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 Licensed dealers ordinarily are permitted to sell firearms only 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

When Proposition 63 is implemented, ammunition vendors will be 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. ⤴︎

Immunity Statutes in California

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

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

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. ⤴︎

Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines in California

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

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 any 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 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

 

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 of Gun Owners & Purchasers in California

See our Licensing of Gun Owners or Purchasers policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California has no express law requiring a person to obtain a license or permit prior to purchasing a firearm. However, California does have several robust, safety-related requirements, which are described below. Entertainment firearms permits are also described below.

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, any loan of a firearm also requires 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 or HSC 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, particularly handguns;
  • The responsibilities of ownership of firearms, particularly handguns;
  • 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, starting January 1, 2019, FSC test takers must also sign an acknowledgment indicating that they have received a warning 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.

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. ⤴︎

Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in California

Home Rule

General Preemption Law in California

Article XI, section 7 of the California Constitution provides that “[a] county or city may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” Under this provision, a local government’s police power is as broad as the state Legislature’s power, and a city or county may act to protect the welfare of its residents.1 A local government’s police power includes the power to regulate firearms.2

Ordinances enacted pursuant to the police power are valid unless they conflict with state law.3 A conflict exists if the ordinance contradicts, duplicates, or enters an area occupied by general law, either expressly or by legislative implication.4

“An ordinance contradicts state law if it is inimical to state law; i.e., it penalizes conduct that state law expressly authorizes or permits conduct which state law forbids.”5 Local law is duplicative of state law if it is coextensive with state law.6 Finally, “local legislation enters an area that is ‘fully occupied’ by [state] law when the Legislature has expressly manifested its intent to ‘fully occupy’ the area or when it has impliedly done so.”7

Preemption Statutes

The California Legislature has expressly preempted the following areas of firearms law:

  • Licensing or registration of commercially manufactured firearms8
    • California Government Code section 53071 provides:

It is the intention of the Legislature to occupy the whole field of regulation of the registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms as encompassed by the provisions of the Penal Code, and such provisions shall be exclusive of all local regulations, relating to registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms, by any political subdivision …

  • Licensing or permitting with respect to the purchase, ownership, possession or carrying of a concealable firearm in the home or place of business9
    • California Penal Code section 25605(b) provides:

No permit or license to purchase, own, possess, keep, or carry, either openly or concealed, shall be required of any citizen of the United States or legal resident over the age of 18 years who resides or is temporarily within this state, and who is not within the excepted classes prescribed by Chapter 2 … or Chapter 3 of Division 9 of this title, or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, to purchase, own, possess, keep, or carry, either openly or concealed, a handgun within the citizen’s or legal resident’s place of residence, place of business, or on private property owned or lawfully possessed by the citizen or legal resident.

  • Regulation of the manufacture, sale or possession of “imitation firearms.”10
    • California Government Code section 53071.5 provides:

By the enactment of this section, the Legislature occupies the whole field of regulation of the manufacture, sale, or possession of imitation firearms, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 16700 of the Penal Code, and that subdivision shall preempt and be exclusive of all regulations relating to the manufacture, sale, or possession of imitation firearms, including regulations governing the manufacture, sale, or possession of BB devices and air rifles described in Section 16250 of the Penal Code.

In addition, while California generally permits local regulation of sport shooting ranges, local jurisdictions are barred from enforcing new or amended noise control laws on shooting ranges that are in operation and not in violation of existing law at the time of the enactment of the new or amended noise control ordinance, if there has been no substantial change in the nature or use of the range.11

Interpretation

Implied Preemption in California

Courts will not infer preemption unless the circumstances clearly indicate the Legislature intended to preempt the field.12

The Supreme Court of California has held that local regulation may be preempted when the Legislature “has impliedly done so in light of one of the following indicia of intent:”

  1. The subject matter has been so fully and completely covered by general law as to clearly indicate that it has become exclusively a matter of state concern;
  2. The subject matter has been partially covered by general law couched in such terms as to indicate clearly that a paramount state concern will not tolerate further or additional local action; or
  3. The subject matter has been partially covered by general law, and the subject is of such a nature that the adverse effect of a local ordinance on the transient citizens of the state outweighs the possible benefit to the [locality].13

Courts have looked to the Legislature’s response to court rulings as an indicator of legislative intent. Ultimately, the question to be resolved in an implied preemption analysis “is not whether a statute grants [a locality] a power, but whether a statute deprives [a locality] of a power already bestowed upon the [locality] by the Constitution.”14

