Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.
California’s state law firearm prohibitions are generally much broader than federal law and cover many of these gaps.
Under state law, California generally disqualifies a person from purchasing, acquiring, or possessing firearms if the person:
- Has been convicted of a felony, certain domestic violence crimes, or is addicted to narcotic drugs;1
- Has been convicted of any one of a number of enumerated crimes (including both felonies and misdemeanors) involving violence, hate crime offenses, child or elder abuse, the unlawful misuse of firearms, or violation of California laws regarding safe storage of firearms around minors and people who cannot legally access guns. (People convicted of these specified misdemeanor offenses are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms for a period lasting 10 years after conviction);2
- Knows that they are subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for a firearm-prohibiting criminal offense;3
- Knows they are subject to a protective order, restraining order, temporary restraining order or injunction issued by a court, including California’s Domestic Violence Restraining Orders, Gun Violence Restraining Orders, Civil Harassment Restraining Orders, Workplace Violence Restraining Orders, Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Restraining Orders, and Private Postsecondary School Violence Restraining Orders.4 (See the California Judicial Branch’s guide for information about utilizing these orders; also see the pages entitled Domestic Violence & Firearms in California and Extreme Risk Protection Orders for further information);
- As an express condition of probation, is prohibited or restricted from owning, possessing, controlling, receiving, or purchasing a firearm;5
- Is adjudged a ward of the juvenile court because the person committed an offense involving violence, drugs or firearms (including the carrying of a concealed firearm, the carrying of a loaded firearm in public or the possession of a firearm in a vehicle, regardless of whether the firearm was concealed or loaded). The prohibition stays in effect only until the person reaches age 30;6
- Is disqualified because of a history of severely impairing mental illness or chronic alcoholism, including individuals found by a court to be a danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, found mentally incompetent to stand trial, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and those adjudicated to be a “mentally disordered sex offender”.
Any person who becomes prohibited from owning or possessing firearms pursuant to California law or other law, may transfer any firearm they own to a licensed firearms dealer for storage during the duration of the prohibition. A dealer may charge the owner a fee for storage and must notify the California Department of Justice of the date that the dealer took possession of any firearms that are acquired in this manner.7
Under California law, a person over the age of 18 who shares a residence with another individual who the person knows or has reason to know is prohibited by state or federal law from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm, must safely secure any firearm he or she owns in the shared residence by ensuring that:
- The firearm is maintained within a locked container;
- The firearm is disabled by a firearm safety device;
- The firearm is maintained within a locked gun safe;
- The firearm is maintained within a locked trunk;
- The firearm is locked with a locking device, which has rendered the firearm inoperable; or
- The firearm is carried on the person or within close enough proximity that the individual can readily retrieve and use it as it it were carried on the person.8
For more information on laws regarding safe storage of firearms in California, see the section entitled Child Access Prevention & Safe Storage in California.
For information on the background check process used to enforce these provisions, see the section entitled Background Check Procedures in California.
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- Cal. Penal Code § 29800(a).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 23515, 29800(a); 29805; 29900-29905.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 29800(a)(3); 29805(a)(2).
- Cal. Penal Code § 29825(a), (b) (referencing Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 527.6, 527.8, 527.85, Cal. Fam. Code § 6218, Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2 or 646.91, Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15657.03), and Cal. Penal Code § 18205.
- Cal. Penal Code § 29815.
- Cal. Penal Code § 29820.
- Cal. Penal Code § 29830.
- Cal. Penal Code § 25135.