Ammunition Regulation in California

See our Ammunition Regulation policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California has some of the nation’s strongest laws regulating the sale of ammunition, and in 2019 became the first state in the nation to require a point-of-sale background check to buy ammunition.

California regulates the following aspects of ammunition, as described below:

  1. Sales and transfers of ammunition;
  2. People prohibited from possessing ammunition;
  3. Minimum age to possess ammunition;
  4. Ammunition at gun shows; and
  5. Certain kinds of unreasonably dangerous ammunition.

California also prohibits carrying ammunition onto school grounds, subject to certain limited exceptions.1

(1)  Sales and Transfers of Ammunition

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63, which included new provisions to comprehensively regulate ammunition sales in the state.2

More specifically:

  • Since January 1, 2018, individuals who sell more than 500 rounds of ammunition in any month have been required to obtain a state-issued business license called an “ammunition vendor license”3 and are required to conduct ammunition sales at specified business locations or gun shows.4 Individuals who are already licensed as firearms dealers by California DOJ are automatically deemed licensed ammunition vendors, provided that they comply with other legal obligations placed on ammunition sellers.5
  • DOJ issues ammunition vendor licenses to individuals who provide specified documentation, including a certificate of eligibility verifying that they passed a background check.6
  • Once licensed, ammunition vendors are required to report the loss or theft of any ammunition from their inventory to law enforcement,7 and to obtain a certificate of eligibility from employees who handle or sell ammunition, verifying that they passed a background check.8
  • Ammunition sales must generally now be conducted by or processed through licensed vendors.9 Sales of ammunition by unlicensed sellers must generally be processed through a licensed ammunition vendor, in a manner similar to private party firearms transactions,10 and ammunition obtained over the Internet or from out of state must generally be initially shipped to a licensed ammunition vendor for physical delivery to the purchaser pursuant to a background check.11
  • Since July 1, 2019, licensed ammunition vendors have been required to record, maintain, and report to DOJ records of ammunition sales, in a manner similar to dealer’s records of sales (DROS) for firearms purchases.12  California DOJ is required to maintain a database of these ammunition sale records, similar to its analogous database for firearms transactions.13
  • Since July 1, 2019, licensed ammunition vendors are generally prohibited from selling or transferring ammunition until first conducting a background check to verify that the person receiving the ammunition is legally eligible.14 If the vendor is a licensed firearms dealer, they can also sell ammunition in the same transaction as a firearm with only the firearm background check required.15
  • State law authorizes people to sell or share ammunition with their spouses, domestic partners, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren without the participation of a licensed vendor.16 It also authorizes people to freely share (but not sell) ammunition in person with friends and shooting partners, unless they have reason to believe that the ammunition would be illegally provided to a criminal or illegal user.17
  • State law also allows people to buy ammunition at a shooting range without undergoing a background check and without a sale record as long as they keep that ammunition inside the facility; if they want to bring ammunition to or from the facility, they must bring their own ammunition from home or undergo a background check at the shooting range.18

California currently prohibits people from supplying ammunition to any person they know or reasonably should know is prohibited from possessing ammunition.19 California law also make it illegal for a person to supply ammunition to a straw purchaser with knowledge or cause to believe that the straw purchaser would subsequently provide that ammunition to a prohibited person.20

(2)  Persons Prohibited from Possessing Ammunition

California prohibits any person from owning, possessing, or having under his or her custody or control any ammunition or reloaded ammunition if the person falls into any of the categories of persons who are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under state law.21 In addition, a person subject to an injunction as a member of a criminal street gang may not own, possess or have any ammunition under his or her custody or control.22

(3)  Minimum Age to Possess Ammunition

California prohibits the possession of live ammunition by persons under age 18, with certain enumerated exceptions.23

Sellers of ammunition are prohibited from selling any ammunition to a person under 18 years of age and may not sell handgun ammunition to a person under 21 years of age.24 However, a seller, agent or employee of a seller may avoid prosecution for a violation of this law by demonstrating that the minor presented identification indicating that he or she was actually old enough to make the purchase, and that the seller, agent or employee acted in reasonable reliance on this identification.25

(4)  Ammunition at Gun Shows

California prohibits ammunition from being displayed at gun shows except in closed containers, unless the seller is showing the ammunition to a prospective buyer.26 In addition, no person at a gun show in California, other than security personnel or sworn peace officers, can possess at the same time both a firearm and ammunition that is designed to be fired in the firearm. Vendors selling such items at the show are exempt.27

(5)  Unreasonably Dangerous Ammunition

California bans the manufacture, importation, sale, offer for sale, or knowing possession or transportation of handgun ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor.28 This ban applies to any ammunition (except a shotgun shell or ammunition primarily designed for use in rifles) that is designed primarily to penetrate a body vest or body shield, either by virtue of its shape, cross-sectional density, or coating, or because it has a projectile or projectile core constructed entirely of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium, or any equivalent material of similar density or hardness. KTW ammunition, among others, is subject to this ban.29

California also prohibits the possession, sale, offer for sale, or knowing transportation of a “destructive device,” defined to include “[a]ny projectile containing any explosive or incendiary material” or any other chemical substance including, but not limited to, that commonly known as tracer or incendiary ammunition (except tracer ammunition manufactured for use in shotguns), and any “explosive missile.”30 The state provides for the limited issuance of permits to possess or transport any destructive device, issued at the discretion of the California Department of Justice.31

California prohibits the manufacture, importation, keeping or offering for sale, transfer or possession of any “flechette dart” (dart capable of being fired from a firearm, that measures approximately one inch in length, with tail fins that take up approximately five-sixteenths of an inch of the body) or bullet that contains an explosive agent.32

In addition, California generally prohibits any person, firm or corporation from selling, offering for sale, possessing or knowingly transporting any fixed ammunition greater than .60 caliber. ((Cal. Penal Code § 18735.)