Suter v. City of Lafayette, supra, involved a preemption challenge to an ordinance regulating the location and operation of firearms dealers. The Court of Appeal held that local governments are not generally excluded by state law from imposing additional licensing requirements on firearm dealers.15 The court found that, with one exception (the court struck down the portion of the ordinance regulating firearm storage but after the decision, the state legislature passed a statute allowing local governments to enact storage requirements that are stricter than state law), the ordinance provisions did not conflict with, duplicate, or enter into a field fully occupied by state law and were not, therefore, preempted.16

In Doe v. City and County of San Francisco, 186 Cal. Rptr. 380 (Cal. Ct. App. 1982), the Court of Appeal held that Gov’t Code § 53071 and Penal Code § 12026 (now section 25605) expressly preempted a local ordinance banning the possession of handguns. Because the ordinance contained an explicit exception for concealed weapons licensees, the court found that the measure had the effect of creating a new class of persons who would be required to obtain a license in order to possess a handgun in their home or place of business, violating section 53071’s preemption of “all local regulations … relating to … licensing of commercially manufactured firearms.”17

The court also stated that:

If we were to find in the San Francisco Handgun Ordinance no “licensing” requirement within the express wording of Government Code section 53071 and Penal Code section 12026 (now section 25605), we would still reach the conclusion that state law preempts the San Francisco ordinance under the theory of implied preemption. It is at least arguable that the state Legislature’s adoption of numerous gun regulations has not impliedly preempted all areas of gun regulation. However, we infer from Penal Code section 12026 (now section 25605) that the Legislature intended to occupy the field of residential handgun possession to the exclusion of local governmental entities. A restriction on requiring permits and licenses necessarily implies that possession is lawful without a permit or license.18

Cases subsequent to Doe demonstrate that section 25605 (formerly section 12026) should be read narrowly.19

The Supreme Court of California reaffirmed the authority of local governments to regulate firearms – this time in the context of gun shows – in two related cases: Great Western Shows, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles, 44 P.3d 120 (Cal. 2002) and Nordyke v. King, 44 P.3d 133 (Cal. 2002). Great Western involved a challenge to a Los Angeles County ordinance prohibiting the sale of firearms and ammunition on county-owned property. The County adopted the ordinance after a California Department of Justice undercover operation revealed numerous illegal firearm sales at a gun show held on the county fairgrounds. Legislative findings accompanying the ordinance also recited the high incidence of gun-related deaths and injuries in the County.

Great Western Shows, Inc., a gun show promoter filed suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging, among other things, that the ordinance was preempted by state law and violated the First Amendment. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, holding that the complaint raised substantial questions regarding whether state law preempted the ordinance. The County filed an interlocutory appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which then certified to the California Supreme Court questions relating to preemption and jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s claim that state law has preempted the field of gun show regulation. The court observed that there is no express preemption in this area, noting that, on the contrary, Penal Code sections 12071 (concerning the licensing of firearm dealers, now section 26700, et seq.) and 12071.4 (regulating gun shows, now section 27300, et seq.) explicitly acknowledge the existence of local laws pertaining to gun shows. The court found the ordinance not duplicative of or in conflict with state law, stating that although gun show statutes regulate, inter alia, the sale of guns at gun shows and therefore contemplate gun shows, the statutes do not mandate sales such that a limitation of sales on county property would be in direct conflict with the statutes.20

The court refused to find implied preemption under the three “indicia of intent” detailed in Sherwin-Williams Co., supra, finding first that state law does not clearly indicate that gun show regulation has become exclusively a matter of state concern. The court declined to find a “paramount state concern” that will not tolerate further local action, noting judicial reluctance to find such a concern where there is a significant local interest to be served that may differ from one community to another: “It is true today as it was more than 30 years ago when we stated it in Galvan, ‘[t]hat problems with firearms are likely to require different treatment in San Francisco County than in Mono County.’21

Thus, the court found, the costs and benefits of making firearms more available through gun shows to the populace of a heavily urban county such as Los Angeles may well be different than in rural counties, where violent gun-related crime may not be as prevalent.22

The court also refused to find implied preemption under the third “indicia of intent,” agreeing with previous cases that “[l]aws designed to control the sale, use or possession of firearms in a particular community have very little impact on transient citizens.”23

