California gun control laws have long been stricter than those in the majority of other states and, as the number of mass shootings in America has continued to rise, the state has added laws limiting who can possess guns. For the most part, only adults over 21 may own firearms, and many situations can prohibit someone from possessing a gun, including all felony and some misdemeanor convictions, mental illness and gun violence restraining orders.
Minimum Gun Purchase Age Laws
Federal law prohibits anyone under 21 from purchasing a handgun. In 2018, California passed a law banning those under 21 from purchasing other types of guns as well. Members of the armed forces and law enforcement are generally excepted from this law and can purchase firearms at the age of 18. Additionally, this law only applies to private-party sales and transfers through licensed dealers, but some sales and transfers, such as those between immediate family members, may be completed without a licensed dealer. For example, a parent may legally choose to give or sell a gun to their child who is under 21 as long as she is over 18.
Read More: Gun Theft Laws
Prohibitions Against Convicted Criminals
Felony crimes: Federal law requires anyone who has been convicted of a felony to lose the right to own a firearm. Obtaining an expungement does not permit someone to reinstate their right to bear arms. Instead, a felon must get a pardon from the governor. If the crime the person was charged with involved the use of a dangerous weapon, though, he will be ineligible to have his Second Amendment rights restored, even with a governor's pardon.
Misdemeanor crimes: Some misdemeanor convictions can also result in the loss of gun rights, including hate crimes, gang crimes, crimes involving the illegal use of firearms and domestic violence. Misdemeanor crimes can result in a prohibition of gun possession for 10 years, with the exception of domestic violence convictions. As of 2019, anyone convicted of any form of domestic violence is subject to a lifetime ban on firearm possession. If a person has an outstanding arrest warrant for a crime that could result in a prohibition of firearm rights, she cannot possess a firearm until she is either found innocent, the charges have been dropped or until her gun rights are restored after a conviction.
Probation: Even if a person has not been convicted of a crime that will prohibit him from owning a gun, he still may be expressly prohibited from being in possession of a gun while on probation. This is a common probation condition, so most people on probation cannot possess firearms.
Restraining orders: Anyone who is subject to a restraining order, known as a protective order under California law, cannot own a gun.
Mental Health Prohibitions
Anyone currently mentally ill or who is addicted to drugs or alcohol cannot possess a gun until she has been deemed well again. Starting in 2020, a California gun control bill requires anyone who has been involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility more than once within a 12-month period because they were determined to be a threat either to themselves or to others will be subject to a lifetime ban on firearm ownership. Anyone subject to this ban may appeal it every five years.
California Gun Control Restraining Orders
California law also allows for short-term firearm prohibitions known as gun violence restraining orders, commonly called red flag laws. Under the law, a family member, roommate or law enforcement officer may ask a judge to issue a gun restraining order to prohibit the individual from possessing or owning guns, magazines or ammunition for the duration of the restraining order. A temporary or emergency restraining order lasts 21 days, but after a court hearing, a longer prohibition of up to one year may be issued.
The court hearing allows both the individual and the person requesting the restraining order to present evidence to the judge. The judge must find that the order is necessary to prevent the person from doing harm to someone else. When a gun control restraining order is issued, the local sheriff or law enforcement officer will issue the order and then remove any guns, ammunition and magazines from the individual's possession. The restraining order may be renewed as long as a petition for renewal is filed within three months of the order's expiration.
Effective September 2020, California law adds teachers, coworkers and employers to the list of people who can request a gun restraining order. Teachers and employees of schools will be required to obtain approval of a school administration staff member, and employees must obtain the approval of their employer. Additionally, the length of gun violence restraining orders may be extended to a maximum of five years.
What Happens to the Guns?
What happens to the guns owned by someone who is subject to a firearms ban depends on the specific situation. The weapons may be seized by a law enforcement agency, or the person may voluntarily surrender them, sell them or store them. When weapons have been seized by, surrendered to or stored with law enforcement agencies, the owner may still choose to sell them later on.
Sales cannot be made to private parties, but only to licensed firearms dealers, who must report to the California Department of Justice the date on which the sale took place. If someone chooses to store the weapons during the duration of the ban, they may do so with either a licensed firearms dealer or a law enforcement agency. If the firearms are stored with a licensed dealer, the dealer must notify the California Department of Justice of the date the company took possession of the weapons. Both parties can charge a fee for storage services, which makes it impractical for those facing long-term or permanent bans.
Guns Held by Household Members
Anyone who shares a home with someone they know has been subjected to a firearms ban is also prohibited from possessing a gun in the same home, unless they take at least one of several precautions to prevent the weapon from being used by someone without permission:
- The firearm must be kept in a locked container.
- The weapon must be disabled by a firearm safety device.
- The gun is fitted with a locking device, rendering it inoperable.
- The firearm is carried by the person it belongs to or kept in close enough proximity to him that he could immediately use it as though he were carrying it.
Anyone over 21 can own a gun in California, unless they have been subjected to a firearms ban, which can be implemented for a number of reasons.
- Giffords Law Center: Minimum Age to Purchase and Possess in California
- Vista Criminal Law: The Consequences of Getting a Felony Conviction in California
- CNBC: Stricter Gun Laws in 2019 — Including California Lifetime Firearms Ownership Ban on Some Domestic Abusers
- WK Law: What Happens to Your Gun if a Restraining Order is Filed Against You?
- Giffords Law Center: Prohibited People: State by State
- California Courts: Gun Violence Restraining Orders
- California Legislative Information: Ab-61 Gun Violence Restraining Orders
- California Legislative Information: AB-1968 Mental Health: Firearms
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