Everybody has a different opinion on what gun laws should look like, and state gun laws are all over the map. Some have waiting periods, some ban certain types of weapons, some restrict access to minors and some do none of these. California gun laws are reputed to be among the strictest in the country. Learn what you can and can't do with a gun in California.
California Gun Laws
California gun laws are not half as strict as some people would like them to be, but they are stricter than federal laws and gun laws in most other states. The general rule is that you can't carry a firearm in public in the state whether it is loaded or unloaded. That includes a concealed gun as well as one you carry for all to see. But in some situations, you can apply and qualify for a permit. On the other hand, don't expect to be able to buy a stock of firearms in one lump purchase. While there is no limit on the number of handguns you can legally own in California, you are generally limited to purchasing no more than one handgun in any 30-day period.
The laws are constantly changing in California, sometimes due to the state legislature's actions, sometimes to California court rulings. If you don't stay on top of the laws and follow them, you could be charged with a crime under California Penal Code section 27590. In general, California deadly weapons laws are located in the Penal Code beginning at section 16000. Look for the laws relating to firearms beginning at section 23500; the laws that apply to both firearms and other types of deadly weapons are found beginning at section 17500.
If you are a gun owner or just want to keep up on California gun laws, it pays to check the current state laws since violating the laws can lead to criminal penalties.
Read More: California Gun Control Laws:Who Can Own a Gun?
How Do You Buy a Gun in California?
Most purchases, as well as transfers, of firearms have to be accomplished through a California licensed dealer under the process set out in the Dealer's Record of Sale (DROS). This is true not just for purchases from a dealer, but also applies to private party transactions and sales at gun shows. You can't simply hand over the money and pick up the weapon.
In fact, California law requires a 10-day waiting period before the seller can release the firearm to you and clear evidence of identity and age, like a valid California driver's license or identification card. At the time of publication you must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a rifle or a shotgun in the state.You need to be 21 to purchase a handgun. Keep your eye on the law here, however, since the California legislature has passed a bill raising the rifle and shotgun purchase age to 21 years as well. It is currently on the governor's desk.
You'll also need to show proof of California residency, like a utility bill, residential lease or property deed, and possess a Handgun Safety Certificate plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with the recently purchased handgun, unless you are exempt from this requirement.
Do You Have to Register Your Gun in California?
Do you have to register your gun in California? It's a common question many gun owners ask. The answer is "sort of." California law doesn't have a firearm registration requirement except for assault weapon owners and personal handgun importers. But note that under Penal Code sections 17000 and 27560, the state considers anyone who moves to California with a firearm to be a personal firearm importer.
If you are new to the state and have entered with a firearm, you'll need to do a type of registration where you report ownership to the California Department of Justice within 60 days of the day you arrived in the state. If you don't want to do that, you can also opt to sell or transfer ownership under the provisions of the law.
Entering with a firearm triggers the reporting requirement. Get a form called New Resident Report of Firearm Ownership from the DOJ office or website. You need to fill it out and send it to the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms with a check for the fee, around $20. Your alternatives are to sell the gun to a California licensed firearms dealer. You can also sell or transfer to an individual if you use a California licensed firearms dealer to conduct the transaction. And you can transfer the firearm to a police agency like the sheriff's department.
Do I Need to Show a Firearm Safety Certificate?
In California, you have to present a Firearm Safety Certificate to the dealer before you submit the DROS information for a firearm. If you are exempt, you have to prove that exemption. Get an FSC certificate by taking the FSC test that covers firearm safety and basic knowledge of California gun laws. Like the California driver's knowledge test, it is a true/false and multiple choice test, and you have to correctly answer 23 out of the 30 questions to pass. You can take the test at firearms dealerships from instructors certified by the Department of Justice.
Do You Need a Background Check?
If you buy a gun from a licensed dealer, you will be subject to a background check. You will not be authorized to buy the gun if you have a criminal history involving a felony or a misdemeanor that is on the list of disqualifying crimes in Penal Code section 29805. Likewise, if you have been charged with domestic violence or have mental health issues, are addicted to narcotic drugs or have been found at any time to be a danger to yourself or others, you won't be permitted to purchase a gun. Note that in California you can't own a gun if a current domestic violence restraining order has been issued against you.
