Extreme Risk Protection Orders in California

In 2014, California enacted an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law.1 California’s law refers to these orders as Gun Violence Restraining Orders or GVROs and has been in effect since January 1, 2016.2

California’s law authorizes law enforcement officers and other specified categories of people to file petitions for a civil court order called a GVRO to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms when they are found to pose a significant risk to themselves or others by having legal access to firearms or ammunition.3

Eligible petitioners include:

  • A law enforcement officer (or, effective September 1, 2020, an officer may file a petition in the name of their employing law enforcement agency);4
  • Family and current or recent household members of the person named in the petition.5
  • Effective September 1, 2020, the employer of the person named in the petition, or a coworker, who has had substantial and regular interactions with the person for at least one year if the coworker has obtained approval from the employer to file a GVRO petition;6
  • Effective September 1, 2020, an employee or teacher at a secondary or postsecondary school that the person named in the petition has attended in the last six months, if the employee or teacher has obtained approval from a school administrator or administration staff member with a supervisorial role to file a GVRO petition.7

If the judge concludes that the respondent poses a danger to self or others (as discussed below), the court may issue a Gun Violence Restraining Order to temporarily suspend the respondent’s legal access to guns and ammunition. This order prevents that person from passing a background check to obtain weapons and may also authorize law enforcement to remove any weapons in the respondent’s possession. Like domestic violence restraining orders, GVROs can be issued on an emergency basis upon request from a law enforcement officer. After a noticed hearing, courts may issue GVROs for one year;8 effective September 1, 2020, courts will also be authorized to issue GVROs for between one and five years in certain circumstances.9 Once issued, GVROs may be renewed or terminated prior to their expiration.

Emergency Orders

A court may issue an ex parte GVRO, prior to providing notice and a hearing, if the court finds there is a substantial likelihood that the respondent poses a significant danger to self or others in the near future by having legal access to firearms or ammunition and that a GVRO is necessary under the circumstances to prevent such harm.10 To make this determination, the court must examine the petitioner and any available witnesses under oath, or require the petitioner and any witnesses to submit written affidavits submitted under oath.11 This order, if issued, will last 21 days, by which time the respondent should be notified (“served”) and a hearing should be held on whether to issue a full GVRO order.

In more immediately urgent cases, law enforcement officers may also obtain temporary emergency GVROs, if the court finds reasonable cause to believe that the respondent poses an immediate and present danger of harm to self or others and that a GVRO is necessary under the circumstances.12 These emergency GVROs may generally be in effect for no more than 21 days, before the court holds a full hearing on whether to grant a full GVRO.13

Orders after Notice and a Hearing

To initiate the standard GVRO process (for GVROs issued “after notice and a hearing”), an eligible petitioner must file a petition with a court on forms provided by the California court system.14 In most cases, the court is required to provide notice of a hearing to the respondent and hold a hearing within 21 days of receiving the petition.15

At the hearing, the petitioner has the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others by having access to firearms or ammunition and that a GVRO is necessary to prevent personal injury because less restrictive alternatives have been tried and found to be ineffective, or are inadequate or inappropriate for the respondent’s circumstances.

In determining whether to issue a GVRO, the court must consider specified evidence, including whether the respondent has:

  • Made threats or acts of violence against self or others within the past six months
  • Exhibited any pattern of violent acts or threats within the previous 12 months
  • Violated domestic violence protective orders
  • Been previously convicted for any crime prohibiting the purchase and possession of firearms16

The court may also consider any other evidence that is indicative of an increased risk for violence, such as:

  • The respondent’s history of violence or physical force against others
  • Unlawful and reckless use of firearms
  • Recent acquisition of weapons
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol17

If, after the hearing, the judge concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence to issue a GVRO, the court will issue a GVRO prohibiting the respondent from accessing or acquiring firearms or ammunition for one year.18  Effective September 1, 2020, courts will be authorized to issue GVROs after notice and a hearing lasting between one to five years, depending on the court’s determination regarding how long the circumstances giving rise to the GVRO are likely to continue.19

If the court issues a GVRO, it must also order the respondent to relinquish any firearms or ammunition that he or she owns or possesses.20 There is no fee for law enforcement to serve the order. When officers do serve the order, they are required to ask the restrained party to relinquish any firearms they own or possess. The respondent is required to immediately relinquish his or her weapons to the officer, upon request. Alternatively, if a law enforcement officer does not serve the order, the respondent is required to sell or temporarily transfer his or her weapons to a licensed firearms dealer or the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours of being served with the order.21 The law enforcement officer or dealer taking possession of the respondent’s weapons is required to issue a receipt to the respondent; the respondent is then required to provide this receipt to the court that issued the GVRO, and to provide a copy of the receipt to the law enforcement agency that served the GVRO, within 48 hours.22 For further information on firearm relinquishment for GVROs in California, see the information and relinquishment forms provided to GVRO respondents by the courts.

This law provides a standard process for respondents to request that a GVRO be lifted23 and for petitioners to request that the GVRO be renewed and extended.24

California makes it a crime to file a petition for a GVRO knowing the information in the petition to be materially false or with an intent to harass the respondent.25

California law will also generally require all local law enforcement agencies, by January 1, 2021, to develop, adopt, and implement written policies and standards regarding the use of GVROs, including protocols that encourage officers to consider obtaining GVROs in various circumstances, and standards to ensure firearms are removed from GVRO respondents.26.

For more information about ERPO laws, visit our Extreme Risk Protection Orders policy page.

Notes
  1. 2014 CA AB 1014. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Pen. Code § 18122. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a), 18170. ⤴︎
  4. 2019 CA AB 12, amending Cal. Pen. Code § 18109(b). ⤴︎
  5. The law authorizes “immediate family members” to serve as petitioners but defines that term to mean “any spouse, whether by marriage or not, domestic partner, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.” See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a)(2), 18170(b) (referencing definition in Cal. Pen. Code § 422.4(b)(3). ⤴︎
  6. See 2019 CA AB 61, repealing and replacing Cal. Pen. Code § 18150. ⤴︎
  7. See 2019 CA AB 61, repealing and replacing Cal. Pen. Code § 18150. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Pen. Code § 18170. ⤴︎
  9. 2019 CA AB 12. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Pen. Code § 18150(b). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Pen. Code § 18155(a). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18125, 18145. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18148, 18165, 18195. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Pen. Code § 18105. The petition is required to include information about the number, types, and locations of any firearms and ammunition that the petitioner believes are possessed or controlled by the subject of the petition. Cal. Pen. Code § 18107. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18150, 18165, 18175, 18195. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(1). ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(2). ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(c), (d), 18120(a). ⤴︎
  19. 2019 CA AB 12, amending Cal. Pen Code § 18175(d). ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Pen Code § 18120(b). ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Pen Code § 18120(b)(2). The respondent may store his or her weapons with the agency or dealer for the duration of the order. ⤴︎
  22. Id. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Pen. Code § 18185. ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Pen. Code § 18185, 18190. ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Pen. Code § 18200. Petitioners may also be subject to perjury charges for submitting knowingly false information to the courts under oath. ⤴︎
  26. 2019 CA AB 339 ⤴︎

