Gun Laws in California

Explore comprehensive information on California's gun laws, including permit requirements, ownership and carry laws, assault weapons and magazine capacity restrictions, and more. Understand the legalities of firearm purchase, possession, and use in California.

Subject/Law Long guns Handguns Relevant Statutes (Penal Code except when noted) Notes
State permit required to purchase? Partial Partial §26500 All firearm sales must be completed through a dealer. Firearm purchases require a Firearm Safety Certificate and proof of residency unless the individual purchasing the firearm is active duty military, honorably retired military, or a peace officer under Penal Code Section 830. Military reservists must provide proof of residency in order to purchase a firearm. The Firearms Safety Certificate can be purchased and completed at firearms dealers with DOJ instructors on the same day, differentiating it from a FOID or FID card system where one has to apply with the local police and await approval. Must be 21 to purchase any firearm.[10]
Firearm registration? Yes Yes §28150 The California Department of Justice ("DOJ") retains information about the purchaser and seller of all in-state firearm sales and transfers, and requires that any firearms imported into the state be reported to the DOJ.[11] Furthermore, the Attorney General is required by law to maintain a registry containing the fingerprints and identifying information of the transferee, and the unique identifying information of every firearm transferred in the state, pursuant to §11106.[12] All handgun serial numbers and sales are recorded by the state in the Department of Justice's Automated Firearms System, along with those of many long guns. While there is no requirement for California residents to register handguns owned prior to 1991 with law enforcement, §12025 and §12031 enhance several misdemeanor offenses to felonies if the handgun is not on file in the Department of Justice's Automated Firearms System. New residents must register handguns (purchased outside of California) with DOJ within 60 days. As of January 1, 2014, long gun serial numbers are also recorded, whereas previously only the sale was recorded. However, it is not required that owners of long guns purchased prior to 2014 register their firearms and it is not a crime to be in possession of an unregistered firearm.
Owner license required? No No None While the Firearm Safety Certificate is required for new purchases of firearms, ongoing possession of a firearm does not require a license or permit.[13] People moving into California are required, within 60 days, to file a New Resident Report of Firearm Ownership.[14][15] New residents are prohibited from importing assault weapons or any other weapons prohibited by California law regardless of whether they were lawfully acquired and possessed in the residents' prior state of residence.[16] The ban on importing large-capacity magazines was ruled unconstitutional[17] but the ruling is on hold while the case is under appeal.[18]
Assault weapon law? Yes Yes §30500, §30515 Illegal to possess, import, or purchase assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles, unless such weapons were acquired by the owner prior to June 1, 1989. While California's Assault Weapons Law does allow individuals who hold a Dangerous Weapons Permit to obtain, transport or possess defined assault weapons, the DOJ generally does not issue Dangerous Weapons Permits to ordinary citizens. Legally defined assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles listed by make and model by the DOJ must be registered. Their sale and transfer is prohibited. Military look-alike rifles that are not chambered for .50 BMG and are not on the DOJ roster are legal to purchase or possess, with some restrictions in configuration – known as "banned features". Active-duty military members residing out of state and assigned to duty in California may bring personally-owned assault weapons into the state. The military member's residence must be in a state that permits private citizens to own and possess assault weapons, and the firearms must be registered with the California Department of Justice prior to the servicemember's arrival in California by submitting the registration form with a copy of the member's Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders and an authorization letter from the installation commander.

With the passage of Senate Bill 880 and Assembly Bill 1135 in June 2016, the state's assault weapon ban has been expanded to include all semi-automatic center-fire rifles and shotguns that have a "bullet button" detachable magazine; effectively repealing a prior law that made "bullet button" magazines required on all newly manufactured weapons with detachable magazines. The sale or transfer of such weapons will be prohibited, effective January 1, 2017. Those purchased prior to January 1, 2017 must be registered with the DOJ by the start of 2018. The definition of types of weapons that are banned has been expanded, the exact definitions should be reviewed at the California DOJ website.[19]

Magazine capacity restriction? Yes Yes §32310

Section 32310 of the Penal Code states that any person who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, buys, receives, or assembles any large-capacity magazine from a parts kit is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment. Thus, the offenses listed can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor.[20] Large-capacity is defined as being able to hold more than 10 rounds. In November 2016 California voters approved Proposition 63. The referendum outlaws the possession of such magazines, requires background checks for all ammunition sales and mandates the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.[21] Under Proposition 63, mere possession of a large-capacity magazine is punishable as a misdemeanor with a $100 fine or an infraction with a $100 fine. This prohibition applies to magazines acquired prior to January 1, 2000 that were previously considered "grandfathered."[22] Importation, manufacture, lending, assembling a large-capacity magazine from a parts kit, or buying a large-capacity magazine remains chargeable as a felony or a misdemeanor.[23]

