Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only.
The Ultimate Guide on How to Buy a Gun in California
So, you want to buy a gun in California, eh? Unfortunately, in the sunny state, it is going to be a bit more difficult than just waltzing right up to any gun store and picking up your shiny new Glock. Because of California’s high concentration of leftists, gun control is stricter here than almost any other state. However, although the process might be more time consuming than other states like Arizona, buying a gun in California is still very possible. Below are all the steps that you need to take to call yourself a California gun owner.
Before You Buy
If you are wondering how to buy a gun the process begins before you even walk into the store. California gun laws state that there are a few things you need to have and to know before you go to the gun shop and buy. The most important documentation you must have to be eligible to purchase a firearm is a Firearm Safety Certificate or an FSC. An FSC is required to buy a gun because this ensures that you know how to safely handle the weapon that you want to own.
To obtain an FSC you must score at least 75% (23 correct answers out of 30 questions) on the FSC Test covering firearm safety and basic firearms laws. The true/false and multiple-choice test is administered by Instructors certified by the Department of Justice who are located at firearms dealerships. If you lose your firearms license, you will need to pay $5 dollars to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to receive another one.
The next requirement is simple, you must have a valid California driver’s license and you must be over 21. There are some exceptions to this, but I will get into more detail on that later.
You must also prove that you are a legal resident of California. This can be proven by any of the following documents:
- A utility bill from within the last 3 months.
- A signed (and notarized) residential lease agreement.
- A property deed.
- Military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment in California.
The final requirement will be to pass a thorough background check. This background check must be performed by a licensed arms dealer. No matter whether you are buying from a private seller or your local gun store, you will need to have the gun store perform a background check on you. That means if you decide to buy a used 1911 on Craigslist, you will need to meet the seller at a licensed firearms dealer (usually a local gun store), and have the dealer perform a background check.
The background check can also be the determining factor on whether you can purchase the gun or not. Even if you checked off everything on the list before the background check, you might not be eligible to purchase a gun at your local arms dealer. Failure of this background check also keeps you from owning ammunition and magazines as well. So that glock 20 10mm extended magazine you were shopping around for, hold your horses on that bad boy until you've taken your background check.
The background check is one, if not the most, essential part of buying a gun in California. Although we are talking about how to buy in California, federal firearms laws are beginning to adopt some form of background check to every state. Without this background check, it would be possible for arms dealers to sell to some potentially dangerous people.
In California’s ongoing effort to ensure that there is no felon in possession of a firearm, there are certain prohibitions that can keep you from owning a gun at all. These prohibitions may be because you are:
- Charged with a felony offense.
- Voluntarily a patient in a mental health facility.
- Under a gravely disabled conservatorship.
- Addicted to narcotics.
- Are subject to a protective order.
If you are found in violation of any of these, not only will you not be going home with a gun, but you can also kiss you 9mm ammunition and gun clips goodbye as well. As I mentioned earlier, this prohibition is for life if you live in California.
In a lot of ways this is beneficial to other gun owners because it filters out the potential lawbreakers and those who could potentially pose a threat to others or even themselves from the law-abiding citizens who will not abuse their right to owning a gun.
Which Guns You Can (And Cannot) Get
Now that we have discussed whether you are eligible to buy a gun, let us talk a bit about the guns you can buy. California firearm laws state that certain weapons cannot be purchased, even if you have passed all the previous requirements.
If there is a firearm that you are interested in getting, you might want to look and see if it is on the Roster of Certified Handguns. This is California’s list of weapons that are considered legal to have in this state. If a weapon is not on this list it is not readily available for purchase unless you have some special permission. Roster of Certified Handguns.
Even if the gun that you want is listed on that roster, customizing it might turn it into an assault weapon, which is also illegal in California. This next step might be slightly confusing but important unless you want to be arrested for customizing your pistol. There are certain attachments or large capacity magazines that could turn your gun into an illegal assault weapon. There are many customizations that could qualify your gun as an assault firearm, but I do not want to bore you here with that extensive list. If you want to investigate that list in more detail you can check out the Assault Weapon Characteristics List. Machine guns and semi-automatic weapons are also considered assault weapons.