Fifty Caliber Rifles in California

See our Fifty Caliber Rifles policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California generally prohibits the manufacture, distribution, transportation, importation, keeping or offering for sale, giving, or lending of any .50 BMG rifle without a California Department of Justice (“DOJ”)-issued permit.1 Such permits may only be issued, upon a finding of good cause, to certain law enforcement agencies and officers or to individuals over the age of 18.2 DOJ must conduct a yearly inspection – or every five years if the person 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.3 A .50 BMG rifle is any centerfire rifle that can fire a .50 BMG cartridge and that is not already an assault weapon or machine gun.4

The state also prohibits the possession of a .50 BMG rifle unless it is registered in the name of the possessor.5 Any person in lawful possession of a .50 BMG rifle must have registered it with DOJ within the registration period (January 1, 2005 to April 30, 2006).6 As the registration period has expired, .50 BMG rifles cannot generally be registered with DOJ. For more details, see the DOJ’s information page on this topic.

Any person owning a lawfully registered .50 BMG rifle may possess the firearm only under limited conditions, unless he or she obtains a permit for additional uses from DOJ.7 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.8

California law includes a statement of the dangers posed by the .50 BMG rifle:

The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the proliferation and use of .50 BMG rifles…poses a clear and present terrorist threat to the health, safety, and security of all residents of, and visitors to, this state, based upon findings that those firearms have such a high capacity for long distance and highly destructive firepower that they pose an unacceptable risk to the death and serious injury of human beings, destruction or serious damage of vital public and private buildings, civilian, police and military vehicles, power generation and transmission facilities, petrochemical production and storage facilities, and transportation infrastructure.…9

California law provides that the possession of a .50 BMG rifle in violation of state laws is a public nuisance.10 Any .50 BMG rifle deemed a public nuisance 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 .50 BMG rifle is in the interest of justice.11

California also prohibits any person, firm or corporation from possessing any:

  • Weapon greater than .60 caliber which fires fixed ammunition (other than a shotgun (smooth or rifled bore) that conforms to the definition of “destructive device” under 27 C.F.R. § 479.11); or
  • Rocket, rocket-propelled projectile, or similar device of a diameter greater than .60 inch, or any launching device for such rocket or projectile.12

See DOJ’s Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on the regulation of .50 BMG rifles.

 

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 30600. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31000, 31005. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 31110 ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 30530(a). A .50 BMG rifle does not include any antique firearm (meaning any firearm manufactured before January 1, 1899, per Cal. Penal Code § 16170), nor any “curio or relic” as defined in Section 478.11 of Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 30610. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 30905. Any person who has previously registered his or her .50 BMG rifle as an assault weapon is not required to register that firearm again. Cal. Penal Code § 30965. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 30945. ⤴︎
  8. The person may also possess the .50 BMG 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. Cal. Penal Code § 30945(e). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 30505. ⤴︎
  10. The Attorney General, any district attorney, or city attorney may, in lieu of criminal prosecution, bring a civil action in any superior court to enjoin the possession of the .50 BMG rifle that is a public nuisance. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(a). The court may impose a fine for any .50 BMG rifle deemed a public nuisance. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(b). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(c). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16460(a)(3), (4), 18710. ⤴︎

Gun Dealers in California

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

Firearms dealers in California are subject to various statutory requirements, as described below. These requirements concern:

(1) Dealer licensing;

(2) The transfer of firearms and ammunition;

(3) The posting of warnings;

(4) The reporting of lost or stolen firearms;

(5) The storage of firearms;

(6) Employee background checks; and

(7) The reporting of acquired firearms.

For further information beyond that provided below, see California Department of Justice (“DOJ”)’s FAQs for Licensed Dealers.

Local governments in California have authority to regulate firearms dealers and ammunition sellers. The Law Center has drafted a model ordinance for use by California cities and counties that regulates firearms dealers and ammunition sellers. For more information, please contact the Law Center directly and see our section entitled Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in California.

(1) Licensing Requirements

Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (“ATF”), although resource limitations prevent the ATF from properly overseeing all its licensees.

People who regularly sell, transfer, or loan firearms in California must also generally be licensed by the state Department of Justice, pursuant to state law.1 There are several exceptions to this dealer licensing requirement, including those for:

  • Persons who are selling firearms pursuant to court orders or acting pursuant to operation of law;2
  • The “infrequent” sale, lease, or transfer of firearms;3
  • The sale, lease, or transfer of used long guns at gun shows (subject to several conditions);4
  • Sales, deliveries, or transfers between wholesalers, importers and manufacturers, and between dealers and wholesalers, importers or manufacturers;5
  • Firearm loans that take place at a shooting range for the purpose of shooting at targets;6 and
  • The loan of a firearm to a gunsmith for service or repairs.7

In order to become a California firearms dealer, a person must:

  • Have a valid federal firearms license from ATF;
  • Have any regulatory or business license(s) required by local government;
  • Have a valid seller’s permit issued by the State Board of Equalization;
  • Have a Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) issued by DOJ demonstrating that DOJ has checked its records and determined that the applicant is not prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms;8
  • Have an annual license granted by the duly constituted licensing authority of any city, county, or city and county (if the local jurisdiction does not have a dealer licensing system, the dealer must obtain and provide to DOJ a letter to this effect from the local licensing authority9); and
  • Be on DOJ’s centralized list of all persons licensed to sell firearms.10

With limited exceptions for gun shows and non-profit events, California requires firearms dealers to conduct business only in the buildings designated in the license.11

Dealers are required to renew their business licenses every year.12

(2) Transfer of Firearms & Ammunition

For laws requiring dealers to conduct a background check on prospective firearm purchasers, see the Background Checks in California section. For laws requiring dealers to report firearm transactions to the DOJ, and to maintain records of firearms transactions, see the section entitled Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in California.

