See our Registration of Firearm policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
There is no comprehensive system of firearms registration in California. The California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) retains certain information about firearm sales and transfers. As of January 1, 2014, DOJ retains this information for long gun transactions in addition to handgun transactions. For more information, see the section entitled Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in California.
Any handgun owner who moves into California from out-of-state on or after January 1, 1998 or any firearm owner who moves into California on or after January 1, 2014 is deemed a “personal firearm importer.”1 Within 60 days, the person must sell or transfer the firearm through a licensed dealer or to a sheriff or police department, or provide a report to DOJ regarding the firearm. The form requires the firearm owner to expressly authorize DOJ to perform a background check to determine the owner’s firearm eligibility using all relevant state and federal databases, including the federal NICS database. The form also requires the firearm owner to certify that he or she understands that if the results of this check reveal that he or she is ineligible either to lawfully possess or purchase firearms, he or she must relinquish any and all firearms in his or her possession. Although the form does not specify the time period during which the person must then relinquish his or her firearms, presumably he or she must do so immediately, since his or her possession of those firearms is at all times unlawful.2
A person who moves into the state and is in possession of an assault weapon or a .50 BMG rifle may either obtain a permit from DOJ before entering the state with the firearm, or cause the firearm to be delivered to a licensed dealer who will possess it until the person obtains a permit.3
A notice must be posted conspicuously at every inspection station along the California border, in block letters not less than four inches in height, stating:
“NOTICE: IF YOU ARE A CALIFORNIA RESIDENT, THE FEDERAL GUN CONTROL ACT MAY PROHIBIT YOU FROM BRINGING WITH YOU INTO THIS STATE FIREARMS THAT YOU ACQUIRED OUTSIDE OF THIS STATE.
IN ADDITION, IF YOU ARE A NEW CALIFORNIA RESIDENT, STATE LAW REGULATES YOUR BRINGING INTO CALIFORNIA HANDGUNS AND OTHER DESIGNATED FIREARMS AND MANDATES THAT SPECIFIC PROCEDURES BE FOLLOWED.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROCEDURES TO BE FOLLOWED IN BRINGING FIREARMS INTO CALIFORNIA OR TRANSFERRING FIREARMS WITHIN CALIFORNIA, YOU SHOULD CONTACT THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OR A LOCAL CALIFORNIA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY.”4
In addition, any person who lawfully possessed an assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle prior to the date possession of the specific assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle became illegal, and who sought to keep the firearm, must have registered the firearm with DOJ within a specific time period designated by statute. Note that this timeframe has now ended, and DOJ is generally not accepting any new registrations of assault weapons. For more information, see DOJ’s website regarding Frequently Asked Questions About Assault Weapons and .50 BMG Rifles and see our sections entitled Assault Weapons in California and .50 Caliber Rifles in California.