California has adopted clear, mandatory, and enforceable relinquishment requirements for individuals subject to domestic violence protective orders, civil protective orders, and gun violence restraining orders. The state has also adopted a clear, mandatory, and enforceable relinquishment law to remove firearms from people convicted of firearm-prohibiting crimes.

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

Relinquishment of Firearms by People Convicted of Firearm-Prohibiting Crimes

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

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

o          Inform defendants that they are required to relinquish all firearms within specified time periods by selling or transferring the firearms to a licensed firearms dealer, or by transferring them to local law enforcement.

o        Inform defendants that they are required to declare any firearms that they possessed at the time of conviction and to name a lawful, consenting designee or law enforcement agency to relinquish those firearms on the defendants’ behalf, if applicable.

o          Require the defendant or designee to file the completed relinquishment form with the court-assigned probation officer, along with receipts from the law enforcement agency or licensed dealer who took possession of the defendant’s firearms, verifying that the offender relinquished all firearms prior to sentencing, as required.2

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

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

Relinquishment of Firearms by People Subject to Gun Violence Restraining Orders

In 2014, California enacted the nation’s first Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law.6  California’s law refers to these orders as Gun Violence Restraining Orders or GVROs and has been in effect since January 1, 2016.7

California’s law authorizes a person’s family members and current or former household members, as well as law enforcement officers, to file petitions for a civil court order called a GVRO when a person poses an extreme risk to themselves or others by having legal access to firearms or ammunition.8  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 protection orders, GVROs can be issued on an emergency basis or for a longer period. California provides somewhat different processes for obtaining GVROs in emergency circumstances (as discussed below).

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.9  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.10

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, or has been previously convicted for any crime prohibiting the purchase and possession of firearms.11 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, or ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol.12  If, after the hearing, the judge concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence to issue a GVRO, the court will issue a Gun Violence Restraining Order prohibiting the respondent from accessing or acquiring firearms or ammunition for one year.13 

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.14  If a law enforcement officer serves the GVRO, 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.15  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.16

In urgent cases, a court may issue an emergency “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.17  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.18 In more immediately urgent cases, law enforcement officers may also obtain temporary emergency GVROs in the same manner as a search warrant, 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.19 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 one-year GVRO.20

This law provides a standard process for respondents to request that a GVRO be lifted21 and for petitioners to request that the GVRO be renewed and extended.22

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.23

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

Relinquishment of Firearms by People with Severe Mental Health Impairments 

California law requires law enforcement to confiscate weapons found to be under the possession or control of any person who has been detained or apprehended for examination of his or her mental condition, or who is prohibited from possession of firearms by reason of a mental disorder.24 Law enforcement must, upon confiscation, retain custody of the firearm, issue a receipt describing the firearm, and notify the individual of the procedure for return of the firearm.25 Upon release from a mental health facility, the health facility personnel must notify the individual of the procedure for the return of a confiscated firearm.26 Health facility personnel also must notify the confiscating law enforcement agency of the release of the detained individual, and must document that the facility provided notice regarding the procedure for return of any confiscated firearm.27 California law also authorizes the issuance of a search warrant when the property to be seized includes a firearm owned by, or in the possession of, a person who has been detained for examination of his or her mental condition, or who is prohibited from possession of firearms by reason of a mental disorder.28

Recovering Illegally Owned Weapons – “APPS”

California law also requires the state Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish and maintain the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS),29 an electronic database of individuals who once legally purchased a firearm, or registered an assault weapon, and then became illegally armed by keeping those weapons after they became prohibited from possessing them under state or federal law. (This occurs, for example, when a gun owner is convicted of a domestic violence offense but fails to relinquish his or her firearms).30

State law requires DOJ, in conjunction with local law enforcement, to conduct enforcement actions to remove firearms from illegally armed individuals identified in APPS.31

The information contained in APPS can only be made available to certain entities–primarily law enforcement agencies–to actively identify persons armed yet prohibited from possessing firearms.32

In 2017 alone, APPS enforcement efforts recovered 3,685 illegally owned firearms, and over 800,000 rounds of illegally owned ammunition.33

Notes
  1. See Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(b). ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(1)-(c)(2). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(3). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(c)(4). ⤴︎
  6. 2014 CA AB 1014. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Pen. Code § 18122. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18150(a), 18170.  This law authorizes a person’s “immediate family member” or a law enforcement officer to file these petitions; “immediate family member” is defined 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). ⤴︎
  9. 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. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18150, 18165, 18175, 18195. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(1). ⤴︎
  12. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(a), 18155(b)(2). ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Pen Code §§ 18175(c), (d), 18120(a). ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Pen Code § 18120(b). ⤴︎
  15. 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. ⤴︎
  16. Id. ⤴︎
  17. Cal. Pen. Code § 18150(b). ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Pen. Code § 18155(a). ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18125, 18145. ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 18148, 18165, 18195. ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Pen. Code § 18185. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Pen. Code § 18185, 18190. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Pen. Code § 18200. Petitioners may also be subject to perjury charges for submitting knowingly false information to the courts under oath. ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102. ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(a)-(b)(1). ⤴︎
  26. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(b)(2). ⤴︎
  27. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(b)(3). The administrative procedures regarding the return of a firearm after an individual’s release from a mental health facility are detailed under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8102(c)-(h). ⤴︎
  28. Cal. Penal Code § 1524(a)(10). ⤴︎
  29. Cal. Pen. Code § 30000. State law also refers to APPS as the “Prohibited armed Persons File.” ⤴︎
  30. Cal. Pen. Code § 30005. ⤴︎
  31. Cal. Pen. Code §§ 30005-30015. ⤴︎
  32. Cal. Penal Code § 30000(b), this section references Cal. Penal Code § 11105(b), (c). ⤴︎
  33. See California Department of Justice, “APPS 2017 Annual Report to the Legislature” (Revised Mar. 9, 2018), available at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/publications/sb-140-supp-budget-report.pdf. ⤴︎