Buying and selling firearms in California

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Buying Firearms - Federal Law

All Federal Firearms Licensees - FFLs - are subject to Federal law as well as state and local laws.

Reference: The Law

Federal law governing firearms transfer and sales is primarily contained in Title 18 of United States Code, sections 921 through 930. (921-Definitions, 922-Unlawful Acts, 923-Licensing, 924-Penalties, especially 922, are generally the more important sections for individuals.)

Prohibited Buyers

Federal Law - 18 USC 922(d) and (g) - specifies acts which will disqualify a person from legally buying, owning or possessing a gun or ammunition. BATFE has a clear summary:

... a person who –

   (1) Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year;
   (2) Is a fugitive from justice;
   (3) Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
   (4) Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been
committed to a mental institution;
   (5) Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an
alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
   (6) Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable
conditions;
   (7) Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his
or her citizenship;
   (8) Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from
harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of
such intimate partner; or
   (9) Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

   cannot lawfully receive, possess, ship, or transport a firearm.

A person who is under indictment or information for a crime
punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year cannot
lawfully receive a firearm.

The disqualifying conditions are all in the questions asked on the Federal form 4473, Firearm Transaction Record. (A scanned image of the 2005 version of the 4473 is here).

Completing the form 4473 is the specified method for the dealer to obey 18 USC 923(g) record keeping requirements for firearms transfers.

Restoration of rights to own firearms is beyond the scope of this article.

Restrictions on Dealers

18 USC 922(b)

(b) It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed
manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or
deliver—

(1) any firearm or ammunition to any individual who the licensee
knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than eighteen years
of age, and, if the firearm, or ammunition is other than a shotgun or
rifle, or ammunition for a shotgun or rifle, to any individual who
the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than
twenty-one years of age;

An FFL must not deliver a handgun to anyone younger than 21, nor a long gun to anyone under 18.

(2) any firearm to any person in any State where the purchase or
possession by such person of such firearm would be in violation of
any State law or any published ordinance applicable at the place of
sale, delivery or other disposition, unless the licensee knows or has
reasonable cause to believe that the purchase or possession would not
be in violation of such State law or such published ordinance;

An FFL must also obey state laws.

(3) any firearm to any person who the licensee knows or has
reasonable cause to believe does not reside in ... the State in which
the licensee’s place of business is located,...

An FFL must not deliver to unlicensed individuals who do not live in the same state as the FFL's business.

Buying Firearms from a California FFL

California FFLs must obey Federal laws, such as documenting their sales with a Federal form 4473.

California FFLs must also obey California laws.

In addition to the Federal buyer disqualifications and age limits (21 years old for handguns and handgun ammunition), California has its own list of disqualifying acts in Penal Code 12021.

Dealer's Record of Sale (DROS)

FFLs must enter much of the same information required by the Federal 4473 into the California Dealer's Record of Sale system. Submission of the DROS information 'starts the clock' on the 10-day wait and initiates the buyer background check process.

10-day wait

California requires that the dealer retain the gun for 10 days - 10 24-hour periods (see DOJ FAQ # 29) - before delivery is allowed. (Penal Code 12071(b)(3)(A))

There is an exception: Penal Code 12072(a)(9)(B)(ix):

  (ix) Any person who is licensed as a collector pursuant to Chapter
44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States
Code and the regulations issued pursuant thereto and who has a
current certificate of eligibility issued to him or her by the
Department of Justice pursuant to Section 12071.

The license is a Curio and Relic license (C&R), and a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) is explained rather poorly here.

Locks or safety devices are required

Penal Code 12088.1

12088.1.  (a) All firearms sold or transferred in this state by a
licensed firearms dealer, including private transfers through a
dealer, and all firearms manufactured in this state, shall include or
be accompanied by a firearms safety device that is listed on the
Department of Justice's roster of approved firearms safety devices...

See link.

Buying HANDGUNS from a California FFL

Roster required

California requires that dealers sell handguns on the Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale (Safe Handgun List article) unless the buyer qualifies for one of the exemptions. The DROS system enforces use of the Roster or allows entry of the exemptions.