A California firearms dealer may not deliver a firearm:

  • During the state’s ten-day waiting period, or while DOJ has placed the sale on hold (see the Waiting Periods in California section for more details);
  • Unless unloaded and securely wrapped, or unloaded and in a locked container;
  • Unless the purchaser, transferee, or person being loaned the firearm presents clear evidence of the person’s identity and age to the dealer;
  • Whenever the dealer is notified by DOJ that the person is prohibited by state or federal law from processing, owning, purchasing, or receiving a firearm.13

Dealers are also required to:

In addition, firearms dealers are prohibited from delivering a firearm to a purchaser or transferee unless that person:

  • Presents a Firearm Safety Certificate (“FSC”) or a Handgun Safety Certificate (“HSC”) which is not yet expired;16 and
  • Performs a safe handling demonstration with the firearm being purchased (see the Licensing of Gun Owners or Purchasers in California section for more information on these requirements).

Finally, firearms dealers are prohibited from delivering a handgun to a purchaser or transferee unless that person submits documentation indicating that they are a California resident;17

DOJ may require firearms dealers to charge each purchaser a fee, which may be increased as necessary to fund DOJ for costs associated with DOJ’s firearms-related regulatory and enforcement activities involving the sale, purchase, possession, loan or transfer of firearms.18

The packaging and any descriptive materials that accompany any firearm manufactured in California, or sold or transferred by a dealer, including private transfers conducted through a dealer, must bear a label containing the following warning statement in both English and Spanish:

WARNING

Firearms must be handled responsibly and securely stored to prevent access by children and other unauthorized users. California has strict laws pertaining to firearms, and you may be fined or imprisoned if you fail to comply with them. Visit the Web site of the California Attorney General at https://oag.ca.gov/firearms for information on firearm laws applicable to you and how you can comply. Prevent child access by always keeping guns locked away and unloaded when not in use. If you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison.19

A yellow triangle containing an exclamation mark must appear immediately before the word “Warning” on the label.20 Effective June 1, 2020, this firearm warning label must also include a specified statement regarding the national suicide prevention hotline number.21

Dealers who sell long gun safes that do not meet certain standards are also required to attach warnings regarding those long gun safes. See the Locking Devices in California section for further information.

All licensed firearms dealers must process private party transfers of long guns upon request. Licensed dealers who sell, transfer, or stock handguns must also process private party handgun transactions.22

Proposition 63, passed by California voters in 2016, also requires ammunition sellers to obtain an ammunition vendor business license and to conduct background checks on their purchasers in a manner similar to firearm sales. Licensed firearms dealers are automatically deemed licensed ammunition vendors, provided that they comply with the legal obligations placed on ammunition sellers.23 See the Ammunition Regulation in California section for further information.

For other laws applicable to both licensed and private firearm sales, please see the Private Sales in California section.

(3) Posted Warnings

California firearms dealers must conspicuously post certain specified warnings regarding, among other things:

The warnings must be posted in block letters not less than one inch in height.26

(4) Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms

Dealers must report the loss or theft of any firearm within 48 hours of discovery to the appropriate law enforcement agency in the city, county, or city and county in California where the dealer’s business premises are located.27 After passage of Proposition 63, dealers are now also required to report the loss or theft of ammunition to local law enforcement.28

(5) Storage of Firearms

Subject to very narrow exceptions, all firearms in the inventory of a licensed California firearms dealer must be kept at the dealer’s licensed location.29

Any time a dealer is not open for business, he or she must secure all firearms stored at the licensed place of business using one of the following methods for each particular firearm:

  • Store the firearm in a “secure facility” that is a part of, or that constitutes, the licensee’s business premises;30
  • Secure the firearm with a hardened steel rod or cable of at least one-eighth inch in diameter through the trigger guard of the firearm. The steel rod or cable must be secured with a hardened steel lock that has a shackle. The lock and shackle must be protected or shielded from the use of a bolt cutter and the rod or cable must be anchored in a manner that prevents the removal of the firearm from the premises; or
  • Store the firearm in a locked fireproof safe or vault in the licensee’s business premises.31
  • Dealers who sell ammunition must also sell or display the ammunition in a manner that ensures it remains inaccessible to a purchaser without the assistance of the dealer or employee.32

The licensing authority in an unincorporated area of a county or within a city may impose stricter security requirements than those specified above.33

A dealer may not display a handgun or imitation handgun, or placard advertising the sale or other transfer of a handgun or imitation handgun, in any part of the premises where it can readily be seen from the outside.34

(6) Employee Background Checks

California law (enacted by Proposition 63) requires that any agent or employee of a firearm dealer who handles, sells, or delivers firearms in the course of a dealer’s business must obtain and provide to the dealer a certificate of eligibility (COE) from DOJ verifying that he or she has passed a background check and is eligible to handle and possess firearms.35 DOJ is required to notify the dealer in the event that the agent or employee having a COE is or becomes prohibited from possessing firearms.36

A dealer must prohibit any agent or employee who the dealer knows or reasonably should know is within a class of persons prohibited from possessing firearms from coming into contact with any firearm that is not secured.37

The city or county where the dealership is located may also:

  • Conduct an additional background check on the dealer’s agents or employees;
  • Prohibit employment based on criminal history that does not appear as part of obtaining a COE, provided that the local jurisdiction may not charge a fee for the additional criminal history check; or
  • Enact an ordinance imposing additional conditions on dealers with regard to agents.38

If the city or county in which the dealer operates requires a background check of dealer’s agents or employees, an agent or employee must obtain a COE from DOJ demonstrating his or her eligibility to possess firearms.39

(7) The Reporting of Acquired Firearms

Dealers must report the acquisition of any firearm to DOJ on the date the firearm is received.40 However, this reporting requirement does not apply to firearms that the dealer receives from wholesalers, federally licensed importers, manufacturers, or out-of-state dealers.41

