California

Updated as of Friday, July 12, 2013.

Important/Relevant Gun Laws

RIFLES AND SHOTGUNSHANDGUNS
Permit to PurchaseNoNo
Registration of FirearmsNo***Yes**
Permit to possess registered "Assault Weapons"NoNo
Licensing of OwnerNoNo
Permit to CarryNoYes (in incorporated areas and concealed anywhere)

* Department of Justice record purchases from dealers (all purchases). 

**Residents moving into California have 60 days to register their handguns.) 

***  California law may soon be changing in relation to registration of long guns when purchased and brought into the state

The list and map below are included as a tool to assist you in validating your information.  We have made every effort to report the information correctly, however reciprocity and recognition agreements are subject to frequent change.  The information is not intended as legal advice or a restatement of law and does not include:  restrictions that may be placed on non-resident permits, individuals under the age of 21, qualifying permit classes, and/or any other factor which may limit reciprocity and/or recognition.  For any particular situation, a licensed local attorney must be consulted for an accurate interpretation.  YOU MUST ABIDE WITH ALL LAWS: STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL.

Reciprocity

  • These states recognize California permits:
  • Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin
  • California recognizes permits from:
  • None

Map of states recognizing California permits:

A synopsis of California state laws on purchase, possession and carrying of firearms.

PURCHASE

All firearms sales, transfers, including private transactions and sales at gun shows, must go through a California licensed firearms dealer.  READ ALL

An application for sale or transfer must be made with a licensed California gun dealer before any firearm may be sold or transferred.  This application contains a description of the buyer or transferee and of the firearm.  The purchaser must present the dealer with a valid California Driver’s License or a California Identification Card and supply their right thumbprint.  The purchaser of a handgun must also provide additional proof of California residence, other than a document from the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The dealer sends a copy of the application to the California Department of Justice and the local police chief or sheriff. 

The CA DOJ will conduct a background check on each buyer and the fee is $25.00.  There is a 10-day waiting period before delivery of any firearm. Dealers must keep a register of all firearm transfers.  If a person has voluntarily been screened through the Personal Firearms Eligibility Check, and has been found eligible to purchase and possess firearms, that person must still undergo a background check and a 10-day waiting period.

If a person does not take possession of the firearm from the dealer within 30 days, the entire purchase process must be repeated, including the payment of fees.

The waiting period and dealer application do not apply to transfers to police officers, other gun dealers, manufacturers, or importers, antique firearms, and rifles and shotguns which are classified as curios or relics by the federal government, transfers to one’s “immediate family,” (parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild; and recipient must have a Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC)) an infrequent temporary loan not to exceed 30 days to a person who is not prohibited from possessing a firearm, and a transfer of a rifle or shotgun at auctions by nonprofit or public benefit corporations.

No person shall make an application to purchase more than one pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person within a 30-day period and no delivery shall be made to any person who has made an application to purchase more than one pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person within any 30-day period.

No person shall purchase or transfer a handgun to someone without the recipient possessing a HSC.  To receive a Handgun Safety Certificate, a person must pass a written test that includes but is not limited to laws applicable to the ownership, use, handling, and carrying of firearms, particularly handguns.  A CA DOJ certified instructor must administer the Handgun Safety Certificate test.  The HSC is valid for 5 years.

To receive a handgun from a dealer, a person must have or buy an approved firearm safety device.  A list of firearm safety devices certified for sale can be found on the California Department of Justice, Firearms Division website at www.ag.ca.gov/firearms

No person may receive a firearm from a dealer unless they demonstrate their ability to handle a handgun safely and can properly operate all safety features.

A gun dealer must post a sign advising “If you leave a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison.”

It is unlawful for any person to transfer any firearm to a person who is forbidden to possess or own a firearm. A dealer may not transfer a handgun to a person under 21 or a long gun to a person under 18.  It is unlawful to sell or furnish a BB device to any minor without the permission of their parent or guardian.  It is unlawful for a person to sell ammunition or reloaded ammunition to a person under 18.