Buyer documentation and gun handling

Besides clear evidence of identity and age, the buyer must have a Handgun Safety Certificate, prove California residency (Penal Code 12071(b)(8)(C)),

Satisfactory documentation shall include 
    a utility bill from within the last three months, 
    a residential lease, 
    a property deed, or 
    military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment
within this state, or
    other evidence of residency as permitted by the Department of 
Justice.  

and perform the demonstration specified in Penal Code 12071(b)(8)(D):

   (D) Commencing January 1, 2003, except as authorized by the
department, no firearms dealer may deliver a handgun unless the
recipient performs a safe handling demonstration with that handgun.
The demonstration shall commence with the handgun unloaded and locked
with the firearm safety device with which it is required to be
delivered, if applicable. While maintaining muzzle awareness, that
is, the firearm is pointed in a safe direction, preferably down at
the ground, and trigger discipline, that is, the trigger finger is
outside of the trigger guard and along side of the handgun frame, at
all times, the handgun recipient shall correctly and safely perform
the following:
  (i) If the handgun is a semiautomatic pistol:
  (I) Remove the magazine.
  (II) Lock the slide back. If the model of firearm does not allow
the slide to be locked back, pull the slide back, visually and
physically check the chamber to ensure that it is clear.
  (III) Visually and physically inspect the chamber, to ensure that
the handgun is unloaded.
  (IV) Remove the firearm safety device, if applicable. If the
firearm safety device prevents any of the previous steps, remove the
firearm safety device during the appropriate step.
  (V) Load one bright orange, red, or other readily identifiable
dummy round into the magazine. If no readily identifiable dummy round
is available, an empty cartridge casing with an empty primer pocket
may be used.
  (VI) Insert the magazine into the magazine well of the firearm.
  (VII) Manipulate the slide release or pull back and release the
slide.
  (VIII) Remove the magazine.
  (IX) Visually inspect the chamber to reveal that a round can be
chambered with the magazine removed.
  (X) Lock the slide back to eject the bright orange, red, or other
readily identifiable dummy round. If the handgun is of a model that
does not allow the slide to be locked back, pull the slide back and
physically check the chamber to ensure that the chamber is clear. If
no readily identifiable dummy round is available, an empty cartridge
casing with an empty primer pocket may be used.
  (XI) Apply the safety, if applicable.
  (XII) Apply the firearm safety device, if applicable. This
requirement shall not apply to an Olympic competition pistol if no
firearms safety device, other than a cable lock that the department
has determined would damage the barrel of the pistol, has been
approved for the pistol, and the pistol is either listed in paragraph
(2) of subdivision (h) of Section 12132 or is subject to paragraph
(3) of subdivision (h) of Section 12132.
...
  (G) The recipient shall perform the safe handling demonstration
for a department-certified instructor.

Similar demonstration requirements exist for revolvers.

10-day wait

California requires that the dealer retain the handgun for 10 days - 10 24-hour periods - before delivery is allowed.

One handgun per month

With some exceptions for some licensed individuals (link later), one may purchase only one handgun within any 30-day period.(Penal Code 12072(a)(9)(A))

Lock required

See link. Plan to buy a handgun which comes with a California-approved lock, or to buy a separate lock.

Buying rifles and shotguns from a California FFL

For Semiautomatic Rifles, see that topic on the Main Page.

Buying rifles and shotguns is far less complicated than buying handguns.

Standard dealer requirements

The buyer will need to complete the Federal 4473 and the California DROS, and will pay a fee.

There will be a waiting period, unless the buyer is exempt.

The buyer will need a firearms safety device, either a lock or a safe affidavit or some other acceptable solution.

Differences from handgun purchases

Buyers may be 18 or older.

No 'safety certificate' or 'handling demonstration' is required.

There is no 'list' of approved rifles, though California does define 'assault weapons' which may not be purchased without a permit or Law Enforcement status. Semiautomatic rifles which are not 'assault weapons' may be purchased as freely as bolt-action or lever-action rifles.