On June 29, 2017, a federal judge blocked the enforcement of Proposition 63's ban on the possession of large-capacity magazines, pending the outcome of litigation concerning the ban. Magazines that would have been subject to the Proposition 63 ban are legal for private citizens to keep until the injunction is either lifted and/or the ban is upheld by the courts.[24][25] On March 29, 2019, the entire large-capacity magazine law was blocked permanently by the district court; this includes the ban on possession, in addition to the ban on manufacturing, importing, selling, etc.[17][26] Following a stay request from Attorney General, Judge Benitez allowed the ban on manufacture, import, and sale of large-capacity magazines to be enforced while keeping in place the injunction against the enforcement of the ban on possession of previously legal large-capacity magazines, including all purchases made between the entry of the Court’s injunction on March 29, 2019 and April 5, 2019, 5:00 p.m.[27]

On August 14, 2020, a 9th circuit court ruled the ban on high capacity magazines unconstitutional. "Gun owners cannot immediately rush to buy high-capacity magazines because a stay issued by the lower court judge remains in place," according to the Associated Press.[28] However, this decision was vacated by the Circuit Court on February 25, 2021 until the case can be reheard.[29] Duncan v. Bonta was heard en banc by the Ninth Circuit Court on June 22, 2021.[30] The en banc Court overturned the lower appellate panel in its ruling, holding that California's regulation of firearms did not violate the 2nd Amendment.[31]

License required for concealed carry? N/A Yes §26150 "Shall issue," due to Attorney General's directive in light of Supreme Court's decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen. CCW permits valid statewide. Out-of-state permits not valid in California.
Open carry allowed? Partial Partial §26350 Long guns and handguns may be openly carried in unincorporated rural areas where firearm discharge is not prohibited by local ordinance. In a county with a population of less than 200,000 residents, a permit to carry a handgun "loaded and exposed" may be issued by the county sheriff, valid only in the issuing county. A person may also open carry if he or she "reasonably believes that any person or the property of any person is in immediate, grave danger and that the carrying of the weapon is necessary for the preservation of that person or property."[32]
Vehicle carry? No Yes §25610 A valid California Concealed Weapons License is required to carry a concealed handgun in a motor vehicle. Otherwise, handguns and assault weapons must be unloaded and locked in a case during transport. Long guns not classified as assault weapons may be transported in a vehicle without being locked in a case, but must be unloaded.
State preemption of local restrictions? Yes Yes §53701 Government Code Most but not all local restrictions preempted.
Castle doctrine law? Yes Yes California never requires a duty to retreat whether in one's own home or not. The state acknowledges a legal presumption that an intruder poses a deadly threat if in one's own home or property that is owned and controlled by oneself.
NFA weapons restricted? Yes Yes §12220, §12020, §12020 Possession of automatic weapons or short-barreled shotguns or rifles prohibited without DOJ "Dangerous Weapons Permit"; permission rarely granted outside of film industry. Suppressors (aka silencers) prohibited. Destructive devices are prohibited unless are designated as curios & relics, in which case a collectors permit can be obtained. The only AOWs that are permitted are smoothbore pistols and firearms with a combination of a smoothbore and rifle barrel. C&R short-barreled rifles and C&R short-barrled shotguns permitted.
Peaceable journey laws? No No California courts have ruled that large-capacity magazines (LCM) that are disassembled or LCM parts are legal to possess. Otherwise federal rules are observed.
Waiting period? Yes Yes §26815(a)[2], §26950-27140 [3], §27540(a) [4],

§27600-27750 [5]

California has a ten (10) day waiting period for all firearm purchases, transfers, and private sales which must be conducted through a federal and state firearm license holder. That is, upon purchase, the purchaser must wait 10 days after the purchase before the firearm is released to the owner.