A firearm dealer may only offer for sale handgun models to the general public that have passed firing, safety, and drop tests and appear on the “Roster of Handguns Certified For Sale.”  Semiautomatic pistols without a chamber load indicator or a magazine disconnect mechanism that do not pass the safety testing requirements will not be placed on the roster.  All semiautomatic firearms on the roster must have both a chamber load indicator and a magazine disconnect mechanism.  Private party transfers, curio/relic handguns, certain single action revolvers and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement.  The roster can be found at the Department of Justice website.

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POSSESSION

It is unlawful for anyone convicted of a felony, or who is a drug addict, present or former mental patient, ever committed for mental observation, or acquitted by reason of insanity to own or possess any firearm. People with certain misdemeanor convictions involving force or violence may not possess or own any firearm within 10 years of the conviction. A person who has been adjudged a ward of the juvenile court for certain offenses may not own or possess any firearm until age 30. A minor may not possess a handgun except with written permission or under the supervision of a parent or guardian. READ ALL

Within 60 days of bringing a pistol, revolver or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person into this state, the person importing the firearm must complete and return a Department of Justice registration form or sell or transfer the firearm to a licensed dealer, or transfer the gun to a sheriff or police department.  Currently, registration of rifles and shotguns is not required.  However, this law may soon change.

If any person seeks to know whether they can possess or purchase a firearm in California before a transfer is made, they may request a Personal Firearms Eligibility Check conducted by office of the Department of Justice.

A minor under 16 may not possess a handgun, unless they are accompanied by their parent or guardian while participating in a legal recreation activity involving firearms or has written permission to participate in such activities.  A minor under 16 may not possess live ammunition except with the written permission or under the supervision of a parent or guardian, or while going to or from an organized lawful recreational or competitive shooting activity or lawful hunting activity

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“ASSAULT WEAPONS”, .50 CALIBER BMG RIFLES AND MAGAZINES

It is unlawful to offer for manufacture, sale, give or lend any “assault weapon” or .50 caliber BMG rifle. It is unlawful to possess an “assault weapon” or a .50 caliber BMG rifle unless it is properly registered with the state. READ ALL

The registration period for “assault weapons” and .50 caliber BMG rifles has ended.  If an individual has an unregistered” assault weapon” or .50 caliber BMG rifle after the registration period has ended, law enforcement would prefer that they turn the "assault weapon" in to law enforcement.  Anyone with a registered “assault weapon” or .50 caliber BMG rifle wishing to legally dispose of the firearm can:

  •  sell it to a dealer with an “assault weapons” permit (for such firearms) and .50 caliber BMG rifle permit (for such rifles) or with both types of permits;
  • relinquish it to local law enforcement (after making an appointment);
  •  remove the “assault weapon” or .50 BMG caliber rifle from the state; or,
  •  destroy it. 

Any person inheriting a registered “assault weapon” or .50 caliber BMG rifle has 90 days to render the weapon permanently inoperable, sell to an approved firearms dealer, obtain a permit from the Department of Justice to possess firearms, or move the gun out of state.  Pawning “assault weapons” and .50 caliber BMG rifles is not permitted.

California law defines “assault weapons” in two  ways:

  • firearms listed on the original Roberti Roos assault weapons law or in the California Code of Regulations.
  • by the specific generic characteristics.

A further explanation of firearms considered “assault weapons” can be found on the Department of Justice website.

A person may lend a registered “assault weapon” or a .50 caliber BMG caliber rifle to another person who is:

  • 18 years of age or over if the person to whom the “assault weapon” is lent is not prohibited from possessing a firearm and remains in the presence of the registered possessor, and
  • the “assault weapon” or .50 caliber BMG rifle is possessed at a licensed target range, or at the target range of a public or private club organized for the purpose of practicing shooting at targets, or at an exhibition, display or education project sponsored by a law enforcement agency or a nationally or state recognized firearms entity. 

Persons moving into California must comply with the provisions of the law before moving.

Unless otherwise specified, registered “assault weapons” may only be possessed:

  • at registrant’s residence, place of business, or other property owned by such registrant, or on property owned by another with permission.
  • at certain recognized target ranges or shooting clubs.
  • at certain recognized exhibitions.
  • while on publicly owned land upon which possession and use of  “assault weapons” is specifically permitted by the managing agency.
  • while transporting the assault weapon between any of the places listed above, or to any licensed gun dealer.

