California is one of the few states that has authorized state law enforcement to maintain a central database of gun and ammunition sale records to be accessed by courts and law enforcement personnel for public safety purposes. These records are vital to protecting the public and enforcing gun safety laws. For instance, they allow courts to verify whether people who become subject to domestic violence firearm restrictions possess firearms and, if so, to verify whether the abusive party actually sold or transferred their guns after being ordered by the court to do so. These records also allow the California Department of Justice to maintain the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) program, which sends dedicated law enforcement teams to recover illegal firearms when state records indicate that a person became legally disqualified from keeping guns but illegally failed to sell or transfer them. Other law enforcement agencies responding to the scene of a domestic violence incident, for instance, may also access these records to determine whether they are likely to encounter a person armed with a firearm.
Record-keeping and reporting by gun dealers
California law requires most firearm transfers to be processed through a licensed firearms dealer. (See the Universal Background Checks in California section for further information about this requirement).
Firearms dealers are required to electronically report records of sales and transactions (called the Dealer Record of Sale (“DROS”)) to the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”).1 Subject to limited exceptions, licensed dealers are also required to keep a record of electronic transfer of information to DOJ for each sale of a firearm, containing detailed information on the purchaser and the firearm being sold.2 Firearms dealers must include in the record of electronic transfer the date a firearm is delivered to the transferee.3 The dealer must require the purchaser to sign his or her name on the record.4 Dealers are also required to obtain the right thumbprint of a purchaser or transferee before completing any transaction.5
Dealers are also required to maintain a firearms transaction record and to make this record available to law enforcement upon request during business hours.6
Certain firearm transfers are exempt from the requirement that they be processed by a licensed firearms dealer. As a result, transferees receiving a firearm through some of these exceptions are required to report the receipt of the firearm to DOJ directly.7
Database of firearm transactions
California law requires the Attorney General to permanently maintain a database of information pertaining to the sale or transfer of firearms reported to DOJ.8 This database must include information identifying the person receiving the firearm, information identifying the person transferring the firearm, and information about the firearm itself.9 DOJ may furnish information contained in this database to prosecutors, district attorneys, city attorneys prosecuting civil actions, and law enforcement for use in the arrest and prosecution of people who violate the law, the recovery of lost, stolen, or found property, or for other purposes expressly authorized by law.10
Under a law passed in 2014, all California law enforcement agencies must develop and implement written policies and standard protocols pertaining to the best manner in which to conduct a “welfare check,” which is an investigation into the welfare or well-being of a person motivated by a concern that such person may be a danger to himself, herself, or to others. These policies must encourage officers, whenever possible and reasonable, to first conduct a search of the DOJ registry to determine whether the person being investigated is the owner of a firearm.11
For more information on information retained pursuant to a firearms purchase or transfer, see our section on Dealer Regulation in California.
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- Cal. Penal Code § 28205(c).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 28100; 28160.
- Cal. Penal Code § 28160(c).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28160(d).
- Cal. Penal Code § 28160(b). All other information required to be maintained is listed at Cal. Penal Code § 28160(a). This includes the date and time of the sale, the make of the firearm, manufacturer’s name (if stamped on the firearm), model name or number (if marked on the firearm), the purchaser’s firearm safety certificate number, the caliber, type, and color of the firearm, the name of the purchaser and other identifying information about the purchaser, whether the purchaser has, within the last 30 days, checked and confirmed possession of all firearms currently owned or possessed, and certain information about the dealer, including address and telephone number. Id.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26900.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 27850-27966.
- Cal. Penal Code § 11106(a)(1); (b)(1).
- Cal. Penal Code § 11106(b)(2). All other information required to be in the database is listed in this subsection.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 11106(a)(2), 11106(b)(3) (both subsections reference Cal. Penal Code § 11105). Law enforcement officers receiving information from the database may only disseminate it to specifically authorized persons and, even then, only under conditions related to an instance of domestic violence expressly identified by Cal. Penal Code § 11106(c).
- Cal. Penal Code §11106.4.