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 30310. California  also prohibits carrying or possessing ammunition in the State Capitol, any legislative office, any office of the Governor or other constitutional officer, or any hearing room in which any committee of the Senate or Assembly is conducting a hearing, or upon the grounds of the State Capitol, which is bounded by 10th, L, 15th, and N Streets in the City of Sacramento, if the area is posted with a statement providing reasonable notice. Cal. Penal Code § 171c(a)(2)(G). ⤴︎
  2. Previously, California had adopted a groundbreaking 2009 law (AB 962) that sought to comprehensively regulate the sale of handgun ammunition by, among other things, regulating mail-order shipments of handgun ammunition and by requiring retail sellers of handgun ammunition to obtain a business license from DOJ and to keep records of their handgun ammunition sales. However, implementation of AB 962 was delayed due to litigation surrounding the definition of “handgun ammunition.” See the court’s order in Parker v. California, Case No. 10CECG02116 (Super. Ct. Fresno, Filed June 17, 2010). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 30342. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 30348. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 16151(b). ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30385, 30390, 30395. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 30363. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 30347. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 30312. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 30312. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30312, 30314. ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code § 30352. These records are kept confidential except for use by law enforcement for law enforcement purposes. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(b). ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 30352. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30352(c), 30352(d), 30370. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(c)(2). ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 30312(c). ⤴︎
  17. Id.; Cal. Penal Code § 30306. ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(e)(3). ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 30306. ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 30306. ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 30305(a). ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 30305(b)(1). ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code §§ 29650-29655. This prohibition does not apply if: 1) the minor has the written consent of a parent or legal guardian to possess live ammunition; 2) the minor is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian; or 3)the minor is actively engaged in, or is going to or from, a lawful, recreational sport, including, but not limited to, competitive shooting, or agricultural, ranching, or hunting activity, the nature of which involves the use of a firearm. ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Penal Code § 30300(a). Where ammunition may be used in both a rifle and a handgun, it may be sold to a person who is at least 18 years of age, but less than 21 years of age, if the vendor reasonably believes that the ammunition is being acquired for use in a rifle and not a handgun. Cal Penal Code § 30300(a)(2). ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16300, 30300(b). ⤴︎
  26. Cal. Penal Code § 27315. ⤴︎
  27. Cal. Penal Code § 27330. ⤴︎
  28. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30315, 30320. ⤴︎
  29. Cal. Penal Code § 16660. ⤴︎
  30. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16460(a), 18710, 18730. ⤴︎
  31. Cal. Penal Code §§ 18900-18910. ⤴︎
  32. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16570, 30210. ⤴︎

Assault Weapons in California

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

With limited exceptions, California prohibits anyone from possessing an assault weapon unless he or she possessed the firearm prior to the date it was defined as an assault weapon and registered the firearm with the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in the timeframe established by state law.1

California also prohibits any person from manufacturing, distributing, transporting, importing, keeping for sale, offering for sale, giving, or lending any assault weapon within the state.2 However, DOJ may, upon a finding of good cause, issue permits for the manufacture, sale, or possession of assault weapons to certain law enforcement agencies and officers and to approved individuals over the age of 18.3 DOJ must conduct a yearly inspection – or every five years if the person to be inspected has fewer than five permitted devices – of every person to whom a permit is issued, for security and safe storage practices, and to reconcile the inventory of assault weapons.4 Generally, no lawfully possessed assault weapon may be sold or transferred to anyone within California other than to a licensed gun dealer or to a police or sheriff’s department.5

California law lists certain firearms that have been deemed assault weapons, including all AK series and Colt AR-15 series.6 California’s Attorney General is required to promulgate a list specifying all such firearms.7 However, a firearm that meets any of the following descriptions is also an “assault weapon”:8

  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following: 1) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; 2) a thumbhole stock; 3) a folding or telescoping stock; 4) a grenade or flare launcher; 5) a flash suppressor; or 6) a forward pistol grip;9
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds;
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches;
  • A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following: 1) a threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer; 2) a second handgrip; 3) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel allowing the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel; or 4) the capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip;
  • A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than ten rounds;
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has both a folding or telescoping stock, and a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip;
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine; or
  • A shotgun with a revolving cylinder.

Antique firearms (i.e., firearms manufactured prior to 1899)10, and certain pistols that are designed expressly for use in Olympic target shooting events, are exempt from these provisions.11

California does not ban kits that allow a person to convert a lawful firearm into an assault weapon.

Any person owning a lawfully registered assault weapon may possess the firearm only under limited conditions, unless he or she obtains a permit for additional uses from DOJ.12 Those conditions include:

  • At the person’s residence, place of business, or other property owned by that person, or on property owned by another with the owner’s express permission;
  • While on certain target ranges and shooting clubs;
  • While on publicly owned land if specifically permitted by the managing agency of the land; or
  • While properly transporting the firearm between any of the places mentioned above, or to any licensed gun dealer for servicing and repair.13

California law includes a statement of the dangers posed by assault weapons:

The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the proliferation and use of assault weapons poses a threat to the health, safety, and security of all citizens of this state. The Legislature has restricted the assault weapons specified in Section 30510 based upon finding that each firearm has such a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.14

California law provides that the possession of an assault weapon in violation of state laws is a public nuisance.15 As a result, any assault weapon possessed in violation of state laws must be destroyed, except upon finding by a court, or a declaration from DOJ, a district attorney, or a city attorney stating that the preservation of the assault weapon is in the interest of justice.16

The courts have repeatedly rejected legal challenges to California’s assault weapons ban.17

See DOJ’s Assault Weapon FAQs page for further information.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 30605. See generally Cal. Penal Code §§ 30600-30675, 30900-30965, 31000-31005. For state assault weapon regulations, see Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 5459-5473, 5495, 5499. DOJ’s website also includes information about the development of these regulations. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 30600. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31000, 31005. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31110 ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30910, 31100. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 30510. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 30520. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 30515. ⤴︎
  9. In 2016, California enacted a law to provide a statutory definition for the term “detachable magazine” in order to clarify that so-called “bullet button” weapons are restricted assault weapons. The bullet button loophole previously allowed firearm manufacturers to sell “California-compliant” assault weapons equipped with a bullet button that allowed a shooter to use a bullet, wearable magnet, or other instrument, instead of his or her finger, to depress the button that releases the weapon’s magazine.  Individuals who lawfully obtained these weapons prior to January 1, 2017, will be authorized to retain them if they timely register their weapons with DOJ. See Cal. Penal Code §§ 30515, 30680, 30900 (as amended by 2016 Cal. SB 880 and 2016 Cal. AB 1664). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 16170(a). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 30515(c). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30945, 31000. ⤴︎
  13. The person may also possess the assault weapon while attending an exhibition, display, or educational project about firearms which is sponsored by, conducted under the auspices of, or approved by a law enforcement agency or a nationally or state recognized entity that fosters proficiency in, or promotes education about, firearms. Id. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 30505(a). ⤴︎
  15. The Attorney General, any district attorney, or any city attorney may, in lieu of criminal prosecution, bring a civil action or reach a civil compromise in any superior court to enjoin the possession of the assault weapon that is a public nuisance. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(a). ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(c). Upon conviction of any misdemeanor or felony involving the illegal possession or use of an assault weapon, the assault weapon must be deemed a public nuisance and disposed of pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 18005(c). Cal. Penal Code § 30800(d). ⤴︎
  17. See Kasler v. Lockyer, 2 P.3d 581 (Cal. 2000) (holding, inter alia, that the ban does not violate equal protection of the law because the statute does not burden a fundamental constitutional right to “bear arms,” as no such right exists under the California constitution). See also Silveira v. Lockyer, 312 F.3d 1052, (9th Cir. 2002) (rejecting federal constitutional challenges to the ban, holding, inter alia, that the Second Amendment only protects the collective right of the people to maintain well-regulated militias). Note, however, that the Supreme Court has subsequently held, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, unconnected with service in a militia. The Court in Heller noted, nevertheless, that the Second Amendment is consistent with laws banning “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Id. at 2817. Since the Heller decision, several federal courts have upheld assault weapons bans that were challenged on Second Amendment grounds. For more information, see our Post-Heller Litigation Summary section. ⤴︎

Background Check Procedures in California

See our Background Check Procedures policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. This background check is intended to determine whether the purchaser falls into one of the categories of persons prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.

