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California Gun Laws

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What You Need to Know when Owning or Purchasing a Gun in California?

If you own or are considering purchasing a gun in California, there are a number of important California gun regulations you should understand. This guide provides an overview of the major regulation. Violation of gun laws can lead to serious criminal penalties.

I. Gun Possession Prohibition

California gun laws prohibit certain types of individuals from owning or possessing guns entirely.

  1. California Residency: In order to have a gun, you must be a California resident. If you have recently moved to California and already own guns, you must report ownership of all handguns to the Department of Justice (DOJ) within 60 days of moving, or sell or transfer all handguns pursuant to California law.
  2. Age Restrictions: California requires that you must be 18 or over to own a "Long Gun" (Rifle or Shotgun) and at least 21 to own a "Short Gun" (Hand gun)
  3. Criminal and Mental Health Prohibitions: There are a number of prohibitions on gun ownership for individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offense or have documented mental health issues. These prohibitions may stay in place for life or for a shorter specified period depending on the severity of the conviction or health issue. Lifetime prohibitions are enforced for individuals who have serious mental health disorders or who have been convicted of a violent felony.

To determine whether you are eligible to own a gun in California, you may check online by filing a form with the California Office of the Attorney General.

II. Sale and Transfer

California gun laws also regulate the sale and transfer of guns with different rules depending on how the transaction is conducted.

  • Through a Dealer: Generally, all guns must be purchased or transferred through a licensed California arms dealer with a certificate of eligibility. Here, the gun purchaser must provide the dealer with certain identification information and undergo a 10-day waiting period while the dealer conducts a background check.
  • Between Private Parties: Private parties are still permitted to transfer guns between one another as long as they conduct the transaction through a licensed California arms dealer. Here, again, the parties involved must supply the dealer with identification information and the dealer must hold on to the gun while conducting a 10-day background check on the gun purchaser.
  • Between Family Members: California law does have some exceptions for the transfer of guns between immediate family members where the involvement of a licensed California arms dealer is not required. The immediate family member exception includes transfers between parents to sons and daughters, but does not include transactions between siblings. In these situations, other regulations regarding gun registration, licensing, and safety requirements still apply to the gun ownership.

III. Safety Requirements

California law also proscribes certain safety regulations gun owners must abide by.

All individuals owning or seeking to purchase a handgun, must obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate. To obtain this certificate, they must pass a written test administered by the DOJ. In addition they must pass a Safe Handling demonstration in front of a DOJ official.

All firearms, both long and short guns, must be equipped with a safety device.

IV. Types of Guns

California gun laws also restrict the types of guns individuals may own, buy, and sell. Here, while many handguns, shotguns, and rifles are legal, assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles are illegal without special licenses and registration.

V. Location of Firearms

California gun laws regulate the locations where firearms may be kept and carried. Loaded and unloaded guns may be legally kept and carried at a lawful owner’s:

  • Home
  • Private Business
  • Campsite

However, Federal and California state laws generally prohibit all persons without special authority from possessing guns in:

  • Common carriers, including buses, planes, & boats
  • Schools
  • Courtrooms

VI. Transporting Guns / Guns in Public

California law regulates how guns can be transported and carried in public places.

  • Transportation: Handguns can only be transported unloaded and in locked containers. Rifles and shotguns don’t have to be in a locked container, but must be unloaded. Specially registered assault weapons may only be transferred between specified locations and must always be unloaded and locked
  • Carrying a Concealed Weapon: It is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a special license. The concealed carry license is an additional license requiring further training courses, good cause, and moral character background checks. It may be issued through the local chief of police or county sheriff.
  • Guns in Public: It is illegal to carry a loaded firearm in public or in a vehicle, or to knowingly permit someone to carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Unloaded handguns cannot be openly carried in public.  It is also illegal to use a loaded or unloaded gun in a threatening manner, unless in lawful self defense.

VII. Penalties

Illegal firearm purchase, sale, and possession can a felony crime for which individuals can be subject to significant fines and prison time. Contacting an experienced attorney can help assure that you remain in compliance with all applicable California gun laws and avoid criminal penalties.

Photo of page author Grant Atkinson

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-31-2018 10:06 PM PST

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