The Safe Handgun List

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The California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale is sometimes called the "Safe Handgun List", because the establishing legislation, SB15 in 1998 referred to unsafe handguns.

Penal Code 12125. (a) Commencing January 1, 2001, any person in this
state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the
state for sale, keeps for sale, offers or exposes for sale, gives, or
lends any  unsafe handgun shall be punished by imprisonment in a
county jail not exceeding one year.
Penal Code 12131. (a) On and after January 1, 2001, the Department of
Justice shall compile, publish, and thereafter maintain a roster 
listing all of  the pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable
of being concealed  upon the person that have been tested by a 
certified testing laboratory, have been determined not to be 
unsafe handguns, and may be sold in this  state pursuant to this
title.  The roster shall list, for each firearm,  the manufacturer, 
model number, and model name.

The bill went into effect January, 2001. The author was Senator Richard G. Polanco (D-Los Angeles).

There have been two major modifications since then: Senator Scott’s 2003 SB 489 for loaded chamber indicator/magazine disconnect, and Assembly Member Feuer’s 2007 AB 1471, microstamping.

AB 2235, Mr DeSaulnier's "owner-authorized handguns" bill, is currently under consideration by the Senate (July, 2008) and, if passed, would amend Penal Code 12126 to add more requirements to get on the Roster.


A manufacturer or an importer (and ONLY those - 11 CCR § 4070 and § 4071) submits a handgun for testing. They must supply THREE copies of the gun to be tested, and pay a fee. (Penal Code 12130)

The gun must pass a defined firing requirement (Penal Code 12127) and a drop safety test (Penal Code 12128). It must also meet other requirements in effect at the time it is submitted for testing, currently a magazine disconnect and a loaded chamber indicator for semi-automatic handguns. (Penal Code 12126(b)(5))

Once a tested gun is added to the Roster, a manufacturer may certify that additional models are different from the tested model only in ‘minor’ attributes:

12131.5. (a) A firearm shall be deemed to satisfy the requirements of
subdivision (a) of Section 12131 if another firearm made by the same
manufacturer is already listed and the unlisted firearm differs from
the listed firearm only in one or more of the following features:
(1) Finish, including, but not limited to, bluing, chrome-plating,
oiling, or engraving.
(2) The material from which the grips are made.
(3) The shape or texture of the grips, so long as the difference in
grip shape or texture does not in any way alter the dimensions,
material, linkage, or functioning of the magazine well, the barrel,
the chamber, or any of the components of the firing mechanism of the
(4) Any other purely cosmetic feature that does not in any way alter
the dimensions, material, linkage, or functioning of the magazine 
well, the barrel, the chamber, or any of the components of the 
firing mechanism of the firearm.

Each model must be individually added to the Roster and each requires the annual fee. It is entirely the choice of the manufacturer which models will be added to the Roster in this fashion.


Once a handgun is on the Roster, it can remain there, unchanged, so long as the responsible party continues to pay the annual fee. The expiration dates which appear in the Roster listings are the due dates for those fees.

The California Department of Justice may choose to retest handguns on the Roster (11 CCR § 4073), either randomly or with reason to believe there is a problem. Handguns which fail retesting are removed from the Roster. Testing criteria are the same as those used for original certification.

A manufacturer may occasionally allow the gun to lapse. California Code of Regulations (11 CCR § 4074) provides the submitter may request the gun be recertified (retested), and if the gun passes testing it may be returned to the Roster.

New Requirements

Amendments to the law so far have been written to include language such as

(5) Commencing January 1, 2007, for all center fire semiautomatic
pistols that are not already listed on the roster pursuant to
Section  12131, it does not have both a chamber load indicator and 
if it has a  detachable magazine, a magazine disconnect mechanism.

That is, if a pistol is already tested and listed on the Roster at the time new requirements become law, that pistol is NOT affected and does NOT need the new features or capabilities.

The Legislature may choose to write amendments to this law differently in the future.


California FFLs may not transfer handguns which are not on the Roster unless the individual or guns or kind of transaction are listed as exceptions.

Current exceptions include

  1. peace officers with official identification;
  2. gifts from out-of-state immediate family members (who are defined as parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren only; brothers and other familial relationships are not included);
  3. curios and relics;
  4. Olympic pistols listed in Penal Code 12132(h)(2);
  5. private party transactions (PPT);
  6. Single shot pistols that meet certain dimensional and other requirements in Penal Code 12133 (a) and (b).

Other exempt transactions and conditions

No long guns are affected.

Handguns moved into the state by new residents are not affected by the Roster.

Transfers between immediate family members using the Operation of Law or Intrafamilial Handgun Transaction Report are not affected by the Roster.

General government transactions are exempt (Penal Code 12125(b)(4):

The sale or purchase of any pistol, revolver or other firearm
capable of being concealed upon the person, if the pistol, revolver,
or other firearm is sold to, or purchased by, the Department of
Justice, any police department, any sheriff's official, any marshal's
office, the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, the California
Highway Patrol, any district attorney's office, or the military or
naval forces of this state or of the United States for use in the
discharge of their official duties.


It is arguable that the law has little relationship to any useful definition of 'safety'. Most notably, a gun tested and certified and added to the Roster cannot be transferred by dealers if the model is removed from the Roster for non-payment of the annual fee. With no mechanical changes, a gun would go from 'not unsafe' to something else overnight.