Prior to passage of Proposition 63 in 2016, California authorized, but did not require, the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to act as a point of contact for firearm background checks.1 Effective July 1, 2017, Proposition 63 required the California DOJ to continue to serve as the point of contact for firearm purchaser background checks. Firearms dealers must therefore initiate the background check required by federal law by contacting the California DOJ.

California law requires any prospective purchaser of (or transferee or person being loaned) a firearm to submit an application to purchase the firearm (also known as a “Dealer Record of Sale” or “DROS” form) through a licensed dealer to DOJ. The dealer must submit firearm purchaser information to DOJ on the date of the application through electronic transfer, unless DOJ makes an exception allowing a different format.2 The purchaser must present “clear evidence” of his or her identity and age to the dealer (either a valid California driver’s license or a valid California identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles).3 Dealers must obtain the purchaser’s name, date of birth, and driver’s license or identification number electronically from the magnetic strip on the license or ID card.4 This information cannot be supplied by any other means except as authorized by DOJ.5 Once this information is submitted, DOJ will check available and authorized records, including the federal NICS database, in order to determine whether the person is prohibited from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm by state or federal law.6

In addition to checking the federal NICS database, DOJ is required to examine its own records, as well as those records that it is authorized to request from the State Department of State Hospitals.7 If the person is prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law, DOJ must immediately notify the dealer and the local sheriff or chief of police in the city and/or county where the sale was made.8  Licensed dealers are prohibited from delivering a firearm to a purchaser or transferee if the dealer has been notified by DOJ that the person is prohibited from possessing firearms.9 If the person is prohibited from possessing firearms, the dealer must make available to the prohibited person a DOJ “Prohibited Notice and Transfer” form, stating that the person is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm and that the person may obtain from DOJ the reason for the prohibition.10

When a purchaser or transferee is specifically seeking to obtain a handgun, he or she must present documentation indicating California residency. Sufficient documentation includes a utility bill from within the last three months, a residential lease, a property deed, military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment within California, or other evidence of residency as permitted by DOJ.11

In addition to California’s mandatory ten-day waiting period,12 DOJ must also tell the dealer to delay the transfer of the firearm to the purchaser if DOJ is unable to determine, in any of the following scenarios, whether the purchaser is a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm: 1) the purchaser has been taken into custody and placed in a facility for mental health treatment or evaluation and may be a danger to self or others; 2) the purchaser has been arrested or charged with a crime that, if convicted, would make the person prohibited from possessing a firearm; or 3) the person may be attempting to purchase more than one firearm within a 30-day period.13 If DOJ is unable to obtain a final disposition under any of these scenarios within 30 days of the original submission of the purchaser’s information by the dealer, then DOJ must notify the dealer and the dealer may then, at the dealer’s discretion, transfer the firearm to the purchaser.14

Note that holders of a California entertainment firearms permit are exempt from the requirement of a background check, due to a loophole in federal law. For further information, see the Licensing of Gun Owners and Purchasers in California section.

Voluntary background checks: Any person may request a voluntary determination, called a “firearms eligibility check,” from DOJ, stating whether he or she is eligible to possess a firearm.15 With few exceptions, no person or agency may require or request another person to obtain a firearms eligibility check.16 DOJ is authorized to charge a fee of $20 for conducting each check.17

Firearms in police custody: Any person claiming title to any firearm in the custody or control of a court or law enforcement agency who wishes to have the firearm returned must undergo a background check to determine if he or she is eligible to possess a firearm.18 If an individual does not seek return of a firearm, or if he or she fails to pass the background check, the person must relinquish the firearm and, if the firearm is an otherwise legal firearm and the person otherwise has the right to title of the firearm, he or she may relinquish it by selling it or transferring title to a licensed dealer.19

Private sales: With limited exceptions, all firearms transfers in California must be conducted through a licensed dealer.20 For more information, see the Private Sales in California section.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(b). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 28205. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16400, 26815, 28215. Note that dealers are prohibited from transferring handguns to persons under age 21, or any other firearm to persons under the age of 18. Cal. Penal Code § 27510. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 28180. ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(a). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(a). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(c). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 26815(d). ⤴︎
  10. Id. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 26845. ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26815(a), 27540(a). ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(1)(A). If this occurs, the dealer must then provide the purchaser with information about the manner in which the purchaser may contact DOJ regarding this delay. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(1)(B). ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(4). If DOJ is able to ascertain a final disposition within 30 days, then it must either notify the dealer that the purchase may immediately go through, or it must notify the dealer and local law enforcement that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm, depending on the final result. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(3). ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 30105. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 30105(h). ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Penal Code § 30105(b). ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 33850. ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code §§ 33850(b), 33870(a). ⤴︎
  20. See Cal. Penal Code § 27545 et seq. ⤴︎

Bulk Gun Purchases in California

California law places some restrictions on bulk firearm purchases.

Currently, California law generally prohibits people from purchasing more than one handgun from a licensed dealer per month,1 and restricts dealers from selling a handgun to a buyer if they are notified by the California Department of Justice that the buyer has already applied to acquire another handgun from a dealer within the preceding 30-day period.2

Effective July 1, 2021, state law will extend this bulk purchase limit to include the purchase from a dealer of handguns or semiautomatic centerfire rifles.3 Dealers will be prevented from selling either type of firearm if they are notified that the buyer has already applied to acquire a handgun or semiautomatic centerfire rifle from a dealer within the preceding 30 days.

However, these restrictions do not (and will not) apply to firearm transfers between unlicensed parties, even when those transactions are processed through a licensed dealer.4

Firearms dealers are required to post a notification on their premises, in block letters at least one inch in height, that notifies potential purchasers of these bulk purchase restrictions.5

See our Bulk Gun Purchases policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 27535. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 27540(f). ⤴︎
  3. See 2019 CA SB 61. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 27535. There are a number of other exceptions to these restrictions laid out in this section, including, but not limited to, exceptions for law enforcement agencies, private security companies, licensed collectors, and the replacement of a lost or stolen firearm. Id. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 26835(g). ⤴︎

Categories of Prohibited People in California

See our Categories of Prohibited People policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law prohibits certain people from purchasing or possessing firearms, such as people who have been convicted of felonies, certain domestic abusers, and certain people with a history of severely impairing mental illness. California law’s firearm prohibitions, however, are generally broader than federal law.

