The Handgun Safety Certificate
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.
(B) Commencing January 1, 2003, no handgun shall be delivered unless the purchaser, transferee, or person being loaned the handgun presents a handgun safety certificate to the dealer.
A handgun buyer or transferee must have a Handgun Safety Certificate, and present it to the dealer before the dealer can deliver a handgun.
Prior holders of a BFSC must obtain a HSC; the BFSC is no longer accepted.
The HSC is valid for five years and must be renewed.
One obtains a Handgun 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 HSC test by downloading the Handgun 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 HSC in their HSC FAQ:
Are the exemptions from the Handgun Safety Certificate Program requirements the same exemptions as those under the old Basic Firearms Safety Certificate (BFSC) Program? No. The most common exemptions under the Basic Firearms Safety Certificate (BFSC) law that were removed under the new Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) law are: 1) persons who hold a valid hunting license issued by the State of California; 2) persons who were honorably discharged from the military; and 3) firearms dealers when acquiring a handgun for their personal ownership, regardless of whether the handgun is acquired from another dealer or from the dealer's own inventory. These exemptions to BFSC do not apply to HSC.
What are the Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC) 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
These exemptions also exempt the individual from the safe handling demonstration.