Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not unlicensed private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. This background check is intended to determine whether the purchaser is legally disqualified from purchasing or possessing firearms. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.
California is a point of contact state and state law requires the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to act as a point of contact for firearm background checks.1 Firearms dealers must therefore initiate firearm background checks required by California and federal law by contacting the California DOJ.
California law requires any prospective firearm purchaser (or other transferee) to submit an application to purchase the firearm (also known as a “Dealer Record of Sale” or “DROS” form) through a licensed dealer to the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The dealer must then generally submit this firearm purchaser information to DOJ through electronic transfer on the same day.2 The purchaser must present “clear evidence” of their identity and age to the dealer (either a valid California driver’s license or a valid California identification card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles).3 Dealers must obtain the purchaser’s name, date of birth, and driver’s license or identification number electronically from the magnetic strip on the license or ID card.4 Once this information is submitted, DOJ will check available records, including the federal NICS database, in order to determine whether the person is legally disqualified from from purchasing or possessing firearms by state or federal law.5
In addition to checking the federal NICS database, DOJ is required to examine its own records, as well as those records it is authorized to request from the State Department of State Hospitals.6 If the person is prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law, DOJ must immediately notify the dealer and the local sheriff or chief of police in the city and/or county where the sale was made.7 Licensed dealers are prohibited from delivering a firearm to a purchaser or transferee if the dealer has been notified by DOJ that the person is prohibited from possessing firearms.8 If the person is prohibited from possessing firearms, the dealer must make available to the prohibited person a DOJ “Prohibited Notice and Transfer” form, stating that the person is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm and that the person may obtain from DOJ the reason for the prohibition.9
When a purchaser or transferee is specifically seeking to obtain a handgun, they must present documentation indicating California residency. (Sufficient documentation includes a utility bill from within the last three months, a residential lease, a property deed, military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment within California, or other evidence of residency as permitted by DOJ).10
DOJ must also tell the dealer to delay the transfer of the firearm to the purchaser if DOJ is unable to determine before the expiration of California’s 10-day waiting period,11 whether the purchaser is disqualified from receiving the firearm in certain circumstances.12 If DOJ is unable to obtain a final disposition under any of these scenarios within 30 days of the original submission of the purchaser’s information by the dealer, then DOJ must notify the dealer and the dealer may then, at the dealer’s discretion, transfer the firearm to the purchaser.13
Voluntary background checks: Any person may request a voluntary determination, called a “firearms eligibility check,” from DOJ, stating whether they are eligible to possess a firearm in California.14
Private party sales and transfers: With limited exceptions, California law requires people selling or transferring firearms without a firearm dealer license to process the transaction through a licensed dealer, pursuant to a background check and other gun safety requirements.15 For more information, see the Universal Background Checks in California section.
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- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(b). Prior to passage of Proposition 63 in 2016, California authorized, but did not require, the California Department of Justice to act as a point of contact for firearm background checks. However, passage of that ballot initiative required the DOJ to continue to serve as the point of contact for firearm purchaser background checks.
- Cal. Penal Code § 28205.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 16400, 26815, 28215.
- Cal. Penal Code § 28180.
- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(c) .
- Cal. Penal Code § 26815(d).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26845.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26815(a), 27540(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(1)(A). If this occurs, the dealer must then provide the purchaser with information about the manner in which the purchaser may contact DOJ regarding this delay. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(1)(B).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(4). If DOJ is able to ascertain a final disposition within 30 days, then it must either notify the dealer that the purchase may immediately go through, or it must notify the dealer and local law enforcement that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm, depending on the final result. Cal. Penal Code § 28220(f)(3).
- Cal. Penal Code § 30105. With few exceptions, no person or agency may require or request another person to obtain a firearms eligibility check. Cal. Penal Code § 30105(h). DOJ is authorized to charge a fee for conducting each check. Cal. Penal Code § 30105(b).
- See Cal. Penal Code § 27545 et seq.