How about buying a gun from a private seller? In that case, you have to visit a licensed dealer to complete the background check. You cannot buy from anyone without going through a dealer first. The rules for authorization are the same.
If you aren't sure whether your California record will disqualify you from owning a firearm, request a California Personal Firearms Eligibility Check. Download the application from the Department of Justice website or request one through your local firearms dealer. The PFEC does not include a check under federal laws, however.
Can I Take My Gun Into California?
If you are wondering about bringing a gun into California, the general rule is that you can. However, the right is subject to reporting the gun to the California Department of Justice within the legal time frame. You'll also want to make sure that the type of gun is permitted in California. Some weapons are not. California gun laws restrict some types of rifles, and other firearms are listed as banned. Others are restricted as well if they have features determined by the legislature to be dangerous, like detachable magazines or forward pistol grips.
Can You Open Carry a Gun in California?
Unlike some neighboring states like Nevada, California doesn't allow you to carry an exposed gun in public, loaded or unloaded. Obviously, the law doesn't apply to law enforcement officers.
This wasn't always the case. Before 2012, it was legal for anyone to carry an unloaded weapon in public as long as the weapon was not concealed. In 2012, the legislature amended Penal Code section 26350 to make it a crime to openly carry any firearm in public, loaded or unloaded.
The statute applies in almost every case you can think of. For example, it applies if you carry an exposed and unloaded handgun outside a vehicle in any public place or on a public street, and also applies when you carry such a weapon inside or on a vehicle, whether or not on your person, while in a public place or public street.
Can You Carry a Concealed Gun in California?
Can you carry a concealed gun in California? The default answer is no. You are not permitted to carry a concealed firearm on your person in public unless you have a valid Carry Concealed Weapon license. The only valid CCW licenses are those issued by California county sheriffs to county residents or by the chief of police to city residents. California law does not honor or recognize CCW licenses issued outside the state. Are online concealed carry permits legal? Not in California.
Under California gun laws, you can only get a concealed gun permit if you pass background checks and show good cause for getting the permit, like a clear threat of harm. You'll have to show that you are of good moral character and that good cause exists for issuance of the license because you or a member of your family is in immediate danger. You must also meet the residency requirements and complete an approved course of firearms training.
Can I Carry My Gun in My Car in California?
You can, if you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but the way you transport firearms in a vehicle is regulated. The firearms have to be carried under lock and key, but you can't carry them in the glove compartment or utility compartment of a vehicle. You have to unload the gun and store it in the locked trunk of the car or in a separate locked container. If you don't have a trunk, you'll have to get a locked container that isn't the utility or glove compartment. Note that a motor home is treated just like a car and all of the same requirements apply.
What is a locked container? Under Penal Code Section 12026.1, it's a secure container that is fully enclosed and locked by a padlock, key lock, combination lock or similar locking device. Ammunition can't be attached to the handgun in any way, but you can carry it in the same compartment as the firearm.
What About Assault Weapons?
It is illegal in most cases for an individual to bring assault weapons into California. It's likewise illegal under California gun laws to transport into the state machine guns and/or ammunition feeding devices with the capacity to accept greater than 10 rounds.
Are There Rules About Storing Loaded Guns?
If you want to keep a loaded firearm in your home or office, you have to be aware of the laws about children and guns. If you know, or should know, that a person under 18 years of age could get access to the gun, you must put it in a secure, locked container or use a locking device. If a minor gets access to the firearm and hurts himself or other people, you can be found guilty of a felony under Penal Code sections 25100 and 25200.
- KPCC: How Do California’s Strict Gun Laws Differ from Federal Law?
- Guns to Carry: California Gun Laws
- Shouse Law: How to Get a Concealed Weapons Permit (CCW)
- Office of Attorney General: Firearms
- SF Chronicle: California vs. Nevada Gun Laws
- Office of Attorney General: Firearms FAQs
- Wallin & Klarich Law: California Open Carry Gun Laws: California Penal Code 26350 PC
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.