In addition, the court rejected Great Western’s claim that, while state law may permit local gun show regulations, it would not tolerate a regulation that would have the effect of banning such shows. The court found nothing in state law to indicate a stated purpose of promoting or encouraging gun shows; rather, state law merely acknowledges that such shows take place and regulates them to promote public safety. The court noted further that the ordinance does not affect gun shows countywide, but only disallows gun sales on county-owned property. The court found that none of the gun show statutes implicitly seek to override a county’s ability to manage its property and make fundamental decisions regarding its use.24

The Supreme Court of California issued a similar ruling in Nordyke v. King, 44 P.3d 133 (Cal. 2002), rejecting a challenge to an Alameda County ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms and ammunition on county-owned property. The County had adopted the ordinance after a mass shooting at the county fairgrounds on July 4, 1998, and recited the epidemic of gunshot fatalities and injuries in the County as additional justification for the ordinance.

Incorporating its analysis and holding in Great Western, the California Supreme Court found that state law did not preempt the Alameda County ordinance. The court held that the ordinance does not duplicate or contradict state law governing the possession of firearms, including Penal Code section 171b, which exempts from its prohibition on gun possession in public buildings persons who lawfully possess firearms at gun shows:

The provision merely exempts gun shows from the state criminal prohibition on possessing guns in public buildings, thereby permitting local government entities to authorize such shows. It does not mandate that local government entities permit such a use, and the Nordykes cite no legislative history indicating otherwise.25

The court noted that the ordinance may be more restrictive than state statutes inasmuch as the latter provide more exceptions to the general prohibition on firearm possession (e.g., those for animal control officers). However, the court stated that “the fact that certain classes of persons are exempt from state criminal prosecution for gun possession does not necessarily mean that they are exempt from local prosecution for possessing the gun on restricted county property.”26 In addition, the court held that even if the ordinance were partially preempted as to persons exempted from prosecution by state law, it would not be invalidated as a whole.

In Fiscal v. City and County of San Francisco, 158 Cal. App. 4th 895 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008), the Court of Appeal considered whether a municipal ordinance prohibiting the sale, distribution, transfer and manufacture of all firearms and ammunition in San Francisco and banning possession of handguns by San Francisco residents, was preempted by state law. The court held that Penal Code section 12026(b) (now section 25605(b)) and Government Code section 53071 preempted the ban on handgun possession. The court also found that section 53071 and Penal Code sections 12026(b) (now section 25605(b)) and 12125-12133 (the state Unsafe Handgun Act, now sections 32000-32030) preempted the transfer and manufacture prohibitions. The California Supreme Court declined to review the case.

In Calguns Foundation, Inc. v. County of San Mateo, 218 Cal. App. 4th 661 (Cal. Ct. App. 2013), the Court of Appeal rejected a preemption challenge to a San Mateo County ordinance prohibiting the possession and use of guns in the county’s parks and recreational areas. In reliance on Great Western and Nordyke the court found no conflict between the ordinance and state law, specifically, Penal Code section 26150 et seq. and Government Code section 53071. The court emphasized that the county ordinance, like the regulations in issue in those cases, was a land use restriction on county-owned property rather than a blanket prohibition on gun possession or use anywhere within the jurisdiction such as the San Francisco municipal ordinance found preempted in Fiscal.27

Immunity

For state laws prohibiting certain types of lawsuits against the gun industry, see our page on Immunity Statutes in California.

 

 

