The laws on gun ownership and possession in California are very strict. They typically require that a person register their firearm with the state and obtain a permit. However, gun regulations tend to vary across the state and may depend on the local rules of a particular county or city where a gun owner resides. 

Thus, if you already own or are thinking about purchasing a gun in California, there are a number of important gun regulations you should be aware of first. 

The following article provides an overview of the major laws affecting gun ownership and sales in the state of California, as well as the potential penalties you could face if you are charged and convicted of violating any of them.

I. Gun Possession Prohibition

California state gun laws prohibit certain individuals from owning and/or possessing guns. For instance, while owning an unregistered gun in California is not illegal, being in possession of one outside of a person’s home without having a carry concealed weapons permit is a crime that can lead to serious legal consequences, such as a prison sentence or hefty fines. 

California state gun laws also require that an individual satisfy certain age and residency conditions. Generally speaking, in order to possess a gun in California, a person must be a California resident. If an individual has recently moved to the state, but already owned guns prior to moving, then they must report ownership of any guns to the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) within 60 days of relocating.

Alternatively, they may also sell or transfer their guns pursuant to state law. It should be noted that California does not recognize out-of-state gun permits. As for the age requirement, California requires its residents to be 18 or older to own what the state calls a “long gun” (e.g., a rifle or a shotgun), and at least 21 years of age to own a “short gun” (e.g., a handgun). 

In addition, California places several gun ownership restrictions on individuals who have been convicted of a crime and/or have a documented mental health issue. Whether these restrictions will remain in place for the rest of an individual’s life, will depend on the severity of their mental health issue or the type of crime they committed. 

For example, a person who has been convicted of a violent felony or has been diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder will most likely be banned from owning or possessing a gun indefinitely. 

II. Sale and Transfer

There are a number of separate state laws that govern the sale and transfer of guns. In general, these rules will change based on the type of transaction occurring. 

For example, when a gun purchaser wants to buy or transfer ownership of a gun through a dealer, they must confirm that the dealer has a license to conduct such transactions and that they possess a certificate of eligibility. In return, the gun purchaser must provide the dealer particular identification details about themselves and the gun, as well as will have to undergo a background check. A background check can take anywhere from one to ten days. 

Due to the pandemic, however, the state DOJ now has up to thirty days to conduct a background check. This time period may change as pandemic conditions fluctuate.

In cases where private parties seek to purchase or transfer a gun amongst themselves, private parties must abide by California gun transfer rules for the transaction to be legal. This requires the use of a dealer once again and undergoing a ten day (now thirty) background check. Although it is really the private parties who are conducting the transaction, the dealer must still be the one to hold on to the gun until the background check is complete. 

Additionally, California gun laws also provide some exceptions when it comes to the transfer or sale of guns between immediate family members. In these instances, no dealer is required to act as a middleman during a transaction. However, this exception only applies when a parent is transferring a gun to a child, or vice versa. The exception does not include gun transactions made between siblings. 

There are also some regulations that apply to gun inheritance. Specifically, California gun inheritance laws state that as long as an adult child does not fall under one of the prohibited categories (e.g., underage, mental health disorder, convict, etc.), they will be allowed to inherit a legal firearm. This includes transfers between parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren. Once received, the inheritor must then register the transfer of ownership.

III. Safety Requirements

California gun laws also prescribe several safety regulations that gun owners must follow, such as the rule that both long and short guns must be equipped with a safety device. Another safety regulation that a person who owns or wishes to purchase a handgun must abide by is that they have to obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate.

In order to obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate, an individual must take a special training course, pass a written exam, and successfully complete a Safe Handling demonstration in front of a state official or law enforcement officer.

Additionally, California gun owners must also keep their gun in a safe place. This includes a locked storage box or a safe that has a mechanical or electronic lock, and a separate container in which to store the ammunition. 

IV. Types of Guns

The gun laws in California regulate the types of guns that in state residents may purchase, sell, or own. These include shotguns, handguns, and rifles. There are some guns, however, that are banned or considered illegal unless a person holds a special permit and is registered. Weapons that are generally not authorized without special permissions include .50 BMG rifles and assault weapons.

There are also some guns that are illegal, regardless of whether a person is specially authorized to possess it or not. These include sawed-off shotguns, semiautomatics with certain characteristics, cane guns, zip guns, and guns that do not immediately give the appearance that they are a firearm.  

V. Location of Firearms

California gun laws provide guidance on where firearms may be stored. According to a particular state statute, both loaded and unloaded guns may be legally kept and/or carried at a registered gun owner’s private business, home residence, and/or at a campsite. Aside from these three locations, carrying and possessing guns in public or other places is generally not permitted unless an owner has a special permit or a legal exception applies. 

Individuals who do not have a special permit or authority to possess or carry a gun must comply with federal and California state laws. This means that unauthorized persons cannot carry any firearms while on the grounds of a school, in a courthouse, or when taking a common mode of transportation (e.g., planes, boats, buses, etc.). 

VI. Transporting Guns / Guns in Public

California gun laws also regulate how guns may be transported or carried in public places. These laws are known as, “California carry laws”. As previously mentioned, in order to legally possess and transport a gun into the state, an individual must meet the age requirements, be a resident of California, and register any previously owned weapons with the state DOJ or pursuant to state laws if they are moving to California with guns.

California carry laws also dictate what types of guns can be transported, how they must be transferred, whether a permit is necessary to carry a gun, and when firearms can be transported in public. 

For example, a person can only transport a handgun if it is unloaded and stored in a locked container. In contrast, though shotguns and rifles must be unloaded as well, they do not need to be stored in a locked container to transport them. Also, if a person needs to transport a specially registered assault weapon, they can only do so between specified locations and the weapon must be unloaded and stored in a locked container during transport. 

As briefly discussed above, it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without obtaining a carry concealed weapons permit. This permit is different from a standard gun license and will require extra gun training courses, a written statement as to why the permit is needed, and the individual will be subject to background checks. If granted, the permit will be issued either by a local county sheriff’s office or chief of police.

Finally, it is important to note that it is against the law to carry a loaded firearm in public or in a vehicle, or to knowingly permit a person to carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle. It does not matter whether the gun is a specially registered assault weapon or handgun. Either way guns cannot be carried openly in public in California, including unloaded handguns. Remember, handguns must be stored in a locked container during transport. 

VII. Penalties

There are a number of different legal consequences that a person can face for violating California gun laws. For instance, if a person purchases, sells, and/or possesses an illegal firearm, they can be charged and convicted of a felony offense. If convicted, the person may need to serve a prison sentence for at least a year or longer and will possibly have to pay significant fines.

A violation of California gun laws may also lead to a loss of gun rights. A person may be able to have their gun rights reinstated, but only after a certain amount of time has passed and if the crime committed is not considered a serious offense. Otherwise, a felony conviction may prohibit them from owning, purchasing, or possessing a firearm for life. 

Should I Hire a California Attorney For Help with Gun Issues?

California gun laws can sometimes be difficult to interpret. Not only do their requirements vary from other states, but they also are constantly being amended and updated. Gun issues should be taken very seriously due to the ramifications they can have on a person’s life. Thus, if you are charged with violating California state gun laws, you should consult a California criminal lawyer immediately for further guidance.

 An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to discuss the best course of legal action for your case, determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the charges, and provide representation in court. Additionally, if convicted, your lawyer can also submit a request to have your penalties reduced or propose an alternative sentence.