California prohibits the purchase or possession of firearms by any person who:

  • Has been convicted of a felony, certain domestic violence crimes, or is addicted to narcotic drugs;1
  • Has been convicted of specified crimes (including both felonies and misdemeanors) involving violence, hate crime offenses, the unlawful misuse of firearms, or violation of California laws regarding safe storage of firearms around minors and prohibited people. (People convicted of these specified misdemeanor offenses are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms for 10 years after conviction);2
  • Knows that they are subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for a firearm-prohibiting offense;3
  • As an express condition of probation, is prohibited or restricted from owning, possessing, controlling, receiving, or purchasing a firearm;4
  • Is adjudged a ward of the juvenile court because the person committed an offense involving violence, drugs or firearms (including the carrying of a concealed firearm, the carrying of a loaded firearm in public or the possession of a firearm in a vehicle, regardless of whether the firearm was concealed or loaded). The prohibition stays in effect only until the person reaches age 30;5

Any person who becomes prohibited from owning or possessing firearms pursuant to California law or other law, may transfer any firearm of which he or she is the owner to a licensed firearms dealer for storage during the duration of the prohibition. A dealer may charge the owner a fee for storage and must notify the California Department of Justice of the date that the dealer took possession of any firearms that are acquired in this manner.7

Under California law, a person over the age of 18 who shares a residence with another individual who the person knows or has reason to know is prohibited by state or federal law from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm, commits a misdemeanor by keeping a firearm that he or she owns in the shared residence, unless any of the following apply:

  • The firearm is maintained within a locked container;
  • The firearm is disabled by a firearm safety device;
  • The firearm is maintained within a locked gun safe;
  • The firearm is maintained within a locked trunk;
  • The firearm is locked with a locking device, which has rendered the firearm inoperable; or
  • The firearm is carried on the person or within close enough proximity that the individual can readily retrieve and use it as it it were carried on the person.8

For more information on safe storage laws involving prohibited persons, see the section entitled Child Access Prevention in California.

For information on the background check process used to enforce these provisions, see the section entitled Background Checks in California.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 29800(a). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 23515, 29800(a), 29805, 29900-29905. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 29800(a), 29805, 29851. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 29815. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 29820. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 29825(a), (b) (referencing Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 527.6, 527.8, 527.85, Cal. Fam. Code § 6218, Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2 or 646.91, Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15657.03), and Cal. Penal Code § 18205. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 29830. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 25135. ⤴︎

Child Access Prevention in California

See our Child Access Prevention policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California generally has strong child access prevention laws that make people criminally liable for leaving firearms accessible to minors in various circumstances.

First, California law makes it a crime for a person to negligently store or leave any firearm on premises within the person’s custody or control, in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child under 181 is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian. (A person may be found to have violated this law even if a minor never actually accessed or used the firearm). No liability is imposed in this situation if reasonable action is taken to secure the firearm against access by a child.2

Other child access prevention laws in California impose steeper penalties in situations where a minor gains access to or uses an unsafely stored firearm:

  • California makes someone criminally liable for keeping a firearm on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access and carries the firearm off the premises.3
  • A person is also criminally liable for keeping a loaded firearm where he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or guardian, if the child actually does gain access to the firearm and either carries it to a public place, brandishes it in a threatening manner, or if someone is injured as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.4 The penalty imposed is significantly greater if someone dies or suffers great bodily injury as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.5
  • Moreover, a person is criminally liable for keeping any firearm, loaded or unloaded, on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian, if the child does gain access to it and carries the firearm to any preschool or school grades K-12 or to any school-sponsored event, activity, or performance.6

These laws generally do not apply if:

  • The firearm was kept in a locked container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
  • The firearm was locked with a locking device that rendered the firearm inoperable;
  • The person had no reasonable expectation, based on objective facts and circumstances, that a child was likely to be present on the premises;
  • The child obtained the firearm as a result of an illegal entry into any premises by any person;
  • The firearm was carried on the person or within such a close proximity to the person that he or she could readily retrieve and use the firearm as if carried on the person;
  • The person was a peace officer or a member of the armed forces or national guard and the child obtained the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the person’s duties; or
  • The child obtained the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person.7

A parent or guardian is also generally civilly liable for damages resulting from the discharge of a firearm by that person’s child or ward where the parent or guardian either permitted the minor to have the firearm, or left the firearm in a place accessible to the minor. These damages are capped at $30,000 per victim, and $60,000 total.8

For the warnings that firearms dealers must post regarding preventing children from gaining access to firearms, see our Dealer Regulations in California section.

For more information about firearm locking devices required in California, see our Locking Devices in California section.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 25000. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 25100(c). See also, Cal. Penal Code § 25105 for other defenses to this crime. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 25200(a). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 25100(b). This section references Cal. Penal Code § 417, which prohibits the drawing or exhibiting of a firearm in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or unlawfully using a firearm in a fight or quarrel. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100(a), 25110. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 25200(b). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code §§ 25105, 25205. California law also includes the statement that “[i]t is the Legislature’s intent that a parent or guardian of a child who is injured or who dies as the result of an accidental shooting must be prosecuted only in those instances in which the parent or guardian behaved in a grossly negligent manner or where similarly egregious circumstances exist.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115 and 25210. In such cases, no arrest may occur until at least seven days after the accidental shooting, and law enforcement officials are encouraged “to delay the arrest of a parent or guardian of a seriously injured child while the child remains on life-support equipment or is in a similarly critical medical condition.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25120, 25215. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Civil Code § 1714.3. ⤴︎

Concealed Carry in California

See our Concealed Carry policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California generally prohibits a person from carrying a loaded, concealed firearm in public unless the person has been issued a concealed weapons license.1 A person may carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public without a permit if the person reasonably believes that he or she is in grave danger because of circumstances forming the basis of a current restraining order issued by a court, if the court that issued the restraining order found that the defendant poses a threat to the gun owner’s life or safety.2 Restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms in public do not apply to peace officers, whether active or honorably retired.3

California is a “may-issue” state, meaning that local law enforcement has discretion when issuing carrying concealed weapons (“CCW”) licenses. Licensing authorities may only issue CCW licenses after finding that: 1) the applicant is of good moral character and, after a background check, is found not to be prohibited by state or federal law from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm; 2) good cause exists for the issuance of a license; 3) the applicant has completed a firearms safety course (see below); and 4) the applicant meets relevant residency requirements.4

If, on an initial application, the licensing authority requires psychological testing for the license applicant, the applicant must be referred to a licensed psychologist used by the licensing authority for the psychological testing of its own employees. Cal. Penal Code § 26190(f). The applicant may be charged for the actual cost of the testing, not to exceed $150, and, if additional psychological testing is required, that cost to the applicant cannot exceed $150. Id.))