There is no limit on the number of rifles or shotguns which may be purchased, either at one time or across any interval.

Neither DROS nor 4473 data record make, model or caliber/gauge of a long gun.

Buying from a Private Party - PPT

Private Party Transfers - PPT - are authorized by Penal Code 12082

12082.  (a) A person shall complete any sale, loan, or transfer of a
firearm through a person licensed pursuant to Section 12071 in
accordance with this section in order to comply with subdivision (d)
of Section 12072. The seller or transferor or the person loaning the
firearm shall deliver the firearm to the dealer who shall retain
possession of that firearm. The dealer shall then deliver the firearm
to the purchaser or transferee or the person being loaned the
firearm, if it is not prohibited, in accordance with subdivision (c)
of Section 12072. If the dealer cannot legally deliver the firearm to
the purchaser or transferee or the person being loaned the firearm,
the dealer shall forthwith, without waiting for the conclusion of the
waiting period described in Sections 12071 and 12072, return the
firearm to the transferor or seller or the person loaning the
firearm. The dealer shall not return the firearm to the seller or
transferor or the person loaning the firearm when to do so would
constitute a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 12072. If the
dealer cannot legally return the firearm to the transferor or seller
or the person loaning the firearm, then the dealer shall forthwith
deliver the firearm to the sheriff of the county or the chief of
police or other head of a municipal police department of any city or
city and county who shall then dispose of the firearm in the manner
provided by Sections 12028 and 12032. The purchaser or transferee or
person being loaned the firearm may be required by the dealer to pay
a fee not to exceed ten dollars ($10) per firearm, and no other fee
may be charged by the dealer for a sale, loan, or transfer of a
firearm conducted pursuant to this section, except for the applicable
fee that the Department of Justice may charge pursuant to Section
12076. Nothing in these provisions shall prevent a dealer from
charging a smaller fee. The fee that the department may charge is the
fee that would be applicable pursuant to Section 12076, if the
dealer was selling, transferring, or delivering a firearm to a
purchaser or transferee or a person being loaned a firearm, without
any other parties being involved in the transaction.

You must use a California FFL

12082 specifies a dealer licensed according to Penal Code 12071.

Both parties must be California residents

There are two reasons for this:

  1. If one party is not from California, the transfer becomes INTERSTATE and is governed by Federal Law (18 USC 922(a)(3) and (a)5))in addition to California Law and
  2. The Dealer Record of Sale software (DROS -- see page 40 in the .pdf) will accept only California or military identification documents.

This last would seem to apply only to the buyer - why then would the seller be subject to DROS? The dealer must be prepared for the buyer to fail the background check. If that were to occur, the dealer would have to attempt to convey the gun back to the seller - and that return requires a background check on the seller. To wit: Part of Penal Code 12082(a)

...If the dealer cannot legally deliver the firearm to
the purchaser or transferee or the person being loaned the firearm,
the dealer shall forthwith, without waiting for the conclusion of the
waiting period described in Sections 12071 and 12072, return the
firearm to the transferor or seller or the person loaning the
firearm. The dealer shall not return the firearm to the seller or
transferor or the person loaning the firearm when to do so would
constitute a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 12072.
12072.  (a) (1) No person, corporation, or firm shall knowingly
supply, deliver, sell, or give possession or control of a firearm to
any person within any of the classes prohibited by Section 12021 or
12021.1.
  (2) No person, corporation, or dealer shall sell, supply, deliver,
or give possession or control of a firearm to any person whom he or
she has cause to believe to be within any of the classes prohibited
by Section 12021 or 12021.1 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of
the Welfare and Institutions Code.

To determine eligibility under 12072, the background check, initiated through the DROS system, must occur.

Standard dealer requirements

The buyer must submit all the necessary Federal 4473 and DROS information and wait the mandatory ten days before picking up the gun.

The buyer must have a firearms safety device for each gun. Penal Code 12088.1

Standard handgun requirements

The buyer must be at least 21 years old.

