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California has some of the nation’s strongest laws regulating the sale of ammunition, and in 2019 became the first state in the nation to require a point-of-sale background check to buy ammunition.

California regulates the following aspects of ammunition, as described below:

  1. Sales and transfers of ammunition;
  2. People prohibited from possessing ammunition;
  3. Minimum age to possess ammunition;
  4. Ammunition at gun shows; and
  5. Certain kinds of unreasonably dangerous ammunition.

California also generally restricts people from carrying ammunition onto school grounds, subject to certain limited exceptions.1

Sales and Transfers of Ammunition

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63, which among other gun safety provisions, included new laws to comprehensively regulate ammunition sales in the state.2

More specifically:

  • Since January 1, 2018, individuals who sell more than 500 rounds of ammunition in any month have been required to obtain a state-issued business license called an “ammunition vendor license,”3 and to conduct ammunition sales at specified business locations or gun shows.4 Individuals who are already licensed as firearms dealers by California DOJ are automatically deemed licensed ammunition vendors, provided that they comply with the legal requirements placed on licensed ammunition vendors.5
  • DOJ issues ammunition vendor licenses to individuals who provide specified documentation, including a certificate of eligibility verifying that they passed a background check.6
  • Once licensed, ammunition vendors are required to report the loss or theft of any ammunition from their inventory to law enforcement,7 and to obtain a certificate of eligibility from employees who handle or sell ammunition, verifying that they passed a background check.8
  • Ammunition sales must generally be conducted by or processed through licensed vendors, similar to California law governing the sale and transfer of firearms.9 Sales of ammunition by unlicensed sellers must generally be processed through a licensed ammunition vendor, in a manner similar to private party firearms transactions,10 and ammunition obtained over the Internet or from out of state must generally be initially shipped to a licensed ammunition vendor for physical delivery to the purchaser pursuant to a background check.11 Note that the California state affiliate of the National Rifle Association has brought litigation to try to block the implementation of Proposition 63’s requirement that ammunition sales proceed through licensed vendors who conduct a background check.12
  • Since July 1, 2019, licensed ammunition vendors have been required to record, maintain, and report to DOJ records of ammunition sales, in a manner similar to dealer’s records of sales (DROS) for firearms purchases.13 California DOJ is required to maintain a database of these ammunition sale records, similar to its analogous database for firearms transactions.14
  • Since July 1, 2019, licensed ammunition vendors are generally prohibited from selling or transferring ammunition until first conducting a background check to verify that the person receiving the ammunition is legally eligible.15 If the vendor is a licensed firearms dealer, they can also sell ammunition in the same transaction as a firearm with only the firearm background check required.16 Note that the California state affiliate of the National Rifle Association has brought litigation to try to block the implementation of Proposition 63’s requirement that ammunition sales proceed through licensed vendors who conduct a background check.17
  • State law authorizes people to sell or share ammunition with their spouses, domestic partners, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren without the participation of a licensed vendor.18 It also authorizes people to freely share (but not sell) ammunition in person with friends and shooting partners, unless they have reason to believe that the ammunition would be illegally provided to a criminal or illegal user.19
  • State law also allows people to buy ammunition at a shooting range without undergoing a background check and without a sale record as long as they keep that ammunition inside the facility; if they want to bring ammunition to or from the facility, they must bring their own ammunition from home or undergo a background check at the shooting range.20

California prohibits people from supplying ammunition to any person they know or reasonably should know is prohibited from possessing ammunition.21 California law also make it illegal for a person to supply ammunition to a straw purchaser with knowledge or cause to believe that the straw purchaser would subsequently provide that ammunition to a prohibited person.22

People Ineligible to Possess Ammunition

California law generally prohibits people from owning, possessing, or having custody or control of ammunition or reloaded ammunition if they fall into any of the categories of people who are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under state law.23 In addition, California law prohibits people from possessing ammunition if they are subject to a court injunction related to activity as a member of a “criminal street gang.”24

Minimum Age to Possess Ammunition

California generally prohibits possession of live ammunition by people under age 18, although this restriction does not apply if: 1) the minor has the written consent of a parent or legal guardian to possess live ammunition; 2) the minor is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian; or 3)the minor is actively engaged in, or is going to or from, a lawful, recreational sport, including, but not limited to, competitive shooting, or agricultural, ranching, or hunting activity, the nature of which involves the use of a firearm.25

Sellers of ammunition are also generally prohibited from selling any ammunition to a person under 18 years of age and from selling handgun ammunition to a person under 21.26