In 2011, California enacted a law requiring the local licensing authority to provide written notice to an applicant upon making a determination of good cause. If good cause is found, the notice must inform the applicant to proceed with the safety training requirements (see below for details), and, if the licensing authority determines that good cause does not exist, the notice must state the reasons why that determination was made.5

The licensing authority must also give written notice to the applicant indicating that the application has been approved or denied. This notice must be given within 90 days of the initial application for a new license or a license renewal, or 30 days after receipt of the applicant’s criminal background check from DOJ, whichever is later. If the license is denied, the notice must state which requirement was not satisfied.6

A CCW license may include any reasonable restrictions or conditions which the issuing authority deems warranted, including restrictions as to the time, place, manner, and circumstances under which the person may carry a firearm. Any such restrictions must be indicated on the license itself.7 However, no licensing authority may require an applicant to obtain liability insurance or pay any additional fees not otherwise authorized by law as a condition of the application for a license.8 The license must specify the particular firearm the person is authorized to carry, giving the name of the manufacturer, the serial number, and the caliber, as well as the licensee’s name, occupation, residence and business address, age, height, weight, color of eyes and hair, and the reason for desiring a license to carry the weapon.9

A California CCW license may be granted to residents of a city by the local police department, or to residents of a county, or a city within the county, by the county sheriff.10 A local police department and the sheriff of the county in which the city is located may also enter into an agreement to delegate review of all CCW applications within the city to one of the two law enforcement agencies.11 Any person who spends “a substantial period of time” in his or her principal place of employment or business in the county also may apply to that county sheriff for a concealed weapons license.12 A CCW license generally lasts two years and is valid throughout the state, however, a license issued based on the applicant’s place of employment or business may be valid no longer than 90 days and only in the county where it was issued.13

The city or county that has issued a CCW license must revoke the license if, at any time, either the city or county is notified by the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) or otherwise determines that a licensee is prohibited from possessing firearms.14 If DOJ determines that a licensee is prohibited from possessing firearms, DOJ must immediately notify the city or county of the determination.15 The licensee must be immediately notified of the revocation in writing.16

CCW Safety Training

California passed legislation in 2018 to strengthen and standardize some safety training requirements for CCW applicants.17

New CCW applicants are now required to complete a training course approved by  the local licensing authority, which must provide between 8 and 16 hours of instruction on firearm handling, shooting technique, and relevant gun laws; a demonstration by the applicant of shooting proficiency and safe handling of each firearm the applicant will be licensed to carry; and live-fire exercises conducted on a firing range.18 (Alternatively, the licensing authority may require a community college course certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, up to a maximum of 24 hours, but only if required uniformly of all license applicants without exception).19

CCW Duration and Renewal

Subject to certain limited exceptions, a California CCW license is valid for up to two years from the date of issuance or renewal.20 License renewal applicants must fulfill most of the same requirements for the original issuance of the license.21 However, license renewal applicants may fulfill the course requirements through any course of training approved by the city or county that is at least four hours long and that provides instruction on firearm handling, shooting technique, and relevant gun laws; a demonstration by the applicant of shooting proficiency and safe handling of each firearm the applicant will be licensed to carry; and live-fire exercises conducted on a firing range.22 The city or county issuing the license may require additional psychological testing of a renewal applicant only if there is compelling evidence to indicate that a test is necessary.23 The city or county may not require the applicant to provide additional information other than that necessary to complete the original application or to clarify information provided in the original application.24

Disclosure and Use of CCW Information

Cities and counties in California must maintain certain records regarding CCW applications and licenses and forward this information to the DOJ.25 The application and record of a CCW license are public documents unless they contain information by which the county sheriff or municipal police chief can demonstrate that the public interest served by not making such records public clearly outweighs the public interest in their disclosure.26 Nevertheless, certain information contained in the applications for CCW licenses and the records of CCW applicants may not be disclosed to the public. Such information includes:

  • Records of state summary criminal information contained in CCW license records of a sheriff or municipal police department;
  • Records of the sheriff’s investigation of the qualification and fitness of a CCW applicant;27
  • Information contained in CCW applications by the sheriff of a county or a municipal police chief indicating when or where the applicant is vulnerable to attack, or concerning the applicant’s medical or psychological history or that of members of his or her family;28 and
  • The home address and telephone number of prosecutors, public defenders, peace officers, judges, court commissioners, and magistrates.29

The California Department of Justice used to produce an annual report disclosing the number of CCW licenses in each California county. The most recent report lists the number of CCW licenses that existed in each county each year from 1987 through 2007. At the end of 2007, there were a total of 40,296 CCW licenses in all of California. A report released by the United States Government Accountability Office in 2012, estimated a total of 35,000 CCW license holders in California as of September 1, 2011.30

Reciprocity of Other States’ CCW Licenses

Concealed weapons license holders from other states may not carry concealed firearms in California.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code §§ 25400(a), 25655. Firearms carried openly in belt holsters are not considered “concealed” within the meaning of this section. Cal. Penal Code § 25400(b). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 25600(a). A person may also carry a concealed firearm in a locked container to or from a motor vehicle. Cal. Penal Code § 25610(a)(2). For additional exceptions, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 25505-25655. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 25450. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150, 26155. Additional concealed weapons license application and background check requirements, as well as license denial, suspension or disqualification standards, are detailed under Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150-26225. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 26202. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 26205. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 26200. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 26190(g). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 26175(i). Licensees may apply to amend their licenses to include authority to carry additional specified firearms or to alter the conditions or restrictions of the license. Cal. Penal Code § 26215(a). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150, 26155. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 26155(c). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code § 26150(a)(3). A city or county may be considered an applicant’s “principal place of employment or business” only if the applicant is physically present in the jurisdiction during a substantial part of his or her working hours for purposes of that employment or business. Cal. Penal Code § 17020. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 26220. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(1). ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(2). ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(3). ⤴︎
  17. See 2018 CA AB 2103. ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 26165(a), (b). ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 26165(c). Pursuant to a law California enacted in 2011, an applicant must not be required to pay for any training courses prior to a determination of good cause. Cal. Penal Code § 26165(e). ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 26220(a). An amendment to a license does not extend the original expiration date of the license, and an application to amend a license does not constitute an application for renewal. Cal. Penal Code § 26215(c), (d). ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 26175. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 26165(d). ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code § 26190(f). ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Penal Code § 26175(g). ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Penal Code § 26225. ⤴︎
  26. Cal. Govt. Code § 6255. ⤴︎
  27. Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(f). ⤴︎
  28. Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(u)(1). For additional explanation on the disclosure and use of concealed weapons permit information, see the California Attorney General’s opinion concerning public disclosure of records, 62 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 595 (1979). ⤴︎
  29. Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(u)(2)-(3). ⤴︎
  30. See United States Government Accountability Office, States’ Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary across the Nation, 36, July, 2012, available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592552.pdf. ⤴︎

Design Safety Standards in California

California law prohibits any person from manufacturing, importing into California for sale, offering for sale, giving or lending an “unsafe handgun.”1 In general, an unsafe handgun is any handgun that lacks an appropriate safety, that does not meet the state’s firing requirement, or that does not meet the state’s drop safety requirement.2 However, handguns sold through private or secondary sales are not required to comply with these requirements.3

California’s handgun firing requirement is a test in which the manufacturer provides three unmodified handguns, of the make and model for which certification is sought, to an independent testing laboratory certified by the Attorney General.4 The laboratory must fire 600 rounds of certain ammunition from each gun, stopping at specified intervals.5 A handgun model passes the test if each of the three test guns:

• Fires the first 20 rounds without a malfunction that is not due to ammunition that fails to detonate;6 and

• Fires the full 600 rounds with no more than six malfunctions that are not due to ammunition that fails to detonate, and without any crack or breakage of an operating part of the handgun that increases the risk of injury to the user.7

Following the handgun firing requirements, the same certified independent testing laboratory must subject the same three handguns to a series of six drop tests each, with a primed case (no powder or projectile) inserted into the chamber.8 The handgun model passes this test if each of the three test guns does not fire the primer.9

The California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) publishes and maintains a roster listing all handguns that have been tested by a certified testing laboratory, determined not to be unsafe handguns, and that may be sold in California.10

An “unsafe handgun” also includes:

• Any center-fire semiautomatic pistol that is not already listed on the roster as of January 1, 2006, and does not have either a chamber load indicator,11 or a magazine disconnect mechanism;12

• Any rimfire semiautomatic pistol that is not already listed on the roster as of January 1, 2006, and does not have a magazine disconnect mechanism, if it has a detachable magazine;13 and

• Any center-fire semiautomatic pistol that is not already listed on the roster as of January 1, 2007, and does not have both a chamber load indicator or, if it has a detachable magazine, a magazine disconnect mechanism.14

Due to a law that became effective January 1, 2010, new models of semiautomatic pistols sold in California are required to have microstamping technology integrated into the pistol design, or the handgun will be deemed an “unsafe handgun.”15 For more information on this groundbreaking technology, see our Microstamping/Ballistic Identification in California section.

Unfortunately, the firearm industry has functionally exploited the grandfathering clauses in much of California’s Unsafe Handgun Act by refusing to introduce new models in California markets that incorporate magazine disconnect mechanisms, chamber load indicators, and microstamping technology.

See our Design Safety Standards policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 32000(a). This requirement does not apply to firearms listed as “curios or relics,” as defined in Section 478.11 of Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, or to the sale or purchase of a handgun by certain peace officers and various state and federal agencies, including police departments, the Department of Justice, and military forces, for use in the discharge of their official duties. Cal. Penal Code § 32000(b). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 31910. Pistols designed expressly for use in Olympic target shooting events that would normally fall within the definition of “unsafe handgun” under § 31910 are exempt from state handgun testing requirements. Cal. Penal Code § 32105(a)-(b). DOJ is required to maintain a program that exempts any qualifying new models of competitive handguns from state testing requirements and/or assault weapon regulation. Cal. Penal Code § 32105(c). USA Shooting, the national governing body for international shooting competition in the United States, or any other organization that DOJ deems relevant, may recommend handgun models for DOJ evaluation. Id. Furthermore, the state handgun testing requirements do not apply to the sale, loan, or transfer of any semiautomatic pistol that is to be used solely as a prop during the course of a motion picture, television, or video production by an authorized participant in such production while engaged in making that production or event, or by an authorized employee or agent of the entity producing that production or event. Cal. Penal Code § 32110(h). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27545, 32110(a). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31905. For detailed DOJ regulations regarding laboratory certification and handgun testing procedures, see Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 4047-4075. ⤴︎
  5. The laboratory must stop after each series of 50 rounds has been fired for five to ten minutes to allow the weapon to cool, stopping after each series of 100 rounds has been fired to tighten any loose screws and clean the gun, and stopping as needed to refill the empty magazine or cylinder to capacity before continuing. Cal. Penal Code § 31905(b)(1). The ammunition used must be of the type recommended by the handgun manufacturer, or if none is recommended, any standard ammunition of the correct caliber in new condition that is commercially available. Cal. Penal Code § 31905(b)(1). ⤴︎
  6. “Malfunction” means a failure to properly feed, fire, or eject a round, or failure of a pistol to accept or reject a manufacturer-approved magazine, or failure of a pistol’s slide to remain open after a manufacturer-approved magazine has been expended. Cal. Penal Code § 31905(c)(1), (e). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 31905(c)(2). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 31900. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 31900(d). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 32015(a). DOJ may retest up to five percent of handgun models listed on the roster annually. Cal. Penal Code § 32020. Three samples of each handgun model chosen must be retested using ammunition recommended by the manufacturer that is commercially available and in new condition. Cal. Penal Code § 32020(b). The Attorney General must remove from the roster any model that fails retesting. Cal. Penal Code § 32020(d). DOJ also maintains a list of handguns removed from the state roster. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(4). A “chamber load indicator” is a device that plainly indicates that a cartridge is in the firing chamber. Cal. Penal Code § 16380. A device satisfies this definition if it “is readily visible, has incorporated or adjacent explanatory text or graphics, or both, and is designed and intended to indicate to a reasonably foreseeable adult user of the pistol, without requiring the user to refer to a user’s manual or any other resource other than the pistol itself, whether a cartridge is in the firing chamber.” Id. ⤴︎
  12. A “magazine disconnect mechanism” is a mechanism that prevents a semiautomatic pistol that has a detachable magazine from operating to strike the primer of ammunition in the firing chamber when a detachable magazine is not inserted in the semiautomatic pistol. Cal. Penal Code § 16900. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(6). ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(5). Pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 32010, any pistols which do not possess the required chamber load indicator and magazine disconnect mechanism cannot be submitted for testing to be added to DOJ’s roster of handguns available for sale in California. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7). ⤴︎

Disarming Prohibited People in California

See our Disarming Prohibited People policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California has adopted clear, mandatory, and enforceable relinquishment requirements for individuals subject to civil and criminal domestic violence restraining orders and other civil restraining orders, including civil and workplace harassment, elder abuse, and gun violence restraining orders. The state has also adopted a clear, mandatory, and enforceable relinquishment law to remove firearms from people convicted of or pending trial for firearm-prohibiting crimes.

For more information on relinquishment in the protective order context, see the Domestic Violence & Firearms in California page. For information on people prohibited from possessing firearms in California, see our Prohibited Persons in California page.

Relinquishment of Firearms by People Convicted of Firearm-Prohibiting Crimes

Prior to the passage of a ballot initiative called Proposition 63 in 2016, California law had no clear mechanism to ensure individuals convicted of firearm-prohibiting crimes relinquished their guns after conviction.

