The Handgun Safety Certificate
Effective January 1, 2015, the HSC - Handgun Safety Certificate - has been superseded by the FSC - Firearms Safety Certificate.
An unexpired HSC is still valid for handgun purchases.
From 1994 to 2003, California required a Basic Firearms Safety Certificate (BFSC) to purchase a handgun. The BFSC was good for life, and the requirement was waived for military veterans and for those who had a hunting license.
In 2013, SB-683 established a successor to the Handgun Safety Certificate, the Firearms Safety Certificate.
The California Department of Justice maintains a Firearm Safety Certificate Program page
The HSC requirement is in Penal Code 31615 (was 12071(b)(8)(B)).
31615. (a) A person shall not do either of the following: (1) Purchase or receive any firearm, except an antique firearm, without a valid firearm safety certificate, except that in the case of a handgun, an unexpired handgun safety certificate may be used. (2) Sell, deliver, loan, or transfer any firearm, except an antique firearm, to any person who does not have a valid firearm safety certificate, except that in the case of a handgun, an unexpired handgun safety certificate may be used. (b) Any person who violates subdivision (a) is guilty of a misdemeanor. (c) The provisions of this section are cumulative, and shall not be construed as restricting the application of any other law. However, an act or omission punishable in different ways by different provisions of this code shall not be punished under more than one provision. (d) This section shall become operative on January 1, 2015.
A handgun buyer or transferee must have a Handgun Safety Certificate, and present it to the dealer before the dealer can deliver a handgun. Once the HSC has expired, the firearms purchaser must test for and obtain a Firearms Safety Certificate (FSC).
Prior holders of a BFSC must obtain a FSC; the BFSC is no longer accepted.
The FSC is valid for five years and must be renewed.
One obtains a Firearms Safety Certificate by taking and passing a multiple choice test -- you must score at least 75% (23 correct answers out of 30 questions) -- and paying a fee of $25.
One can review for the FSC test by downloading the Firearms Safety Certificate Study Guide (.pdf) from the DOJ.
You may take the test only from a DOJ Certified Instructor. Generally a dealer's place of business will have one or more staff members who are certified.
According to the DOJ's FAQ:
Are there any minimum qualifications/requirements for a person who wants to take the Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) test? The only requirements are that the Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) applicant must be at least 18 years of age and must present clear evidence of identity and age by presenting a California Driver's License or California Department of Motor Vehicles Identification Card.
The DOJ lists the exemptions from obtaining the FSC in their FSC FAQ:
There are several FSC requirement exemptions. In addition to the previous Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) exemptions, a person issued a valid hunting license is exempt from the FSC requirement for long guns only. (Pen. Code, § 31700, subd. (c).)
What are the Firerms Safety Certificate (FSC) requirement exemption codes? * X01 = Special Weapons Permit Holder * X02 = Operation of Law Representative * X03 = Handgun being returned to the owner * X13 = FFL collector with COE (curio and relic handguns only) * X21 = Military - Active Duty * X22 = Military - Reserve * X25 = Military - Honorably Retired * X31 = Peace Officer - California - Active * X32 = Peace Officer - Federal - Active * X33 = Peace Officer - California - Honorably Retired * X34 = Peace Officer - California - Reserve * X35 = Peace Officer - Federal - Honorably Retired * X41 = Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) Permit Holder * X81 = P.O.S.T. 832 PC (Firearms) Training * X91 = Particular and Limited Authority Peace Officers * X95 = Law Enforcement Service Gun to Family Member * X98 = Valid Hunting License (long guns only)
These exemptions also exempt the individual from the safe handling demonstration.