Notes
  1. Candid Enterprises v. Grossmont Union High School District, 705 P.2d 876, 882 (Cal. 1985). ⤴︎
  2. Galvan v. Superior Court of San Francisco, 452 P.2d 930 (Cal. 1969). ⤴︎
  3. Sherwin-Williams Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 844 P.2d 534, 536 (Cal. 1993). ⤴︎
  4. Id. at 536-7. ⤴︎
  5. Suter v. City of Lafayette, 67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 420, 428 (Cal. Ct. App. 1997). ⤴︎
  6. Sherwin-Williams, 844 P.2d at 536. ⤴︎
  7. Id. at 536-7. (citations omitted). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Gov’t Code § 53071. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 25605(b). ⤴︎
  10. Cal Gov’t Code § 53071.5. A 2012 amendment to this statute allows the County of Los Angeles and any city within the County of Los Angeles to adopt regulations more restrictive than state law when it comes to regulating the manufacture, sale, possession, or use of any BB device, toy gun, replica of a firearm, device that expels a projectile no more than 16 millimeters in diameter, or any device that is so substantially similar in appearance to a firearm as to lead a reasonable person to perceive that the device is a firearm. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Civ. Code § 3482.1(d). ⤴︎
  12. California Rifle and Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. City of West Hollywood, 78 Cal. Rptr. 2d 591, 600 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998) (holding that state law did not preempt a local ordinance banning the sale of Saturday Night Specials). ⤴︎
  13. Sherwin-Williams Co., 844 P.2d at 537 (citations omitted). ⤴︎
  14. City of West Hollywood, supra, 78 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 602, 598-601 (California Legislature’s history of selective and narrow preemption in response to court’s holding that the Legislature had not preempted local firearms regulations indicated Legislative intent to leave this area open to local regulation). ⤴︎
  15. Suter, 67 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 422. ⤴︎
  16. Id. ⤴︎
  17. Id. at 384. ⤴︎
  18. Id. at 385 (citation omitted). ⤴︎
  19. See City of West Hollywood, 78 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 605 (rejecting argument that section 12026, now section 25605, creates a broad right to purchase or possess any handgun not specifically prohibited by state law). ⤴︎
  20. Great Western, 44 P.3d at 128. ⤴︎
  21. Galvan, supra, 452 P.2d at 938. ⤴︎
  22. Great Western, 44 P.3d at 128-129. ⤴︎
  23. Id. at 129. See Galvan, 452 P.2d at 939. ⤴︎
  24. Great Western, 44 P.3d at 130-131. ⤴︎
  25. Nordyke, 44 P.3d at 138. ⤴︎
  26. Id. ⤴︎
  27. Calguns Foundation at 677. ⤴︎

Locking Devices in California

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

All firearms sold or transferred in California by a licensed dealer, including private transfers conducted by a dealer, must include a “firearms safety device” listed on the roster of approved firearms safety devices maintained by the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”).1 The firearms safety device must be listed on the roster as appropriate for that firearm.2 A “firearms safety device” is a device, other than a gun safe, that locks and is designed to prevent children and unauthorized users from firing a firearm. The device may be installed on a firearm, be incorporated into the design of the firearm, or prevent access to the firearm.3

California prohibits anyone, including a licensed dealer, from selling any “firearms safety device” that is not listed on the DOJ roster, or that does not comply with the firearm safety device standards set by DOJ.4 In addition, no person may distribute, as part of an organized firearm safety program, any firearm safety device that is not listed on the DOJ roster or that does not comply with DOJ’s firearm safety device standards.5 The sale or transfer of a firearm does not need to include a firearms safety device, however, if the purchaser or transferee either: 1) provides proof that he or she has purchased or owns a gun safe that meets the gun safe standards set by DOJ; or 2) presents, with the firearm, an approved firearms safety device to the dealer that the purchaser or transferee purchased no more than 30 days prior, along with an original receipt.6

DOJ’s roster of approved firearms safety devices may only include firearms safety devices that have been tested by a DOJ-certified testing laboratory and that meet DOJ’s firearms safety device standards.7 DOJ may randomly retest roster samples obtained from sources other than the manufacturer to ensure compliance with the requirements of state law.8

Dealers selling long gun safes9 that do not meet DOJ’s standards for gun safes must conspicuously post or display the following warning, in both English and Spanish, on the gun safe’s packaging or with any materials that accompany the safe, and on a label affixed to the front of the gun safe:

WARNING: This gun safe does not meet the safety standards for gun safes specified in California Penal Code Section 23650. It does not satisfy the requirements of Penal Code Section 23635, which mandates that all firearms sold in California be accompanied by a firearms safety device or proof of ownership, as required by law, of a gun safe that meets the Section 23650 minimum safety standards developed by the California Attorney General.10

California law prohibits any person from selling a long gun safe that does not comply with DOJ’s standards for gun safes, unless the long gun safe is labeled in this manner.11 In addition, long gun safes must have a locking system consisting of either a mechanical combination lock or an electronic combination lock that has at least 1,000 possible unique combinations consisting of a minimum of three numbers, letters or symbols per combination.12

DOJ may order the recall and replacement of any gun safe or firearms safety device model that does not conform with its safety standards, or order that the gun safe or firearm safety device model be brought into conformity with those requirements.13