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 26500. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 26505. The phrase “operation of law” includes, but is not limited to, any of the following: 1) the executor or administrator of an estate, if the estate includes firearms; 2) a secured creditor when the firearms are possessed as collateral for, or as a result of, a default under a security agreement; 3) a levying officer; 4) a receiver, if the receivership estate includes firearms; 5) a trustee in bankruptcy, if the bankruptcy estate includes firearms; 6) an assignee for the benefit of creditors, if the assignment includes firearms; 7) a transmutation of property between spouses; 8) firearms received by the family of a deceased police officer or deputy sheriff from a local agency; or 9) the transfer of a firearm by a law enforcement agency to the person who found the firearm as the finder of the firearm. Cal. Penal Code § 16960. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 26520. “Infrequent” is defined as no more than six transactions per calendar year and no more than 50 total firearms per calendar year. Cal. Penal Code § 16730. See 2019 CA SB 376. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code  § 26525. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26530, 26560. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code  § 26545. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 26587. For a complete list of exceptions to this requirement, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 26505-26590. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4031(g). For regulations pertaining to the issuance of a COE, see Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 4036-4041. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 26705. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 26700(f). See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 4016-4024 for regulations regarding DOJ’s centralized list of all persons licensed to sell firearms. For more information about the use of this list, see “Shipments into California” under the Trafficking in California section. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 26805. ⤴︎
  12. A COE term must not exceed one year. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4039. In addition, the term of a centralized list placement is from January 1 through December 31. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4021(a). To remain in compliance with the law, dealers must renew these licenses each year. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 26815. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 26865. A copy of the booklet is also available on DOJ’s website, at: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/pdf/cfl2013.pdf?. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 23635. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26840, 27540, 31615. With specified exceptions, any loan of a handgun also requires that the recipient have a valid FSC or HSC. Cal. Penal Code § 27540. ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Penal Code § 26845. Valid proof of residency includes, but is not limited to, a utility bill from the past three months, a residential lease, a property deed, or military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment within this state. The dealer is required to retain a copy of the residency documentation as proof of compliance. Cal. Penal Code § 26845. ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 28225. ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code §§ 23635, 23640. ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 23640. If the firearm is sold or transferred without accompanying packaging, the warning label must be affixed to the firearm itself. Id. The warning must be displayed “in conspicuous and legible type in contrast by typography, layout, or color with other printed matter on that package or descriptive materials…” Id. ⤴︎
  21. 2019 CA AB 645, repealing and replacing Cal. Penal Code § 23640. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 28065. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16151(b). ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Penal Code § 26835(d). ⤴︎
  25. For the complete text of the required warnings, see Cal. Penal Code § 26835. The federal regulation that requires the transfer of a firearm to take place within 30 days of the background check exists at 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(c). ⤴︎
  26. Cal. Penal Code § 26835. ⤴︎
  27. Cal. Penal Code § 26885. ⤴︎
  28. Cal. Penal Code §§ 23885(b). ⤴︎
  29. Cal. Penal Code § 26885. ⤴︎
  30. A “secure facility,” as defined by Cal. Penal Code § 17110, means a building that meets all of the following specifications:
    (A) All perimeter doorways must be equipped with one of the following: (i) A windowless steel security door equipped with both a dead bolt and a doorknob lock. (ii) A windowed metal door that is equipped with both a dead bolt and a doorknob lock. If the window has an opening of five inches or more measured in any direction, the window must be covered with steel bars of at least one-half inch diameter or metal grating of at least nine gauge affixed to the exterior or interior of the door. (iii) A metal grate that is padlocked and affixed to the licensee’s premises independent of the door and doorframe.
    (B) All windows are covered with steel bars.
    (C) Heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and service openings are secured with steel bars, metal grating, or an alarm system.
    (D) Any metal grates have spaces no larger than six inches wide measured in any direction.
    (E) Any metal screens have spaces no larger than three inches wide measured in any direction.
    (F) All steel bars must be no further than six inches apart. Cal. Penal Code § 17110. ⤴︎
  31. Cal. Penal Code § 26890. ⤴︎
  32. Cal. Penal Code § 30350. ⤴︎
  33. Cal. Penal Code § 26890(b). ⤴︎
  34. Cal. Penal Code § 26820. ⤴︎
  35. Cal. Penal Code § 26915. ⤴︎
  36. Cal. Penal Code § 26915(b). Local jurisdictions in California may require the agents or employees of a firearms dealer to go through a background check, in which case each agent or employee must obtain a COE from DOJ demonstrating his or her eligibility to possess firearms. Cal. Penal Code § 26915(c). ⤴︎
  37. Cal. Penal Code § 26915(e). A firearm is properly secured from a restricted employee or agent if the firearm is: 1) Inoperable because it is secured by a firearms safety device listed on DOJ’s roster of approved devices under Cal. Penal Code § 23655; 2) Stored in a locked gun safe or long gun safe which meets the standards for DOJ-approved gun safes under Cal. Penal Code § 23650; 3) Stored in a distinct locked room or area in the building that is used to store firearms that can only be unlocked by a key, a combination, or similar means; or 4) Secured with a hardened steel rod or cable that is at least one-eighth of an inch in diameter through the trigger guard of the firearm. The steel rod or cable must be secured with a hardened steel lock that has a shackle. The lock and shackle must be protected or shielded from the use of a bolt cutter and the rod or cable must be anchored in a manner that prevents the removal of the firearm from the premises. Cal. Penal Code § 26915(g). The dealer must also prohibit the agent or employee from accessing any key, combination, code, or other means to open any of the locking devices listed in § 26915(g). Cal. Penal Code § 26915(e). ⤴︎
  38. Cal. Penal Code § 26915 (c), (d), (f). ⤴︎
  39. Cal. Penal Code § 26915(c). ⤴︎
  40. Cal. Penal Code § 26905(a). Prior to January 1, 2014, this requirement applied only to handguns. ⤴︎
  41. Cal. Penal Code § 26905(b). All other exceptions to this requirement are listed in this subsection. ⤴︎

Gun Industry Immunity in California

California no longer provides legal immunity for the firearms industry, although a federal law enacted in 2005 does. On September 25, 2002, California Governor Gray Davis signed legislation to repeal an immunity law that California adopted in 1983 that had provided special legal protection to the gun industry. That statute had stated that, “[i]n a product liability action, no firearm or ammunition must be deemed defective in design on the basis that the benefits of the product do not outweigh the risk of injury posed by its potential to cause serious injury, damage, or death when discharged.” The California Legislature moved to repeal the immunity law following the California Supreme Court’s decision in Merrill v. Navegar, a case holding that the California immunity law immunized an assault weapons manufacturer from a negligence action brought by the victims of the 101 California Street massacre.1

However, on October 26, 2005, the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) became law.2 The PLCAA generally immunizes gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers from liability whenever a person is damaged as a result of the “criminal or unlawful misuse” of a firearm, even if that criminal act or misuse is foreseeable because of industry negligence or recklessness. This sweeping legislation precludes most actions in state as well as federal court and required the immediate dismissal of most pending lawsuits against the gun industry. The PLCAA also nullified California’s repeal of its own immunity law.

The validity and scope of the PLCAA and its exceptions are being tested in courts across the country. For information about these lawsuits and more information about the PLCAA in general, see the federal law section of our policy page on Gun Industry Immunity.