On August 25, 2014, the California's 10-day waiting period for gun purchases was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California which found that "the 10-day waiting periods of Penal Code [sections 26815(a) and 27540(a)] violate the Second Amendment" as applied to members of certain classifications (notably holders of concealed carry permits) and "burdens the Second Amendment rights of the Plaintiffs".[33] On December 14, 2016 this ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.[34] The plaintiffs' petition for an en banc rehearing was denied April 4, 2017; on February 20, 2018 the Supreme Court certiorari petition was denied, meaning that the waiting period remains in effect.[35]

On May 1, 2023, a new lawsuit challenging the ten-day waiting period was filed.[36]

Background checks required for private sales? Yes Yes § 27545 Private party transfers of firearms must be conducted through a licensed dealer, who is required by federal law to conduct a background check and keep a record of the sale.
Red flag law? Yes Yes The police or a person's family member can ask a judge to confiscate the firearms of a person who appears to pose a threat to themselves or others for up to one year.[37] Such orders from out-of-state are also recognized. As of September 1, 2020, eligible petitioners will be expanded to include an employer, coworker, and school teacher or employee, and the maximum allowable duration will be extended to 5 years.[38]
Background check required for ammunition purchase? Yes Yes PC 30312, 30314, 30342, 30370 After January 1, 2018 all ammunition purchases must be made through a licensed ammunition dealer and no person may import ammunition from out-of-state unless they meet the requirements for exemption under PC 30314(b). This section effectively banned online and mail order sales of ammunition by requiring all transactions go through a storefront physically located inside California. Importing ammunition in violation of this section is an infraction for the first offense and a misdemeanor or infraction for any subsequent offenses.[39] After July 1, 2019, all purchases of ammunition are required to have an "ammunition purchase authorization" from the California DOJ. This section requires the ammunition purchaser to submit to a background check and to have an entry in the California DOJ Automated Firearms System that matches the information presented at the time of purchase.[40] Selling or delivering ammunition to a person without first receiving the "ammunition purchase authorization" is a misdemeanor.[41]
Home-built firearms restriction? Yes Yes PC 29180 After July 1, 2018, any person who wishes to manufacture a firearm must first apply to the California DOJ for a serial number and apply that serial number, once issued, to the firearm within 10 days. There are specific requirements laid out for how to inscribe or engrave the serial number given the material the firearm is made out of. Violation of this provision is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail for home-built handguns and 6 months in the county jail for any other home-built firearm.[42] In June 2022, California passed AB 1621, which bans the use of CNC milling machines for self-manufacturing firearms.
Purchase quantity and frequency restriction? Partial Yes PC 27535 As of July 1, 2021, no person is allowed to purchase more than one handgun or semi-automatic centerfire rifle within any 30-day period. Starting January 1, 2024, all firearms as well as completed frames and receivers and firearm precursor parts will be subject to the 1-in-30 restriction.

Understanding California's Gun Laws

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. These laws are designed to regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition in the state. Here, we'll break down some of the key points of California's gun laws.

Permits and Registration

In California, there is a partial requirement for a state permit to purchase both long guns and handguns. This means that all firearm sales must be completed through a dealer, and purchasers must have a Firearm Safety Certificate and proof of residency. The certificate can be obtained and completed at firearms dealers with Department of Justice (DOJ) instructors. It's important to note that you must be 21 to purchase any firearm in California.

When it comes to firearm registration, California requires that both long guns and handguns be registered. The California Department of Justice retains information about the purchaser and seller of all in-state firearm sales and transfers. Any firearms imported into the state must also be reported to the DOJ.

Ownership and Carry Laws

While a Firearm Safety Certificate is required for new purchases, ongoing possession of a firearm does not require a license or permit. However, people moving into California are required to file a New Resident Report of Firearm Ownership within 60 days.

As for carrying firearms, a license is required for concealed carry of handguns. Open carry of long guns and handguns is partially allowed, mainly in unincorporated rural areas where firearm discharge is not prohibited by local ordinance. Vehicle carry of handguns is allowed with a valid California Concealed Weapons License, but long guns and assault weapons must be unloaded and locked in a case during transport.

Assault Weapons and Magazine Capacity Restrictions

California has strict laws regarding assault weapons and magazine capacity. It is illegal to possess, import, or purchase assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles, unless such weapons were acquired by the owner prior to June 1, 1989. The state also restricts magazine capacity, with large-capacity defined as being able to hold more than 10 rounds.

Additional Restrictions and Requirements

California also has laws in place regarding National Firearms Act (NFA) weapons, waiting periods, background checks for private sales, and more. For example, possession of automatic weapons or short-barreled shotguns or rifles is prohibited without a DOJ "Dangerous Weapons Permit". The state also has a ten-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, transfers, and private sales.

Furthermore, all private party transfers of firearms must be conducted through a licensed dealer, who is required by federal law to conduct a background check and keep a record of the sale. California also requires a background check for ammunition purchases.

It's crucial to understand these laws if you're a gun owner or prospective gun owner in California. However, this is just a summary, and the full details of California's gun laws can be complex. Always consult with a legal expert or trusted source for the most accurate and up-to-date information.