It is unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, or offer for sale, give, or lend any ammunition magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds (not including .22 tube magazines).  Exceptions include:

  • a loan of a lawfully possessed magazine to a person who is not prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition, if such loan occurs at a place where possession of the magazine is not otherwise prohibited and the person who lends the magazine remains in the accessible vicinity to the person to whom the magazine is loaned;
  • the importation of a magazine by a person who lawfully possessed the magazine in the state prior to January 1, 2000, lawfully took it out of the state and is returning to the state;
  • the sale or purchase of a magazine to or by a person licensed to sell firearms; and
  • the lending or giving of a magazine to a licensed dealer or gunsmith for repair and its return to its owner.
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CARRYING AND TRANSPORTATION IN VEHICLES

It is unlawful to carry a loaded rifle, shotgun, or handgun in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated area or an area where firing a firearm is prohibited. Furthermore the open carry of any handgun, loaded or unloaded in an incorporated area has now been banned. READ ALL

In California, a firearm is considered loaded if unexpended ammunition capable of being used in the firearm is in a position from which it can be fired. The following persons and situations are exceptions:

  • persons shooting on target ranges, or while hunting on the premises of a shooting club.
  • a person who reasonably believes that he or his property is in immediate danger and the weapon must be carried for “preservation.”
  • a person “engaged in the act of making or attempting lawful arrest.”
  • a person carrying a firearm while at home or at his place of business, including temporary residences and campsites.

Carrying a handgun concealed is prohibited without a license. The law has now changed to ban the open carry of handguns in incorporated areas, loaded or unloaded.

Carrying a handgun concealed within a vehicle is prohibited without a license. A handgun carried in a glove compartment or under the seat of a vehicle is considered to be concealed. A handgun placed in a locked in a container in the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment or while in a locked container carried directly to or from a vehicle is deemed not to be “concealed.” A locked container means a fully enclosed secure container locked by a key lock or similar locking device.

Exceptions to this prohibition are: members of clubs organized for practice shooting while on any established target range; licensed hunters and fishermen while engaged in hunting or fishing and members of an antique or historical collector’s club while at a show.

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ANTIQUES AND REPLICAS

Antique firearm means any firearm not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or centerfire ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap or similar type of ignition system or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before 1898) and also any firearm manufactured in or before 1898 using fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the U.S. and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.

MACHINE GUNS AND OTHER FIREARMS

A machine gun is defined as any firearm, which shoots, or is designed to shoot, automatically, more than one shot, without manual reloading, by single function of the trigger. The term also includes any conversion part, frame or receiver of a machine gun, or any firearm deemed as such by the federal government. Upon a showing of good cause, a permit for possession and/or transportation may be issued by the Department of Justice. It has been reported that the Department of Justice refuses to grant such permits. READ ALL

Possession of other firearms and related items is unlawful and may be punished as either a misdemeanor or as a felony.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  • any firearm that is not immediately recognizable as a firearm.
  • any camouflaging firearm container.
  • any ammunition that contains any flechette dart.
  • any bullet containing or carrying an explosive agent.
  • any multiburst trigger activator.
  • any short-barreled shotgun or rifle.
  • any zip gun; and
  • any unconventional pistol. 

 The following are some of the exceptions:

  • possession of short-barreled shotguns and rifles when authorized by the Department of Justice and not in violation of federal law;
  • antique firearms, which are defined as:
    • any firearm not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or centerfire ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap or similar type of ignition system or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before 1898); and
    • any firearm manufactured in or before 1898 using fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the U.S. and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade;
  • tracer ammunition for use in shotguns; and,
  • any “curio or relic” or “any other weapon” as defined by federal law possessed by a person who is otherwise permitted to possess it under federal law and not prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition under California law.

It is unlawful to possess a destructive device, including tracer or incendiary ammunition or any firearm larger than .60 caliber which fires fixed ammunition, or any fixed ammunition for such firearm. Excluded are shotguns and shotgun ammunition.