California law also limits the liability of sport shooting ranges for noise or noise pollution resulting from the range.3

See our Gun Industry Immunity policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. Merrill v. Navegar, 28 P.3d 116 (Cal. 2001). ⤴︎
  2. 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901 – 7903. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Civil Code § 3482.1(b) provides:
    (1) Except as provided in [§ 3482.1(f)], a person who operates or uses a sport shooting range in this state must 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 [§ 3482.1(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 must 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.
    Cal. Civ. Code § 3482.1(f) provides that local jurisdictions may require that noise levels at the nearest residential property line to a range not exceed the level of normal city street noise, which must not be more than 60 decibels for nighttime shooting. ⤴︎

Gun Shows in California

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

In 1999, California enacted the nation’s broadest legislation to increase oversight at gun shows (AB 295). In California, all firearms transfers at gun shows must be processed through a licensed firearms dealer.1 Ordinarily, licensed dealers ordinarily are only permitted to sell firearms from their licensed premises; however, California law provides an exception for sales at California gun shows as long as they are not conducted from motorized or towed vehicles.2 A dealer operating at a gun show must still comply with all applicable laws, including California’s waiting period law, other California laws governing the transfer of firearms by dealers, and all local ordinances, regulations, and fees.3

California requires a person who promotes, produces, sponsors, operates, or otherwise organizes a gun show (“producer”) to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”), which requires a background check.4 California also requires the producer to, among other things:

• Certify that he or she is familiar with the California laws governing gun shows;5

• Ensure that liability insurance is in effect for the duration of a gun show or event in a minimum amount of $1,000,000;6

• Provide an annual list of the gun shows or events the applicant plans to produce, including the date, time, and location of the gun shows or events;7

• Prior to the commencement of a gun show or event, and within 48 hours of a written request by a law enforcement agency, make available to local law enforcement a complete and accurate list of all persons, entities, and organizations leasing or renting a table, display space, or area at the gun show or event for the purpose of selling, leasing, or transferring firearms;8

• Working with the facility manager, prepare an annual event and security plan and schedule to be submitted to DOJ and the local law enforcement agency. The event and security plan must include, among other things:

o The type of shows or events including, but not limited to, antique or general firearms;

o The estimated number of vendors offering firearms for sale or display, and the estimated number of attendees;

o The number of entrances and exits at the gun show or event site; and

o The number of sworn peace officers and non-sworn security personnel employed by the producer or the facilities manager who will be present at the show or event;9

• Within seven calendar days of the gun show or event, submit a list of all prospective vendors and designated firearms transfer agents who are licensed firearms dealers to DOJ for the purpose of determining whether these prospective vendors and transfer agents are eligible to process firearms transactions at the show or event;10

• Have written contracts with all gun show vendors selling firearms at the show or event;11

• Post certain signs in a readily visible location at each public entrance to the show;12 and post, in a readily visible location at each entrance to the parking lot at the show, a sign that states, “The transfer of firearms on the parking lot of this facility is a crime”;

• Inform prospective gun show vendors of the requirements of California law that govern gun shows;13 and

• Pay an annual fee of $85.14

Prior to a gun show, each vendor must provide to the gun show producer the names, driver’s license or state-issued identification card numbers, and dates of birth of the vendor, the vendor’s employees, and any other persons providing services to the public at the vendor’s display space. The producer must make the information available to law enforcement upon request.15

California law also provides that gun show vendors may not display, possess, or offer for sale any black powder or prohibited firearms, or engage in any activities that incite or encourage hate crimes.16 Gun show vendors must verify that all firearms in their possession at the show will be unloaded, and that the firearms will be secured in a manner that prevents them from being operated, except for brief periods when the mechanical condition of a firearm is being demonstrated to a prospective buyer.17 Ammunition may be displayed only in closed original factory boxes or other closed containers, except when it is being shown to a prospective buyer.18

No person at a gun show, other than security personnel or sworn peace officers, may possess at the same time both a firearm and ammunition that is designed to be used with the firearm. However, vendors having those items at the show for sale or exhibition are exempt from this prohibition.19 All persons possessing firearms at the gun show must have government-issued photo identification in his or her immediate possession and display it upon request to any security officer or any peace officer.20

Under California law, ammunition sellers are also generally required to conduct background checks and record ammunition sales made at gun shows, as elsewhere.  For more information, see the Ammunition Regulation in California section.

Any member of the public who is under the age of 18 may not attend a gun show unless accompanied by his or her parent, grandparent, or legal guardian.21

All firearms carried into a gun show by members of the public must be checked, cleared of any ammunition, secured in a manner that prevents them from being operated, and an identification tag must be attached to the firearm, prior to the person being allowed admittance to the show. The identification tag must state that all firearms transfers between private parties at the show must be conducted through a licensed dealer in accordance with applicable state and federal laws. Before the tag is attached to the firearm, the owner must print and sign his or her name and enter the number from his or her government-issued photo identification on the tag.22

See the Private Sales in California section for additional state laws that apply at gun shows.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 27305(d). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 26805. ⤴︎
  3. Id. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 27200. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 27200(b)(1). ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 27200(b)(2). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 27200(b)(3). ⤴︎
  8. A producer must thereafter, upon written request, for every day the gun show or event operates, within 24 hours or another time specified by the requesting law enforcement agency, make available to the requesting law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the facility, a current list of the persons, entities, and organizations that have leased or rented, or are known to the producer to intend to lease or rent, any table, display space, or area at the gun show or event for the purpose of selling, leasing, or transferring firearms. Cal. Penal Code § 27205. ⤴︎
  9. The event and security plan must be approved by the facility’s manager prior to the event or show after consultation with the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the facility. Cal. Penal Code § 27210. ⤴︎
  10. DOJ must examine its records and if it determines that a dealer’s license is not valid, it must notify the show or event producer of that fact prior to the commencement of the show or event. Cal. Penal Code § 27220. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 27235. ⤴︎
  12. The signs must contain, but need not be limited to, the following notices:
    • This gun show follows all federal, state, and local firearms and weapons laws without exception;
    • All firearms carried onto the premises by members of the public will be checked, cleared of any ammunition, secured in a manner that prevents them from being operated, and an identification tag or sticker will be attached to the firearm prior to the person being allowed admittance to the show;
    • No member of the public under the age of 18 years must be admitted to the show unless accompanied by a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian;
    • All firearms transfers between private parties at the show must be conducted through a licensed dealer in accordance with applicable state and federal laws; and
    • Persons possessing firearms on this facility must have in their immediate possession government-issued photo identification, and display it upon request to any security officer or any peace officer. Cal. Penal Code § 27240. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 27215. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 27200(e). ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 27320. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 27305. ⤴︎
  17. Id. ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 27315. ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 27330. ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 27345. ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 27335. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 27340. ⤴︎

