need a ticket/pass to enter
  • The law applies to buses, trains, subways, etc. but not airports
  • Firearms, imitation firearms, knives, bombs, and other dangerous weapons are prohibited
  • Peace officers and security staff are exempt
  • Violations are misdemeanor crimes with up to 6 months in jail as penalty

As you can see, PC 171.7 is a complex law with a lot of nuances. If you have been accused of violating it, don’t go it alone. Consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer instead. An attorney can carefully examine the evidence against you and build the strongest defense to have your charges reduced or dismissed.

Now you know the key facts about weapons and public transportation facilities in California. Understanding these laws is the best way to avoid inadvertently breaking them. Stay safe and legal when traveling with firearms or other weapons in our state.


Here are the sources cited in this article:

[1] Penal Code § 171.7 PC – Weapons at California Public Transit Facilities – Shouse Law Group

[2] Weapons at a Public Transit Facility | Penal Code 171.7 PC – Eisner Gorin LLP

[3] Penal Code 171.7 | Weapons at Public Transit Facilities – Simmrin Law Group

[4] California Penal Code Section 171.7 – FindLaw

[5] California Penal Code 171.7 – California Legislative Information

[6] Penal Code 171.7 PC — Bringing a weapon into the sterile area of a public transit facility – YouTube

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