So you are looking to buy a semi-automatic rifle; however, pause for effect, you live in California and have complicated restrictions. The more you look, the more confusing it is, and eventually, you become worried you'll accidentally break the law by purchasing what California considers an assault weapon. This article serves to help with that decision, highlighting some of the best semi-automatic rifles that satisfy California restrictions.
This is our top-five list of the best California legal semi-automatic rifles in 2023.
Qualifying Factors For Rifles We Evaluated
To keep everyone on the same page, here is how we decided which rifles qualify for this list.
- Classified as a semi-automatic rifle.
- Each time the trigger is pulled (when the weapon is loaded) a round is discharged without the user cycling the weapon.
- Unaltered and configured as designed by the factory.
- Any rifle that needs a California-compliant part attached (such as bullet buttons, pistol grip fins, or any other California-compliant part/modification to be California legal/compliant) was not considered.
- Magazines are excluded as they are California-compliant parts.
- Readily available for purchase, meaning regularly sold by at least one major distributor.
A.R. and A.K. platforms are not included in this list since they are heavily regulated in California and the laws change often.
Rifle Rating Scale And Definitions
The ratings range from 1 - 5 (5 = Highest, 1 = Lowest).
Ratings are based on the opinion of Duck and Cover Tactical with the consideration of semi-auto rifle availability and California law at the time of publication.
Rated Categories include:
- Affordability/price: the overall cost of the rifle and ammunition.
- Tactical/Survival: the tactical and survival capabilities of this weapon. In other words, is this a zombie survival rifle?
- Hunting: the hunting capability of this weapon for small and large game.
- Camping/hiking: how easily the rifle can be taken hiking or camping.
- Home defense: effectiveness of home defense capabilities of the rifle.
- Weight: the weight of the rifle.
It should be noted that each rifle on this list has unique capabilities and strong points. Any of these rifles can be used in various situations. This list serves as a guide to help decide which rifle you’d like to buy.
So let’s get this list started.
The Top 5 California Legal Semi-Auto Rifles In 2023
Number Five: The Rossi Circuit Judge
Caliber 45LC \ .410
Rossi broke the mold when they built this rifle. Based on "The Judge" revolver, Rossi decides why not make a rifle as well.
Technically it's a double-action single-action rifle however it does meet the requirements of one pull of the trigger equals one shot. The Circuit Judge is capable of firing two different calibers, a 45LC and a .410 shotgun shell.
Its cylinder holds five rounds. One of the biggest drawbacks is the cost of ammo with this rifle (averaging at this time $1.15 per round for .45LC and .410 $0.95 a round). Fairly steep for a day of shooting. However, as for the rifle on average it sells for $700. Not too bad for out of the box accurate rifle.
The Circuit Judge has also been modernized, with a few models featuring a synthetic stock with a thumb hole, and a Picatinny rail for mounting modern optics easily.
The Circuit Judge is a jack of all trades and master of none.
- It’s a decent camping gun for its stopping power
- It’s an OK rifle for hiking due to its weight
- You can hunt with it but the 45 LC rounds have a quick drop rate, so you’ll have to call something in
- For home defense, it has major stopping power but it wouldn’t be my first pick in a home defense situation
- It gives you a Picatinny rail for optics
- Accommodates two different calibers in one rifle but at the end of the day, there are better options for tactical\survival applications
One of the biggest advantages of this rifle is that at heart it’s a revolver, so reliability is through the roof. My suggestion is this rifle would be for the person that just wants a rifle for any situation.
It does a little bit of everything: reliable, easy to use, low maintenance, and low risk of compliance laws changing. This rifle is well-rounded, giving its owner something for camping, home defense, zombie apocalypse, or anything else in between.
Tactical \ survival 2
Hiking/ camping 3
Home defense 2
Number 4 The Ruger PC Carbine
Ruger has done wonders putting this rifle together. Taking the time to think about the design, they've built an extremely reliable and well-rounded rifle.
- Lightweight version
- Tactical model
- Backpacking breakdown model
- Standard model
Ruger learned from past mistakes with magazines. Not only can you use the Ruger SR magazines, but you can also change out the magazine well to accept Glock magazines. How cool is that?
Ruger even gives you the Glock magazine well when you buy the rifle in the box, at no extra cost to you!
The Ruger PC carbine’s biggest drawback is that it’s a 9 mm. Though it is well-rounded it does lack serious stopping power, so this isn’t a rifle you'd want for hunting or your camp gun.
The good news is for home defense there are some great defensive realms that you can use to make an impact. This rifle is lightweight and easy to control, making it a good choice for tactical shooting within 100 yards.
Magazines are extremely common, can be attached to you, and load out fairly easily with the use of common magazine holders. The Ruger PC carbine also comes standard with a Picatinny rail so you can easily mount modern optics such as red dots and reflex sights.
It's very user-friendly so breaking down and field stripping the weapon is quite simple, anyone can do it.
Ruger also put a full line of accessories out for the PC carbine. Ammo is extremely common, being a 9 mm average price of a round at this time is between $0.40 and $0.50. The actual price of the rifle is roughly $775 which makes it a great buy For the price.
This gun is best suited in the tactical/survival category. Given rounds the common, magazines, the mobility of it, and versatility, this would make an awesome zombie apocalypse firearm, a great training firearm, and a good home defense weapon (as long as you take the time and effort to train and learn).