Guns in Schools in California

Grades K through 12: California prohibits any person from possessing a firearm in a place that person knows, or reasonably should know, is a school zone.1 “School zone” is defined as an area in, or on the grounds of, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades one to twelve, inclusive, or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of the public or private school.2 However, a person may possess a firearm in a school zone:

  • Within a place of residence or place of business or on private property, if that location is not part of the school grounds and the possession of the firearm is otherwise lawful;3
  • When the firearm is an unloaded handgun and is in a locked container or within the locked trunk of a motor vehicle;4
  • For the lawful transportation of any other firearm, other than a handgun, in accordance with state law;5
  • When the person possessing the firearm 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 against another person or persons who has or have been found to pose a threat to his or her life or safety.6 This exception does not apply in certain circumstances involving a mutual restraining order;7
  • When the person is a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, importer, or wholesaler, or a member of an authorized military or civilian organization when parading, and the gun is unloaded;8
  • When the person is a guard or messenger of a common carrier or bank who, within the course of his or her employment, transports or delivers money or other valuables;9 or
  • When the person is a duly appointed peace officer, honorably retired police officer, or security guard authorized to carry a concealed firearm under state law.10

These restrictions also do not apply to existing shooting ranges at public or private schools or university or college campuses.11

People may carry ammunition onto school grounds if the ammunition is kept within a locked container or within the locked trunk of a motor vehicle.12

See the Non-Powder Guns in California section for information about non-powder guns in schools.

The principal or superintendent of a school or school system must immediately suspend, and recommend the expulsion of, any pupil that he or she determines has possessed a firearm, or sold or furnished a firearm to others, either at school or at a school activity off school grounds, provided that another employee of the school district has verified the pupil’s possession of a firearm.13 However, a pupil may obtain prior written permission to possess a firearm from a certificated school employee, if the principal or a designee of the principal concurs.14

The superintendent or principal of a school is also authorized to suspend and recommend for expulsion any pupil who possesses an imitation firearm. An “imitation firearm” is any replica of a firearm that is so substantially similar in physical properties to an existing firearm that a reasonable person would consider it a firearm.15

With limited exceptions, no person may carry ammunition or reloaded ammunition onto school grounds.16

Colleges and universities: California generally prohibits a person from bringing or possessing a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, upon the grounds of a public or private university or college campus, or any buildings owned or operated for student housing, teaching, research, or administration by a public or private university or college, which are contiguous or are clearly marked university property.17 Universities and colleges must post prominent notices at primary entrances on non-contiguous school property stating that firearms are prohibited on that property.18 Possession of a firearm on university or college property is allowed if the university or college president or an equivalent authority has granted permission in writing.19 Concealed weapons licensees were exempt from this prohibition until the enactment of SB 707 in 2015.20 However, California law now requires that concealed weapons license holders obtain written permission from authorized school officials before carrying firearms or ammunition onto college and university campuses, unless the unloaded firearm or ammunition is kept in a locked container or within the locked trunk of a motor vehicle.21

See our Guns in Schools policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(b). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(e)(1). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(c)(1). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(c)(2). ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(c)(3). ⤴︎
  7. Id. (referencing Cal. Fam. Code § 6200 et seq.). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(c)(4) (referencing §§ 25615, 25625). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(c)(4) (referencing §§ 25630 and 25645). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(l), (m), (o). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(n). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code § 30310(b)(10). ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Educ. Code §§ 48900(b), 48915(c)(1). ⤴︎
  14. Id. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Educ. Code §§ 48900(m), 48915(c)(1). ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 30310(a). This requirement does not apply to peace officers, members of the military, or armored vehicle guards carrying out their official duties, to concealed weapons license holders, or to individuals who have the written permission of the school district superintendent or equivalent school authority. Cal. Penal Code § 30310(b). ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(h), (i). ⤴︎
  18. Id. ⤴︎
  19. Id. ⤴︎
  20. See former Cal. Penal Code § 626.9(l). ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code §§ 626.9(b), (c), 30310. ⤴︎

Guns in Vehicles in California

Unloaded long guns: California does not prohibit carrying an unloaded rifle or shotgun in a motor vehicle.

Concealed handguns: California prohibits a person from carrying a concealed handgun in a motor vehicle, unless the handgun is in a locked container or the vehicle’s trunk,1 or the person has been issued a concealed weapons license.2 A “locked container” is a secure container which is fully enclosed and locked by a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or similar locking device. A locked container includes the trunk of a motor vehicle, but not the utility or glove compartment.3

Loaded firearms: California prohibits carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle in most locations. This prohibition is subject to certain exceptions, including an exception for concealed weapons licensees. See the Other Location Restrictions in California section for further information.

Unloaded and exposed handguns:  California prohibits any person from carrying an exposed and unloaded handgun in or on a motor vehicle on a public street or public place, if the street or place is in an incorporated city or city and county, or if it is otherwise unlawful to discharge a weapon in that location.4 It is also unlawful for a driver or owner of a motor vehicle to knowingly permit another person to carry into or bring into the vehicle a firearm in violation of this prohibition.5

Public transit: Under California law, it is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess any firearm within the sterile area of a public transit facility, if the sterile area is posted with a statement providing reasonable notice of the prohibition.6 A public transit system includes the vehicles used in the system, including, but not limited to, motor vehicles, streetcars, trackless trolleys, buses, light rail systems, rapid transit systems, subways, trains, or jitneys, that transport members of the public for hire. “Sterile area” means any portion of a public transit facility that is generally controlled in a manner consistent with the public transit authority’s security plan.7 This prohibition does not apply to individuals licensed to carry a concealed weapon.8

Handguns in Unattended Vehicles: California generally requires all individuals, including law enforcement officers and CCW permit holders, to safely store handguns when leaving them in unattended motor vehicles. This law requires that the unattended handgun be secured either in a locked trunk; in a locked container that is placed out of plain view or permanently affixed to the vehicle’s interior; or in a locked toolbox or utility box that is permanently affixed to the bed of a pickup truck or other vehicle that does not have a trunk.9