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Preemption

All manner of regulations pertaining to firearm registration or licensing is reserved to the state legislature. READ ALL

§53071 Registration and Licensing of Firearms; exclusive regulation by legislature.

It is the intention of the legislature to occupy the whole field of regulation of registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms as encompassed by the provisions of the Penal Code, and such provisions shall be exclusive of all local regulations, relating to the registration of licensing of commercially manufactured firearms, by any political subdivision as defined in section 1721 of the Labor Code.  

§53071.5 Manufacture, sale or possession of imitation firearms; exclusive regulation by legislature.  

By the enforcement of this section, the Legislature occupies the regualtion of manufacture, possession, or sale of imitation firearms, as defined in subdivision (a) of section 16700 of the Penal Code, and that subdivision shall preempt and be exclusive of all regualtions related to the manufacture, sale, and possession of imitation firearms, including regulations governing the manufacture, sale, possession of BB devices or airguns described in Section 16250 of the Penal Code.

§ 12026. Persons exempt; weapons at residence, place of business, or private property owned or possessed by citizen

(a) Section 12025 shall not apply to or affect any citizen of the United States or legal resident over the age of 18 years who resides or is temporarily within this state, and who is not within the excepted classes prescribed by Section 12021 or 12021.1 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, who carries, either openly or concealed, anywhere within the citizen's or legal resident's place of residence, place of business, or on private property owned or lawfully possessed by the citizen or legal resident any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.

(b) No permit or license to purchase, own, possess, keep, or carry, either openly or concealed, shall be required of any citizen of the United States or legal resident over the age of 18 years who resides or is temporarily within this state, and who is not within the excepted classes prescribed by Section 12021 or12021.1 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, to purchase, own, possess, keep, or carry, either openly or concealed, a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person within the citizen's or legal resident's place of residence, place of business, or on private property owned or lawfully possessed by the citizen or legal resident.

(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the application of Section 12031

The court upheld an ordinance regulating the location and operation of firearms dealers but struck down the portion of the ordinance regulating firearm storage.  Suter v. City of Lafatyette.  67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 420, 425 (Cal. Ct. App. 1997)

The court in Cal. Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. City of Hollywood, 78 Cal. Rptr. 591 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998) upheld an ordinance banning junk guns. 

The Supreme Court of California upheld an ordinance banning possession of firearms and ammunition on county-owned property.  Great Western Shows, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles, 44 P.3d 120 (Cal. 2002)

The California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 3 held that CAL. GOV'T CODE §53071 and CAL. PENAL CODE §12026 preempted a San Francisco ordinance banning handgun possession. Doe v. City and Couty of San Francisco, 186 Cal. Rptr. 380 (Cal. Ct. App. 1982)

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Range Protection

Shooting ranges are generally protected against civil or criminal prosecution in matters alleging noise if the range is operating in compliance with all ordinances in effect at the time the range was constructed. READ ALL

§ 3482. 1. Operation or use of sport shooting ranges; civil liability or criminal prosecution; noise or noise pollution nuisance

(a) As used in this section:

(1) “Person” means an individual, proprietorship, partnership, corporation, club, or other legal entity.

(2) “Sport shooting range” or “range” means an area designed and operated for the use of rifles, shotguns, pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder, or any other similar sport or law enforcement training purpose.

(3) “Indoor shooting range” means a totally enclosed facility designed to offer a totally controlled shooting environment that includes impenetrable walls, floor and ceiling, adequate ventilation and lighting systems, and acoustical treatment for sound attenuation suitable for the range's approved use.

(4) “Nighttime” means between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

(b)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (f), a person who operates or uses a sport shooting range in this state shall not be subject to civil liability or criminal prosecution in any matter relating to noise or noise pollution resulting from the operation or use of the range if the range is in compliance with any noise control laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at the time construction or operation of the range was approved by a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter, or if there were no such laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at that time.

(2) Except as provided in subdivision (f), a person who operates or uses a sport shooting range or law enforcement training range is not subject to an action for nuisance, and a court shall not enjoin the use or operation of a range, on the basis of noise or noise pollution if the range is in compliance with any noise control laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at the time construction or operation of the range was approved by a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter, or if there were no such laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at that time.