Tactical \ survival 4
Hiking/ camping 2
Home defense 3
Number 3 Ruger Mini 14 and Mini Thirty
Caliber mini 14 5.56x45
Mini Thirty 7.62x39
Ruger does it again with the mini 14 and mini Thirty, giving you a California legal rifle in two extremely common calibers (Mini 14 in 5.56 and Mini Thirty in 7.62 x 39). Both rifles are some of the best picks you can make in California, however, they’re not without drawbacks.
With the Ruger Mini-series, you'll have to put some extra money into these rifles to get them where you want them to be. Again remember we are basing this on the California legal models. Either rifle in the Ruger Mini series comes as a base rifle, in other words, you get the stock trigger mechanism, magazine well, and sights.
If you’re looking to have a Picatinny rail mount, you’ll have to buy aftermarket parts. Also, both California legal models in the mini-series do not have compensators on them and the barrels are non-threaded. So to clarify, the rifle will not have a compensator and you may need to find a competent gunsmith to thread it correctly without damaging the rifle. The other option is to endure without a compensator.
The last complaint about this rifle is the magazine. Ruger uses their proprietary magazine instead of using extremely common magazines such as the A.R. 15 magazine or an AK 47 magazine.
Why am I annoyed about this and talking negatively about the magazines? Well, the answer is simple, it comes down to affordability. If Ruger used an A.R. 15 or an AK 47 magazine On the mini-series, the cost per magazine would be between $10 and $20 Per magazine. Their proprietary magazine drives the cost up to a range of $40 to $50 per magazine.
Since we're talking about affordability, currently the mini-series are between $1200 and $1400. This is about the standard when you start to get into a good solid rifle. However, add-ons can easily cost upwards of $200, not including Ammo.
Buying either of these rifles is making a very committed purchase. However, these rifles are going to last a long time and are capable of various applications, so you will not be disappointed.
Tactical \ survival 4
Hiking/ camping 2
Home defense 3
Number 2 Springfield M1A Scout
Caliber 7.62x51 / .308
What we have here is an oldie but a goodie. Two things play greatly into the Springfield M1A Scout's favor; reliability, and stopping power.
The Springfield M1A uses a 7.62 x 51 or a 308 round, which is known around the world for stopping power. Consider the following
- A bear comes to your campsite? You got a 308 to stop them with.
- Someone breaks into your house? You got a 308 to stop them with.
- Hunting medium or large game? You got a 308 to stop them with.
- Zombie apocalypse? Guess what? Yep, 308 to stop them with.
The Springfield M1A Scout comes with all the features you need. You get a forward scout Picatinny rail, compatible with all modern Picatinny rail optics, and a solid compensator. Out of the box, this rifle is ready to go.
So what are the drawbacks? The Scout takes a hit on affordability, costing between $1600 and $2200, and ammunition averages about $.85 per round. Magazines can fetch between $50 and $70 each. Be prepared to put some money into this model.
Weight is a factor for the Springfield M1A Scout, weighing in at 8.8 pounds (fully loaded, it's closer to 10 lbs).
With all this being said, at the end of the day, you’ll have an excellent rifle that you can trust your life to.
Tactical \ survival 5
Hiking/ camping 3
Home defense 4
Before we get to our number one California-compliant semi-auto rifle, let’s talk about some of the honorable mentions.
Definitely a surplus rifle that has lasted a lifetime. Some of its best qualities include
- Extremely affordable
- Shoots common rounds
- Most SKSs sold in California have a 10-round non-detachable magazine
- There are detachable magazines that you can purchase for an SKS, but living in California puts you on a teeter-totter of a non-compliant firearm.
It's a great firearm to own! The reason the SKS didn't make this list is because of its difficulty to purchase in good condition and at a consistent price. Definitely something worth keeping an eye out for.
What can I say about this rifle? It's a California-compliant rifle that shoots .223 and takes AR magazines. I think that’s about it.
It’s not terrible, but given the choice, I’d probably take the Circuit Judge. Kel-tec put it out as a survival rifle but at the end of the day, it just feels cheap. I felt at any given time if I dropped or fell down the wrong way I would break the rifle indefinitely. Not to mention it’s more of a chore to shoot.
The rifle is super lightweight but it also counts against you when you’re shooting. Reliability was average as well as accuracy. But I also understand this isn’t a super high-grade rifle.
At the end of the day, it is a cool rifle with its internal bipods, the ability to fold in half, And a great concept rifle. However, it just didn’t translate well from paper to reality. It is innovative and it’s also very affordable, and for the right person that might fit their needs.
Number 1 Fightlite’s SCR Carbine
Fightlite’s SCR Carbine takes the number one spot on this list. Using an extreme amount of innovation, they created a semi-automatic rifle that is compliant in all 50 states!
As I said at the beginning, A.R. platforms are excluded from this list. Fightlite will be the first to tell you that their SCR Carbine is not an A.R. and they're trying to distance themselves (as far away as possible) from the A.R. platform.
The beauty (and innovation) of this rifle is the design of the lower receiver and bolt carrier group making it compatible with any A.R. 15 upper, hence a weapon system that is compliant in all 50 states!
It gives the average person in a restrictive state such as California the ability to purchase a wide variety of parts and accessories to have a modern, customized semi-automatic rifle.
The price tag on these is fairly standard Between $1200 and $1400 depending on which model you choose. The SCR uses A.R. 15 magazines making it a common magazine at an affordable price. Fightlite Also sells the lower receiver with a proprietary bolt, meaning you can buy the lower receiver and pick whatever upper receiver you choose, giving you a whole different level of customization than any other rifle on this list. If you plan on buying one California legal semi-automatic rifle this would be my pick.
Tactical \ survival 4
Hiking/ camping 3
Home defense 3