In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63 to close this gap and made California the first state in the nation to require all people convicted of firearm-prohibiting crimes provide proof to the courts that they sold or transferred their firearms after conviction. Since January 1, 2018, Proposition 63 has required courts to order people convicted of firearm-prohibiting felonies and other serious crimes to relinquish their firearms (through a third-party designee) and to provide these defendants with a standard Relinquishment Form at the time of conviction.1 The form among other things:

  • Informs defendants that they are required to relinquish all firearms within specified time periods by selling or transferring the firearms to a licensed firearms dealer, or by transferring them to local law enforcement.
  • Informs defendants that they are required to declare any firearms that they possessed at the time of conviction and to name a lawful, consenting designee or law enforcement agency to relinquish those firearms on the defendants’ behalf, if applicable.
  • Requires the defendant or designee to file the completed relinquishment form with the court-assigned probation officer, along with receipts from the law enforcement agency or licensed dealer who took possession of the defendant’s firearms, verifying that the offender relinquished all firearms prior to sentencing, as required.2

This law requires an assigned probation officer to notify the court about whether the offender properly relinquished all firearms indicated on the relinquishment form or by California’s automated database of firearm sale records.3 Courts are generally required to verify that relinquishment occurred before final disposition of the defendant’s case.4 If the court finds probable cause that the defendant failed to relinquish all firearms, as required, the court will order the search for and removal of the defendant’s firearms at any location where the judge has probable cause to believe the defendant’s firearms are located.5

This relinquishment process implements best practices from California’s domestic violence protective order and gun violence restraining order laws by providing clear and mandatory procedures to all prohibited criminal offenders, by expressly requiring proof of relinquishment, and by requiring further enforcement action if the offender illegally retains his or her weapons after conviction.

Relinquishment of Firearms by People with Severe Mental Health Impairments

California law requires law enforcement to confiscate weapons found to be under the possession or control of any person who has been detained or apprehended for examination of his or her mental condition, or who is prohibited from possession of firearms by reason of a mental disorder.6 Law enforcement must, upon confiscation, retain custody of the firearm, issue a receipt describing the firearm, and notify the individual of the procedure for return of the firearm.7 Upon release from a mental health facility, the health facility personnel must notify the individual of the procedure for the return of a confiscated firearm.8 Health facility personnel also must notify the confiscating law enforcement agency of the release of the detained individual, and must document that the facility provided notice regarding the procedure for return of any confiscated firearm.9 California law also authorizes the issuance of a search warrant when the property to be seized includes a firearm owned by, or in the possession of, a person who has been detained for examination of his or her mental condition, or who is prohibited from possession of firearms by reason of a mental disorder.10

Recovering Illegally Owned Weapons – “APPS”

California law also requires the state Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish and maintain the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS),11 an electronic database of individuals who once legally purchased a firearm, or registered an assault weapon, and then became illegally armed by keeping those weapons after they became prohibited from possessing them under state or federal law. (This occurs, for example, when a gun owner is convicted of a domestic violence offense but fails to relinquish his or her firearms).12

State law requires DOJ, in conjunction with local law enforcement, to conduct enforcement actions to remove firearms from illegally armed individuals identified in APPS.13

The information contained in APPS can only be made available to certain entities–primarily law enforcement agencies–to actively identify persons armed yet prohibited from possessing firearms.14

In 2017 alone, APPS enforcement efforts recovered 3,685 illegally owned firearms, and over 800,000 rounds of illegally owned ammunition.15

Notes
  1. See Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(b). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(1)-(c)(2). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(3). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(4). For the findings form used by the court for firearm relinquishment, see https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/cr210.pdf ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(a)-(b)(1). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(b)(2). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(b)(3). The administrative procedures regarding the return of a firearm after an individual’s release from a mental health facility are detailed under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(c)-(h). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 1524(a)(10). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Pen. Code § 30000. State law also refers to APPS as the “Prohibited armed Persons File.” ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Pen. Code § 30005. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 30005-30015. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 30000(b), this section references Cal. Penal Code § 11105(b), (c). ⤴︎
  15. See California Department of Justice, “APPS 2017 Annual Report to the Legislature” (Revised Mar. 9, 2018), available at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/publications/sb-140-supp-budget-report.pdf. ⤴︎

Domestic Violence & Firearms in California

See our Domestic Violence and Firearms policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Firearm Prohibitions for Misdemeanants

Under federal law, people who have been convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors are generally prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms for life. California law is somewhat narrower: the state prohibits people from acquiring or possessing firearms for 10 years after they have been convicted of a violent misdemeanor, such as assault, battery, or stalking, regardless of the victim’s relationship to the offender.1

Under legislation passed in 2018, California also generally imposes a lifetime firearm prohibition on anyone convicted on or after January 1, 2019, of a misdemeanor for willfully inflicting corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition against a current or former spouse, cohabitant, or dating partner, or against the mother or father of the offender’s child.2

California law also authorizes courts to prohibit defendants from purchasing or possessing firearms in cases where the defendant has been charged with, but not yet convicted of, a domestic violence misdemeanor.3

Firearm Prohibitions for Persons Subject to Domestic Violence Restraining and Protective Orders

A person subject to any one of the following types of court orders is prohibited from owning, possessing, purchasing, receiving, or attempting to purchase or receive a firearm or ammunition while the order is in effect:4

  • A temporary restraining order or injunction issued to a victim of harassment; aka “civil harassment order”5
  • A temporary restraining order or injunction issued to an employer on behalf of an employee; aka “workplace violence restraining order”6
  • A temporary restraining order or injunction issued to a postsecondary educational institution on behalf of a student; aka “private postsecondary school violence restraining order”7
  • A domestic violence restraining order whether issued as an emergency order (EPO-001), ex parte, after notice and hearing, or in a judgment;8
  • A protective order for an elderly or dependent adult who has suffered abuse, whether the order was issued ex parte, after notice and hearing, or in a judgment, provided that the case does not involve solely financial abuse;9
  • An emergency protective order related to stalking;10 or
  • A protective order relating to a crime of domestic violence or the intimidation or dissuasion of victim or witness.11

Under California law, individuals may seek a domestic violence protective order, prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms, against:

  • A spouse or former spouse;
  • A former or current dating partner;
  • Any person who is presently or has in the past resided with the individual; or
  • Any family member, even if the abuser has never resided with the individual.12

Prior to a hearing on the issuance or denial of a restraining order, the court must ensure that a search is conducted to determine if the subject of the proposed order has a registered firearm.13 Each order must state that the person is prohibited from owning, possessing, purchasing, receiving, or attempting to purchase or receive, a firearm while the protective order is in effect.14

California also prohibits subjects of domestic violence restraining orders from owning or possessing ammunition.15

Relinquishment of Firearms by People Subject to Restraining Orders

Upon being served with a domestic violence protective order in California, the respondent must relinquish his or her firearm by surrendering it immediately upon request of any law enforcement officer, or within 24 hours if no request is made. This form from the Judicial Council provides instructions on relinquishing firearms for DV respondents.16 This same 24-hour rule and procedure also applies for all other protective orders listed above except those related to stalking.

The law enforcement officer or gun dealer must issue a receipt, which the person must file with both the court and with the law enforcement agency that served the protective order, within 48 hours of being served with the order (failure to do so constitutes a violation of the protective order).17 During the period of the relinquishment order, a respondent is entitled to make one sale of all firearms that have been surrendered to a law enforcement agency.18

The application forms for domestic violence protective orders adopted by the Judicial Council and approved by the California Department of Justice must require the petitioner to describe the number, types, and locations of any firearms presently known by the petitioner to be possessed or controlled by the respondent.19 Two California rules of court set up processes which ensure that firearms are relinquished in domestic violence protective order cases by requiring review hearings to determine whether the respondent has complied with relinquishment requirements, if there is reason to believe that the respondent owns guns.20 Additionally, not surrendering a firearm or abiding by the terms of the order in a civil domestic violence case can, under Rule 5.495, be considered by the court in making child custody and visitation orders and have significant consequences with respect to the rebuttable presumption under Family Code section 3044.