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 25610. See also §§ 25505-25595 (exempting, from the prohibition on carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, firearms that are being transported to certain locations, such as target ranges and gun shows, if they are in a locked container). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 25400(a), 25655. Firearms carried openly in belt holsters are not considered “concealed.” Cal. Penal Code § 25400(b). Exceptions to the license requirement are included in Cal. Penal Code §§ 25505-25595 and 25600-25655. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 16850. Even without a license, a person may carry a loaded, concealed firearm in a motor vehicle 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, and the court that issued the restraining order found that the defendant poses a threat to the gun owner’s life or safety. Cal. Penal Code § 25600. Additional exceptions exist. See §§ 25505-25655. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code §§ 17030, 26350. See §§ 26361-26391 for exceptions. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 17512. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 171.7(b)(1). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code §§ 171.7(a)(1)-(2). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code §§ 171.7(c)(2), 25655. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code §§ 25140, 25452, 25612, 25645; 2016 Cal. SB 869 and 2017 Cal. SB 1382. ⤴︎

Large Capacity Magazines in California

With limited exceptions, California law prohibits any person from manufacturing, importing into the state, keeping for sale, offering or exposing for sale, giving, lending, buying, or receiving a large capacity magazine.1 (A “large capacity magazine” is defined as any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds, but does not include any .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device, any feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate more than ten rounds, or any tubular magazine that is contained in a lever-action firearm).2

In 2016, California voters also passed Proposition 63, which generally prohibited possession of large capacity magazines starting on July 1, 2017.3 The Legislature had previously grandfathered possession of large capacity magazines that were lawfully obtained before 2000, but because most of these magazines do not have identifying marks to indicate when they were manufactured or sold, police officers who came upon stashes of these magazines were unable to determine whether or not they were lawfully obtained. Proposition 63 required individuals who still own grandfathered large capacity magazines to permanently alter them so they cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds or to otherwise dispose of them before July 1, 2017 by selling them to a licensed firearms dealer, transferring them to law enforcement, removing them from the state, or destroying them.4

**Note that enforcement of Proposition 63’s restrictions on possession of large-capacity magazines have been temporarily delayed pending an ongoing legal challenge by the NRA’s California affiliate. To learn more about this case and the Giffords Law Center’s work to defend Proposition 63, visit our Duncan v. Becerra summary page.**

California law also generally prohibits any person from manufacturing, importing into the state, selling, giving, lending, buying, or receiving, any large capacity magazine conversion kit. A “large capacity magazine conversion kit” is defined as a device, or combination of parts from a fully-functioning large capacity magazine, capable of converting an ammunition feeding device into a large capacity magazine.5

Upon a showing of good cause, the California Department of Justice may issue permits for the possession, transportation, or sale of large capacity ammunition magazines between a licensed California firearms dealer and an out-of-state customer.6

Large capacity magazines may be manufactured for any federal, state, or local government or law enforcement agency, the military, or for use by agency employees in the discharge of their official duties, whether on or off duty.7 Large capacity magazines may also be purchased or loaned for the sole use as a motion picture, television or video prop.8 Such magazines may also be resold to law enforcement agencies, government agencies, or the military, pursuant to applicable federal regulations.9

See our Large Capacity Magazines policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

 

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 32310. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 16740. ⤴︎
  3. See Cal. Penal Code §§ 32310(c), (d). ⤴︎
  4. Id.; Cal. Penal Code § 16740(a) (excluding from the definition of “large-capacity magazine” any ammunition feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 32311. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 32315. The requirements for demonstrating “good cause” are set out at Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 5480. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 32440. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code §§ 32445, 32450. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 32450(c). For additional large capacity ammunition magazine regulations, see Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 5480–84. ⤴︎

Licensing in California

California generally requires people to obtain a “firearm safety certificate” in order to be eligible to purchase or acquire a firearm.  While other states’ licensing laws require individuals to pass a background check to obtain a firearm purchase permit, California instead requires completion of a background check and other safety requirements at the point of sale.

Firearm Safety Certificate

Under California law, a person must obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (“FSC”)1 and present the FSC to a licensed firearms dealer prior to purchasing or receiving a firearm.2 With certain exceptions, firearm loans also require that the recipient possess and present a valid FSC.3 Concealed weapons license holders are exempt from the FSC requirement, as are active or honorably retired peace officers.4 The firearms dealer processing the transfer of the firearm must retain photocopies of the purchaser’s FSC for compliance purposes.5

To obtain a FSC, an applicant must be age 18 or older and successfully pass an objective, written test with a passing grade of at least 75 percent.6 The test must be administered by a California Department of Justice (“DOJ”)-certified instructor.7 The test must cover, but is not limited to, the following:

  • The laws applicable to carrying and handling firearms;
  • The responsibilities of ownership of firearms;
  • Current law as it relates to the private sale and transfer of firearms;
  • Current law as it relates to the permissible use of lethal force;
  • What constitutes safe firearm storage;
  • Issues associated with bringing a firearm into the home; and
  • Prevention strategies to address issues associated with bringing firearms into the home.8

Additionally, FSC test takers must also sign acknowledgment indicating that they have received specified warnings regarding the need to comply with California’s gun laws and to responsibly handle and securely store their firearms to prevent access by children and unauthorized users.9

If a person taking the FSC test is unable to read, the examination will be administered orally and, if the person is unable to read English or Spanish, the test may be provided orally by a translator.10

DOJ may charge the certified instructor up to $15 for each firearm safety certificate issued by that instructor to cover the department’s cost in carrying out and enforcing the laws regarding FSCs. The certified instructor may in turn charge a fee of $25.11 DOJ is also required to produce a FSC instructional manual, along with audiovisual materials for the test, in addition to the objective test itself, in both English and Spanish. This manual is to be made available to firearms dealers, who must then make it available to the general public.12

California law lists certain information that every FSC must contain.13 If an individual’s FSC or HSC is lost or destroyed, the issuing instructor will issue a duplicate upon request and proof of identification, and the issuing instructor may charge a fee of up to $15 for a duplicate certificate.14

Once issued, a FSC is valid for five years.15 For additional information about FSCs, see DOJ’s webpage entitled Firearm Safety Certificate program.

For additional documentation required for the purchase of a handgun, including proof of California residency, see our Background Checks in California section.