The buyer must have the Handgun Safety Certificate (Penal Code 12071(a)(8)(B))and perform the safe handling demonstration required by Penal Code 12071(a)(8)(D)

Handguns transferred through PPT are exempt from the Roster. (Penal Code 12132(a))

Handguns transferred through PPT are exempt from the 1 per 30 days rule. (Penal Code 12072(a)(9)(B)(viii))


Buying from a Private Party WITHOUT a Dealer

For a very narrow range of firearms, no dealer or license is required. An individual can purchase Curio or Relic long guns without using an FFL and with or without having a Curio and Relic/03 Federal License themselves.

California uses the Federal definition of C&R guns (Penal Code 12078(t)(2))

  (2) Subdivision (d) and paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) of
Section 12072 shall not apply to the infrequent sale, loan, or
transfer of a firearm that is not a handgun, which is a curio
or relic manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but
not including replicas thereof, as defined in Section 478.11 of Title
27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, or its successor.

Penal Code 12072(d) requires 2 non-licensed individuals to use an FFL in a Penal Code 12082 Private Party Transfer; the above is an exception to that requirement.

Locks, Safes, and Laws

There are two sets of laws to satisfy.

California law requires a firearms safety device with each gun delivered (Penal Code 12088.1). California law will accept many items to satisfy this requirement, and maintains a list, the Roster of Firearm Safety Devices Certified for Sale.

California will accept a gun lock, with conditions:

  (e) The sale or transfer of a firearm shall be exempt from
subdivision (a) if all of the following apply:
  (1) The purchaser or transferee purchases an approved safety
device no more than 30 days prior to the day the purchaser or
transferee takes possession of the firearm.
  (2) The purchaser or transferee presents the approved safety
device to the firearms dealer when picking up the firearm.
  (3) The purchaser or transferee presents an original receipt to
the firearms dealer which shows the date of purchase, the name, and
the model number of the safety device.
  (4) The firearms dealer verifies that the requirements in (1) to
(3), inclusive, have been satisfied.
  (5) The firearms dealer maintains a copy of the receipt along with
the dealers' record of sales of firearms.


California will accept a gun safe as a firearms safety device (Penal Code 12088.1)

  (d) The sale or transfer of a firearm shall be exempt from
subdivision (a) if both of the following apply:
  (1) The purchaser or transferee owns a gun safe that meets the
standards set forth in Section 12088.2.  Gun safes shall not be
required to be tested, and therefore may meet the standards without
appearing on the Department of Justice roster.
  (2) The purchaser or transferee presents an original receipt for
purchase of the gun safe, or other proof of purchase or ownership of
the gun safe as authorized by the Attorney General, to the firearms
dealer.  The dealer shall maintain a copy of this receipt or proof of
purchase with the dealers' record of sales of firearms.

HOWEVER, Federal Law has introduced a complication with handgun purchases.

18 USC 922(z) requires

(z)  Secure Gun Storage or Safety Device.—
(1) In general.— Except as provided under paragraph (2), it shall be
unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed
dealer to sell, deliver, or transfer any handgun to any person other 
than any person licensed under this chapter, unless the transferee is
provided with a secure gun storage or safety device (as defined in
section 921 (a)(34)) for that handgun. 

and 18 USC 921(a)(34) has the definition

(34) The term “secure gun storage or safety device” means—
(A) a device that, when installed on a firearm, is designed to prevent
 the firearm from being operated without first deactivating the device;
(B) a device incorporated into the design of the firearm that is
designed to prevent the operation of the firearm by anyone not having
access to the device; or
(C) a safe, gun safe, gun case, lock box, or other device that is
designed to be or can be used to store a firearm and that is designed 
to be unlocked only by means of a key, a combination, or other similar
means.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has yet to issue a regulation which recognizes 18 USC 921(a)(34)(C).

In practice, that means that California and Federal law are different on what is acceptable -- and safe for dealers to accept. For long guns, California FFLs may accept the safe affidavit; for handguns, because BATFE has not yet ruled, the safe affidavit is usually NOT acceptable, and buyers may expect to purchase a gun lock with each handgun.