(3) Rules or regulations adopted by any state department or agency for limiting levels of noise in terms of decibel level which may occur in the outdoor atmosphere shall not apply to a sport shooting range exempted from liability under this section.

(c) A person who acquires title to or who owns real property adversely affected by the use of property with a permanently located and improved sport shooting range may not maintain a nuisance action with respect to noise or noise pollution against the person who owns the range to restrain, enjoin, or impede the use of the range where there has been no substantial change in the nature or use of the range. This section does not prohibit actions for negligence or recklessness in the operation of the range or by a person using the range.

(d) A sport shooting range that is in operation and not in violation of existing law at the time of the enactment of an ordinance described in subdivision (b) shall be permitted to continue in operation even if the operation of the sport shooting range at a later date does not conform to a new ordinance or an amendment to an existing ordinance if there has been no substantial change in the nature or use of the range. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of a local agency to enforce any term of a conditional use permit.

(e) Except as otherwise provided in this section, this section does not prohibit a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter from regulating the location and construction of a sport shooting range after the effective date of this section.

(f) This section does not prohibit a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter from requiring that noise levels at the nearest residential property line to a range not exceed the level of normal city street noise which shall not be more than 60 decibels for nighttime shooting. The subdivision does not abrogate any existing local standards for nighttime shooting. The operator of a sport shooting range shall not unreasonably refuse to use trees, shrubs, or barriers, when appropriate, to mitigate the noise generated by nighttime shooting. For the purpose of this section, a reasonable effort to mitigate is an action that can be accomplished in a manner and at a cost that does not impose an unreasonable financial burden upon the operator of the range.

(g) This section does not apply to indoor shooting ranges.

(h) This section does not apply to a range in existence prior to January 1, 1998, that is operated for law enforcement training purposes by a county of the sixth class if the range is located without the boundaries of that county and within the boundaries of another county. This subdivision shall become operative on July 1, 1999.

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MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

No license or permit shall be required to possess keep, or carry a handgun openly or concealed in one’s home or place of business. The state legislature also has expressed its intention to occupy the whole field of the sales and licensing of firearms, thus precluding cities and other localities from enacting firearms laws in those categories.  READ ALL

It is unlawful to set any spring or “trap” gun.

It is unlawful to change, alter or remove the serial number, maker’s name or other identifying mark from any firearm, unless one has secured the written permission of the Department of Justice. Possession of a firearm with altered identifying marks creates a legal presumption that the possessor committed the offense.

It is unlawful to possess a firearm on the grounds or in the buildings of any school without permission of the school authorities, within 1000 feet of a school zone unless the firearms are being lawfully transported, a courthouse, State Capitol building or grounds, any legislative office or the office or residence of the Governor, constitutional officer or member of the Legislature.

It is unlawful to possess, transport, or sell ammunition principally for use in a handgun, which is “designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor.”

 It is unlawful to store a loaded firearm where the person knows or reasonably should know that a juvenile under 18 is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the juvenile’s parent or legal guardian and the juvenile obtains access to the firearm and causes death or great bodily harm to self or any other person.  This prohibition shall not apply if:

  • the juvenile obtains the firearm as a result of an illegal entry to any premises by any person; the firearm is kept in a locked container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
  • the firearm is carried on the person or within such a close proximity so that the individual can readily retrieve and use the firearm as if carried on the person;
  • the firearm is equipped with a locking device;
  • the person is a peace officer or member of the U. S. Armed Forces and the juvenile obtains the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the person’s duties;
  • the juvenile obtains, or obtains and discharges, the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person; and
  • the person who keeps a loaded firearm on any premise which is under person’s custody or control has no reasonable expectation, based on objective facts and circumstances, that a juvenile is likely to be present on the premise.
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SOURCE: Cal. Penal Code §12020 et. seq.

CAUTION: Firearm laws are subject to frequent change and court interpretation. This summary is not intended as legal advice or restatement of law. This summary does not include federal or local laws, ordinances or regulations. For any particular situation, a licensed local attorney must be consulted for an accurate interpretation. YOU MUST ABIDE WITH ALL LAWS: STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL.

This may be reproduced. It may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.