California Gun Laws

When it comes to gun laws, California is one of the states that have strict laws and a number of regulations regarding the sale, possession, and use of ammunition and firearms. Compared to other states in the country, purchasing and owning a firearm in California can be difficult.

Purchasing a Firearm

Laws in California mandate that all firearm sales are done through a licensed firearm dealer. Any person interested in purchasing any type of firearm must fill out an application; the firearm dealer then sends the application to the California Department of Justice and a comprehensive background check is performed. If the application to purchase a firearm is approved, there is a 10 day waiting period for delivery of the gun.

California allows a private party to sell a firearm to another private party, but the sale must be facilitated through a licensed firearms dealer. The sale is done using a Private Party Transfer form, and the sale is recorded with the state. The 10 day waiting period for delivery also applies to firearm sales between private parties.

In addition to passing a background check through the Department of Justice, anyone purchasing a handgun or a long gun in California must pass a written test and demonstrate that he or she can safely handle a firearm in order to obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate. Prior to the introduction of the Firearm Safety Certificate on January 1, 2015, California required a Handgun Safety Certificate to purchase a handgun—this certificate can still currently be used to purchase a handgun as long as it is not expired. Select people, such as active and retired military members, law enforcement officers, and holders of a concealed carry license or hunter safety certificate, may be exempt from having to acquire a Firearm Safety Certificate to buy a personal firearm.

Concealed Carry in California

California is considered a “May Issue” state since the decision to issue a concealed carry license is left up to the discretion of those in charge of law enforcement in each county or city. Residents of rural or low population counties or cities are more likely to be successful in obtaining a concealed carry license. In major cities in California, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is much more difficult to get a concealed carry license as law enforcement has much stricter restrictions as to what constitutes good cause to carry a concealed weapon.

Other than for non-resident active military members, California does not issue concealed carry licenses to non-residents. The state also does not recognize concealed carry licenses issued by other states. Concealed carrying without a license is a serious offense that may result in jail time. It is typically charged as a misdemeanor, but may be a felony if certain circumstances are met.

Open Carry

In general, open carry of a firearm in public is prohibited in California whether the firearm is loaded or not. There are a few exceptions: an open carry of a loaded weapon license may be granted by the sheriff if a person lives in a county with less than 200,000 people. Open carry without a license is permitted in unincorporated rural areas.

Transporting a Firearm

California has very strict laws regarding transportation of a firearm if a person does not hold a concealed carry license. When in a motor vehicle, a hand gun must be unloaded and locked in an enclosed container. The glove box or console does not qualify as a proper enclosed container, but a locked trunk does. Long guns are not required to be enclosed in a locked container while transporting them in a motor vehicle, but they must be unloaded.

Castle Doctrine

California has adopted Castle Doctrine Laws, which means that individuals have no duty to retreat when an intruder enters a home. People are permitted to use force, including deadly force, in order to protect themselves from the perceived threat of bodily harm or death. Under Castle Doctrine Laws, an individual will not be charged with a crime if an intruder is hurt or killed due to the individual defending him or herself. In addition, an individual cannot be sued in civil court for monetary damages by the intruder or the intruder’s family.