Safe Handling Demonstration

A firearms dealer in California must not deliver a handgun or, starting January 1, 2015, a long gun to a purchaser or transferee unless the recipient performs a safe handling demonstration with the firearm being purchased in the presence of a DOJ-certified instructor.16 With few exceptions, all firearms transfers must be processed through a licensed firearms dealer, so almost all transfers are subject to this requirement. California law lists the particular actions the purchaser or transferee must perform during the demonstration.17 For handguns, these actions differ depending on whether the firearm is a semiautomatic pistol, double-action revolver, or single-action revolver.18 For long guns, DOJ must, commencing January 1, 2015, issue regulations establishing a long gun safe handling demonstration that must include, at a minimum, loading and unloading the long gun.19 Safe handling performance steps for various long gun models are located in the DOJ Firearm Safety Certificate Study GuideConcealed weapons license holders are exempt from these safe handling requirements.20

Entertainment Firearms Permits

To facilitate rentals of firearms for use in motion picture, television and other entertainment productions, California has created an “entertainment firearms permit.” This permit allows any person age 21, after passing a background check, to be exempt from normal firearms dealer transfer requirements when possessing or receiving an unloaded firearm for use solely as a prop in a motion picture, television, video, theatrical or other entertainment production or event.21 Among other things, the following provisions of California law do not apply to a firearms transfer when the recipient is the holder of an entertainment firearms permit:

An entertainment firearms permit is valid for one year.26

Federal law does not require dealers to conduct a background check if a firearm purchaser presents a state permit to purchase or possess firearms that meets certain conditions.27 As a result, persons who have California entertainment firearms permits are exempt from the federal background check requirement as well.28 Note, however, that people who have become prohibited from possessing firearms may continue to hold state permits to purchase or permit firearms if the state fails to remove these permits in a timely fashion.

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

Notes
  1. Prior to January 1, 2015, this requirement applied only to handguns. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26840, 27540(e), 31615. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26840, 27540(e). For all exceptions to these requirements, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 31700-31835. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31700. All other FSC exemptions are also listed in this section. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 26840. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31625, 31640, 31645. If an applicant fails the objective test on the first attempt, he or she must be offered additional instructional materials by the instructor. Cal. Penal Code § 31645(b). The applicant may not retake the written test until 24 hours have elapsed after the first attempt. Id. If the applicant desires to take a written test a second time, he or she will be given a different version of the test by the same instructor who administered the first test. Id. All tests must be taken from the same instructor, except upon permission by the department, which will be granted only for good cause shown. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 31640(a). The instructor certification requirements are available at Cal. Penal Code §§ 16370 and 31635. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 31640. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 31640(d). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 31640(b). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 31650. ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31630,31640. ⤴︎
  13. The FSC must contain, but is not limited to, the following information:
    • A unique firearm safety certificate identification number;
    • The holder’s full name;
    • The holder’s date of birth;
    • The holder’s driver’s license or identification number;
    • The holder’s signature;
    • The signature of the issuing instructor; and
    • The date of issuance. Cal. Penal Code § 31655. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 31660. ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 31655(c). ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26850; 26860. Following the safe handling demonstration, the dealer must sign, date, and retain an affidavit stating that the requirements have been met, and obtain the signature of the handgun or long gun purchaser on this affidavit. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26850(d), 26860(c). Failure to comply may result in removal of the dealer from California’s centralized list of firearms dealers. Cal. Penal Code § 26800. ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26853, 26856, 26859. ⤴︎
  18. Id. ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 26860(b). ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 26850(h). ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27000, 27745, 27805, 27810, 27835, 27960, 28100, 31820, 31825. For information about the permitting process, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 29500-29535. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 27960. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27000, 27745, 31820, 31825. ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540(f), 27745. ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540(a), 27745. ⤴︎
  26. Cal. Penal Code § 29530. ⤴︎
  27. Federal law exempts persons who have been issued state permits to purchase or possess firearms from background checks if those permits were issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation, including a search of the NICS database, to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3), 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d). ⤴︎
  28. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, U.S. Department of Justice, Brady Law: Permanent Brady Permit Chart (Aug. 26, 2011), at: http://www.atf.gov/firearms/brady-law/permit-chart.html. ⤴︎

Machine Guns & Automatic Firearms in California

See our Machine Guns policy page for further information.

California prohibits any person from possessing, knowingly transporting, selling, offering to sell, or knowingly manufacturing a machine gun without a permit.1 California also prohibits intentionally converting a firearm into a machine gun.2 The definition of “machine gun” in California law is identical to the definition in federal law and means “any weapon that shoots, is designed to shoot, or can readily be restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”3 The term also includes any weapon deemed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as readily convertible to a machine gun.4

California is also one of the few states to prohibit the sale, manufacture, and possession of bump stock devices and other “multi burst trigger activators,” which are firearm accessories designed to significantly increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic firearm to simulate automatic machine gun fire.5 In 2018, California passed new legislation to clarify and broaden this prohibition on bump stocks and similar devices, to include devices that are designed to be attached to, built into, or used in conjunction with, a semiautomatic firearm.6

The California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) may issue permits to individuals who are 18 years of age or older for the possession, manufacture, or transportation of machine guns, only upon a satisfactory showing of good cause.7 The permit must be kept where the firearms are kept, and the permit must be open to inspection by law enforcement.8 DOJ may also grant licenses effective for not more than one year for the sale of machine guns to persons authorized to receive them under state law.9 A similar permit may be issued by DOJ to allow for the manufacture, possession, importation, transportation, or sale of short-barreled rifles or short-barreled shotguns.10

California law makes it a nuisance to possess a machine gun not in compliance with the above requirements.11 The Attorney General, any district attorney, or any city attorney may bring an action before the superior court to enjoin the possession of any illegally possessed machine gun.12 Any illegally possessed machine gun must be surrendered to DOJ, and DOJ will destroy it, unless a judge or district attorney files a statement with DOJ stating that its preservation is necessary to serve the ends of justice.13

Federal law requires machine guns to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and generally prohibits the transfer or possession of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986.14 In December 2018, ATF finalized a rule to include bump stocks within the definition of a machine gun subject to this federal law, meaning that bump stocks will be generally banned as of March 26, 2019.15

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 32625(a). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 32625(b). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 16880(a). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 16880(c). The definition of machine gun also includes any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of a person. Cal. Penal Code § 16880(b). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16930, 32900. In October 2017, a gunman in Las Vegas used multiple bump fire devices to convert semi-automatic rifles into weapons that fired 9 shots per second. He used those weapons to carry out the deadliest mass shooting attack in modern history. ⤴︎
  6. See 2018 CA SB 1346, amending Cal. Penal Code § 16930. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 32650. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 32660. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 32700. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 33300. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 32750(a). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code § 32750(b). ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 32750(c). ⤴︎
  14. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). ⤴︎
  15. Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 66,514 (Dec. 26, 2018) (to be codified at 27 C.F.R. pts. 447, 478, 479). ⤴︎