Ammunition at Gun Shows

California prohibits ammunition from being displayed at gun shows except in closed containers, unless the seller is showing the ammunition to a prospective buyer.27 In addition, no person at a gun show in California, other than security personnel or sworn peace officers, can possess at the same time both a firearm and ammunition that is designed to be fired in the firearm. Vendors selling such items at the show are exempt.28

Unreasonably Dangerous Ammunition

California bans the manufacture, importation, sale, offer for sale, or knowing possession or transportation of handgun ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor.29 This ban applies to any ammunition (except a shotgun shell or ammunition primarily designed for use in rifles) that is designed primarily to penetrate a body vest or body shield, either by virtue of its shape, cross-sectional density, or coating, or because it has a projectile or projectile core constructed entirely of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium, or any equivalent material of similar density or hardness. KTW ammunition, among others, is subject to this ban.30

California also prohibits the possession, sale, offer for sale, or knowing transportation of a “destructive device,” defined to include “[a]ny projectile containing any explosive or incendiary material” or any other chemical substance including, but not limited to, that commonly known as tracer or incendiary ammunition (except tracer ammunition manufactured for use in shotguns), and any “explosive missile.”31 The state provides for the limited issuance of permits to possess or transport any destructive device, issued at the discretion of the California Department of Justice.32

California prohibits the manufacture, importation, keeping or offering for sale, transfer or possession of any “flechette dart” (dart capable of being fired from a firearm, that measures approximately one inch in length, with tail fins that take up approximately five-sixteenths of an inch of the body) or bullet that contains an explosive agent.33

In addition, California generally prohibits any person, firm or corporation from selling, offering for sale, possessing or knowingly transporting any fixed ammunition greater than .60 caliber.34

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  1. Cal. Penal Code § 30310. California also prohibits carrying or possessing ammunition in the State Capitol, any legislative office, any office of the Governor or other constitutional officer, or any hearing room in which any committee of the Senate or Assembly is conducting a hearing, or upon the grounds of the State Capitol, which is bounded by 10th, L, 15th, and N Streets in the City of Sacramento, if the area is posted with a statement providing reasonable notice. Cal. Penal Code § 171c(a)(2)(G).[]
  2. Previously, California had adopted a groundbreaking 2009 law (AB 962) that sought to comprehensively regulate the sale of “handgun ammunition” by, among other things, regulating mail-order shipments of handgun ammunition and by requiring retail sellers of handgun ammunition to obtain a business license from DOJ and to keep records of their handgun ammunition sales. However, implementation of AB 962 was delayed due to litigation surrounding the definition of “handgun ammunition.” See the court’s order in Parker v. California, Case No. 10CECG02116 (Super. Ct. Fresno, Filed June 17, 2010). This litigation was dropped after enactment of Proposition 63, however, which clearly applied to all types of ammunition.[]
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 30342.[]
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 30348.[]
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 16151(b).[]
  6. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30385, 30390, 30395.[]
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 30363.[]
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 30347.[]
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 30312.[]
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 30312.[]
  11. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30312, 30314.[]
  12. While the NRA was temporarily successful in blocking ammunition background checks, the background check process was reinstated after an appeals court rejected the NRA’s legal arguments in a preliminary ruling. See Rhode v. Becerra, No. 20-55437, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 15525 (9th Cir. May 14, 2020). As of October 2020, the appeals court has yet to issue a final ruling on the NRA’s effort to block ammunition background checks in California.[]
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 30352. These records are kept confidential except for use by law enforcement for law enforcement purposes. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(b).[]
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 30352.[]
  15. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30352(c), 30352(d), 30370.[]
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(c)(2).[]
  17. See supra note 12.[]
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 30312(c).[]
  19. Id.; Cal. Penal Code § 30306.[]
  20. Cal. Penal Code § 30352(e)(3).[]
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 30306.[]
  22. Cal. Penal Code § 30306.[]
  23. Cal. Penal Code § 30305(a).[]
  24. Cal. Penal Code § 30305(b)(1).[]
  25. Cal. Penal Code §§ 29650-29655.[]
  26. Cal. Penal Code § 30300(a). Where ammunition may be used in both a rifle and a handgun, it may be sold to a person who is at least 18 years of age, but less than 21 years of age, if the vendor reasonably believes that the ammunition is being acquired for use in a rifle and not a handgun. Cal Penal Code § 30300(a)(2).[]
  27. Cal. Penal Code § 27315.[]
  28. Cal. Penal Code § 27330.[]
  29. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30315, 30320.[]
  30. Cal. Penal Code § 16660.[]
  31. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16460(a), 18710, 18730.[]
  32. Cal. Penal Code §§ 18900-18910.[]
  33. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16570, 30210.[]
  34. Cal. Penal Code § 18735.[]