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 23635(a). ⤴︎
  2. Id. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 16540. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 23660(a). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 23660(b). DOJ’s firearm safety device standards exist at Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4094. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 23635(b), (c). Dealers must collect and maintain records demonstrating which exception applies. Id. DOJ’s standards for gun safes exist at Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 4100. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 23655(d). By January 1, 2002, DOJ was required to set minimum safety standards for firearm safety devices and gun safes to significantly reduce the risk of firearms-related injuries to children 17 years of age and younger. Cal. Penal Code § 23650. A certified testing laboratory, after receiving a firearms safety device from the manufacturer, is required to test the device and submit a copy of the final test report to DOJ, along with the device. DOJ must then notify the manufacturer or dealer of its receipt of the final test report and of DOJ’s determination as to whether the device tested may be sold in California. Cal. Penal Code § 23655(c). DOJ’s regulations regarding certified firearms safety laboratories, firearms safety device testing and standards, and standards for gun safes are detailed in Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 4080-4109. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 23655(f). ⤴︎
  9. Defined to mean a locking container designed to fully contain and secure a rifle or shotgun,which has a locking system consisting of either a mechanical combination lock or an electronic combination lock that has at least 1,000 possible unique combinations consisting of a minimum of three numbers, letters, or symbols per combination, and is not listed on DOJ’s roster of approved firearms safety devices. Cal. Penal Code § 16870. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 23635(d). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code §§ 23665-23670. Similarly, any person who sells a long gun safe that does not comply with state standards for gun safes, and who removes the warning label required by Cal. Penal Code § 23635, is subject to penalty. Cal. Penal Code § 23665(b). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Penal Code § 16870. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 23680(a). If the firearms safety device can be separated and reattached to the firearm without damaging the firearm, the licensed dealer must immediately provide a conforming replacement as instructed by the Attorney General. Cal. Penal Code § 23680(b). If the device cannot be separated from a firearm without damaging the firearm, the Attorney General may order the recall and replacement of the firearm. Cal. Penal Code § 23680(c). ⤴︎

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). ⤴︎

Mental Health Reporting in California

Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to any mental institution.”1 No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks prior to firearm transfers.

As noted in the section entitled Mental Health-Related Prohibited Categories, persons with specific mental health issues are barred by California law from possessing, purchasing, receiving, attempting to purchase or receive, or having control or custody of any firearm.2 With certain limited exceptions, courts must submit an electronic report to the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”), within one court day, when they adjudicate someone to be a danger to others as a result of a mental disorder or mental illness, a mentally disordered sex offender, not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, mentally incompetent to stand trial, or placed under conservatorship because the individual is gravely disabled due to a mental disorder.3

Mental health facilities must, within 24 hours, electronically submit a report to DOJ whenever, as a result of a mental health disorder, an individual is taken into custody and admitted to a designated facility upon an evaluation and determination that he or she is a danger to himself, herself, or others, or whenever an individual is certified for intensive treatment at a mental health facility based on a finding that he or she is gravely disabled due to a mental disorder or chronic alcoholism.4 This electronic report must at least include the identity of the person admitted to the facility or certified for intensive treatment, and the legal grounds upon which the person was admitted or certified for treatment.5 This requirement applies both to individuals taken into custody for 72 hours and to individuals detained for 14 days.

Licensed psychotherapists also are required to report to local law enforcement, within 24 hours, the identity of a person who communicates a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.6 Within 24 hours, law enforcement must report this information to DOJ electronically.7 The State Department of State Hospitals must also make available to DOJ, and provide to DOJ in electronic format when requested, all records pertinent to whether a person is prohibited from possessing firearms under California law due to mental illness.8 Finally, public and private mental health facilities must, when requested by DOJ, submit information that DOJ deems necessary to identify those persons who are prohibited from possessing firearms because they pose a threat to self or others due to mental illness.9 The reports from mental health facilities, the State Department of State Hospitals, and psychotherapists must be kept confidential, separate, and apart from other records maintained by DOJ, and may only be used to determine a person’s eligibility to possess a firearm.10

Proposition 63, enacted by California voters in 2016, requires the state Department of Justice to report relevant prohibited person records to the FBI’s NICS system.

See our Mental Health Reporting policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue nationwide.

Notes
  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(4). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 8100, 8103. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(a)(2), (b)(2), (c)(2), (d)(2), (e)(2). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(f)(2), (g)(2). ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 8100(b), 8105(c). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8105(c). ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8104. ⤴︎
  9. Cal Welf. & Inst. Code § 8105(a), (b). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8105(d). ⤴︎