California law authorizes the issuance of a search warrant when the property to be seized is a firearm that a person who is subject to a protective order has failed to relinquish as required by law.21 A search warrant may also be issued when the property to be seized is a firearm at the scene of, or at premises occupied or under the control of a person arrested in connection with, a domestic violence incident involving a threat to human life or a physical assault.22

A person subject to a protective order related to stalking must relinquish his or her firearms to the local law enforcement agency for that jurisdiction, or sell those firearms to a licensed gun dealer within a time period specified in the order.23 The protective order must include a description of this requirement including the expiration date for relinquishment. Proof of surrender or sale of a firearm must be filed with the court within the specified time.24

Relinquishment of Firearms by Individuals Convicted of Domestic Violence Crimes

Proposition 63, passed by California voters in November 2016, requires defendants convicted of firearm-prohibiting crimes, including domestic violence offenses, to provide proof that they sold or transferred their firearms within specified timeframes after conviction. It also requires assigned probation officers and courts to verify that the defendant complied with this requirement before final disposition of the defendant’s case and authorizes the court to issue search warrants to recover illegally retained firearms from defendants who fail to comply.

Removal of Firearms and Incident Reporting by Law Enforcement

Every California law enforcement agency must establish a system for recording all domestic violence-related calls, and must include a written incident report for each call noting, among other things, whether a weapon was involved.25 Any deadly weapon discovered by an officer at the scene of a domestic violence incident is subject to confiscation.26 Law enforcement officers of any state or local agency who are at the scene of a domestic violence incident involving a threat to human life or a physical assault must take temporary custody of any firearm in plain sight or discovered pursuant to a consensual or other lawful search for the protection of the officers or other persons present.27

Confiscated firearms must be held for at least 48 hours.28 With limited exceptions, if a firearm is not retained for use as evidence related to criminal charges stemming from the domestic violence incident or is not retained because it was illegally possessed, it must be made available to its owner or lawful possessor 48 hours after the seizure or as soon thereafter as possible, but no later than five business days after the owner or person in lawful possession of the firearm demonstrates that he or she has undergone the proper background check.29

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 29805. ⤴︎
  2. 2018 CA AB 3129, creating Cal. Penal Code § 29805(b); see also, Cal Pen Code § 273.5. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 136.2(a)(1)(G)(I)-(II), (d)(1)-(3). ⤴︎
  4. See Cal. Penal Code § 29825(a). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.6. Harassment is defined as unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the person. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.8. An employer may seek a restraining order on behalf of employees where an employee has suffered violence or a threat that can reasonably be construed to be carried out or to have been carried out at the workplace. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.85. A postsecondary educational institution may seek a restraining order on behalf of a student where a student has suffered a credible threat of violence made off the school campus or facility from any individual, which can reasonably be construed to be carried out or to have been carried out at the school campus or facility, if the student consents. “Postsecondary educational institution” is defined to mean a private institution of vocational, professional, or postsecondary education. Id. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Fam. Code §§ 6218, 6389. See also § 6304 (requiring notice of the firearm prohibition if both parties are in court). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15657.03. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 646.91. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 136.2. Although Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2 and 646.91 do not mention ammunition, a separate provision of California law prohibits any person from possessing ammunition if the person is ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under state law. Cal. Penal Code §§ 29825, 30305. ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Family Code §§ 6211, 6218, 6389. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Family Code § 6306. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 29825(d); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.9(d). ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 30305. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389. If no request is made by a law enforcement officer, the relinquishment must occur within 24 hours of being served the order, either by surrender to a law enforcement officer or sale to a licensed gun dealer. The court may grant an exemption from the relinquishment requirements for a particular firearm if the respondent can show that it is necessary as a condition of continued employment and that the current employer is unable to reassign the respondent to another position where a firearm is unnecessary. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(h). If the respondent declines to relinquish possession of any firearm based on the assertion of the right against self-incrimination, as provided by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the court may grant use immunity for the act of relinquishing the firearm as required. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(d). ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(c)(2); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.9(a),(b), (d); see also Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2(d), 29825(d); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 527.6(t)(2), 527.8(r)(2); 527.85(r)(2); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15657.03(t)(2). ⤴︎
  18. The agency must give possession of the firearms to the dealer who presents a bill of sale, within five days of presentment of the bill of sale. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(i); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.9(g). If the firearm remains in the possession of law enforcement, the law enforcement agency must return possession of any surrendered firearm to the respondent within five days after the expiration of the relinquishment order, unless certain conditions apply, such as the issuance of another successive restraining order. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(g); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.9(e). ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(c)(3). ⤴︎
  20. Cal Rules of Court, Rule 5.495; Rule 4.700. ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 1524(a)(11). ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 1524(a)(9); See also Cal. Penal Code § 18250. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code § 29825(d) (referencing Cal. Penal Code § 29830. ⤴︎
  24. Id. ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Penal Code § 13730(a). Law enforcement officers responding to incidents of domestic violence must write a report about each incident on an agency-created domestic violence report form, and must include notations of whether the officer or officers responding to the domestic violence call found it necessary, for the protection of the peace officer or other persons present, to inquire whether a firearm or other deadly weapon was present, and whether that inquiry disclosed the presence of a deadly weapon. Cal. Penal Code § 13730(c)(3). ⤴︎
  26. Id. (referencing Cal. Penal Code § 18250). ⤴︎
  27. Cal. Penal Code § 18250. If any school or university peace officers initially take custody of a firearm, they are required to deliver the firearm within 24 hours to the city police department or county sheriff’s office in the jurisdiction where the university or school is located. Cal. Penal Code § 18260. ⤴︎
  28. Cal. Penal Code § 18265(a). The confiscating officer must give the owner or person who possessed the firearm a receipt describing the firearm. Cal. Penal Code §§ 18255, 33800. ⤴︎
  29. Cal. Penal Code § 18265(b) (referencing § 33850 et seq., which requires that the person claiming ownership or possession of a firearm in the custody of a court or law enforcement agency submit to a background check to determine whether he or she is eligible to possess a firearm). This five-day deadline may be extended if a law enforcement agency has reasonable cause to believe that the return of a firearm would endanger the victim or the person reporting the assault or threat. Cal. Penal Code § 18400. In such situations, the agency must advise the owner of the weapon, and within 60 days of the date of seizure, initiate a petition in superior court to determine if the weapon should be returned. Id. For details concerning the hearing process to determine if a firearm should be returned following a domestic violence incident, see §§ 18400-18420. ⤴︎