Another requirement of your weapon, even if it is legal, is that it must have a safety feature. This is usually some locking mechanism that keeps the gun from firing when it is set to this configuration. Most if not all weapons on the list provided above will include a safety feature right out of the box.
Buying Your Firearm
So, you have dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s. You have finally checked off all the boxes. You have no criminal record, you are over 21 and you want to purchase a completely legal firearm. Now the only question on your mind is, “where can I buy a gun?”
Well, the short answer is that you must purchase all firearms in a brick-and-mortar store. What if you already had your gun picked out and ready for purchase in your online shopping cart? You are wondering how to buy a gun online with such a requirement. The same applies to you too. If you would like to purchase a gun, the transaction must be done in-person and in-store. This way, the arms dealer can have a record of the transaction in a DROS or dealer’s record of sale. So, if you are trying to buy someone’s Glock 19 gen 3 online, you still must make the transaction in a store so that a record is made of the purchase.
The next step of the process is a 10-day waiting period. This part is, unfortunately, unavoidable. But if you made it this far you can keep yourself busy by preparing the room for the little one!
After the 10-day period is over, you have 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks) from when the background check was submitted to complete your transaction. However, if for some reason you forget that you bought a gun and the 30-day period passes, you must start the process over from the beginning.
When you finally get to the store to pick up your gun, you will be required to participate in a safe handling test. This ensures the seller that you know how to safely operate a gun (which if you have gotten this far, I certainly hope you do!). However, if you are a peace officer or part of a branch of the military, you will no tbe required to take this safe handling test. And just like that, you are officially a California gun owner!
After You Buy
If you are still reading this, I applaud you for making it this far. Most people will stop after reading “over 21.” Now that we have talked about the process of buying a gun,I will discuss the equally important process of what you can do with your guns after you buy them.
There are two main things you can do with your guns after purchase in California; take it to the gun range or use it for self-defense. Most of you already know that you can bring your own weapons to the firing range, and it is nice to take your toys out for a while, so we will focus on the self-defense aspect. In California, you can only use your gun for self-defense if the threat is within your own home and imminent. This is known as the Castle Doctrine; this states that you can defend your home, or your castle, even if that means you must use lethal force. In California, there is a legal presumption that the resident feared imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves, or a member of the household, if:
- an intruder or burglar unlawfully and forcibly enters or tries to enter the home.
- the resident knew or believed that an intruder unlawfully and forcibly entered or was entering the home.
- the intruder was not a member of the household or family.
- the resident used force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to the intruder inside the home.
Under these parameters, you can use your firearm in a self-defense shooting. Although not specifically about guns, this technically falls under California firearm laws. If you want more information on the Castle Doctrine you can view this helpful link. If for some reason you are reading this and you are not from California, you can look up firearm laws by state.
When you are not out at the shooting range or using your weapon to defend your home, you are required to have the gun unloaded, with its safety on, in a locked and secure place. This ensures that the gun will not accidentally fire or end up in the hands of someone potentially dangerous. And that is about it. You have successfully learned most there is to know about owning a gun in California.
Ammunition is another essential part of owning a gun in California. Without it, your Ruger p95 would just be a cool looking paperweight. But just because the lengthy process of buying a gun is over, does not mean you can just pick up ammunition from anywhere. Like with the gun, all ammunition sales must be done in a store so that the dealer can have record of the transaction. In today’s day in age, this might be easier said than done since there has been an ammunition shortage due to COVID-19. But hey, if you were patient enough to stick it out to the end of this blog, you can wait for the next available box of ammo, right?
Gun clips and magazines are the next order of business. In California, large capacity magazines are mags that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Anything over this is considered illegal. So just be sure that you do not load up a 20-round gun clip at the firing range.
This last piece of advice is for those of you who thought you could get around the entire buying process by making your own guns at home. When a gun is made and is still unregistered, it is considered a “ghost gun.” For your firearm to be considered legal, you must submit an application to the DOJ to receive a registration placard. When your placard arrives in the mail, you must put it somewhere on the handgun where it can be visibly seen.
For more information, please visit California’s official.Firearm FAQs page for more information. I hope this was informative and that all these steps don’t discouraged you from getting your own firearm today. In fact, get out there and pick one up today!