California prohibits any person from selling, loaning, or transferring a firearm to any person he or she knows or has cause to believe is not the actual purchaser or transferee of the firearm, or the person actually being loaned the firearm (such a person is known as a “straw purchaser” – someone not in a prohibited category who buys firearms on behalf of a prohibited purchaser), if he or she knows that the firearm is to be subsequently sold, loaned, or transferred in violation of California’s background check requirement and other requirements related to the sale, loan, or transfer of a firearm.1 California law also prohibits a person from acquiring a firearm with the intention of selling, loaning, or transferring it in violation of the requirement that private sales or transfers be conducted through a licensed dealer.2 A dealer is prohibited from acquiring a firearm with the intention of selling, loaning, or transferring it to a person under the age of 21 if the firearm is a handgun, or to a person under the age of 18 if the firearm is a long gun.3 Finally, a dealer is prohibited from acquiring a firearm with the intention of selling, loaning, or transferring it in violation of California’s requirements for the delivery of a firearm, including the mandatory 10-day waiting period, presentation of a firearm safety certificate, and the one-gun-per-month requirement.4
Shipments into California
California law prohibits any federal firearms licensee (“FFL”) in California from importing or receiving firearms into the state unless he or she is on: 1) the state’s centralized list of licensed firearms dealers; 2) the state’s centralized list of FFLs exempted from the state’s licensing requirement; or 3) the state’s centralized list of firearms manufacturers.5 Whenever an FFL intends to deliver, sell or transfer firearms to an FFL whose licensed premises are in California, the shipper must obtain from the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”), prior to delivery, a unique verification number.6 DOJ will issue a unique verification number only if the intended recipient of the firearms is on one of the three lists mentioned above.7 The shipper must then provide this number to the recipient upon delivery of the firearms.8 For more information, see DOJ’s FAQs regarding the California Firearms Licensee Check (“CFLC”) Program.
DOJ may use the fees that firearms purchasers pay to DOJ during the purchase of any firearm (“DROS fees”) to fund, among other things, DOJ’s firearms-related regulatory and enforcement activities related to the sale, purchase, possession, loan, or transfer of firearms.9
Out-of-State Firearm Purchases by California Residents
In most circumstances, California residents may not transport or bring a firearm purchased or obtained from outside of the state into California unless the firearm is first delivered to a licensed gun dealer in California for delivery to that resident in compliance with all of California’s requirements for sale of a firearm, including a background check, 10-day waiting period, and verification of a valid firearm safety certificate by the purchaser.10 This requirement is subject to limited exceptions, such as for a licensed firearm dealer or wholesaler acting within the scope of their business activities as a dealer or wholesaler, or to a licensed collector who is otherwise in compliance with California law.11
Self-Assembled Firearms and Firearms Without Serial Numbers
Federally licensed importers and manufacturers have been required to engrave a serial number on every firearm imported or manufactured since 1968.12 Federal law generally prohibits anyone from transporting, shipping, receiving, or possessing any firearm which has had the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, or altered.13
California law also prohibits the sale or transfer of any handgun unless the handgun bears either: 1) the name of the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s make or model, and a manufacturer’s serial number assigned to that firearm; or 2) the identification number or mark assigned to the firearm by DOJ.14 DOJ may, upon request, assign a distinguishing number or mark of identification to any firearm whenever it is without a manufacturer’s number, or other mark of identification.15
In 2016, California enacted a law to require individuals who manufacture or assemble their own firearms, including either handguns or long guns, to apply for a serial number from DOJ, pursuant to a background check. (This requirement became effective July 1, 2018).16 Subject to limited exceptions, any person who owns a firearm that does not bear a serial number is required to apply to DOJ for a unique serial number.17 This law also generally prohibits unlicensed individuals from selling or transferring self-assembled firearms,18 and makes it a crime to knowingly allow, facilitate, or aid the manufacture or assembly of a firearm by a prohibited person.19 In 2019, California also enacted legislation that will, upon its effective date on July 1, 2022, require the sale of certain unfinished firearm components (defined as “firearm precursor parts”) to be sold by or through licensed dealers, ammunition vendors, or firearm precursor part vendors, pursuant to a background check and sale record, and other requirements.20(For more information about California laws governing self-assembled firearms and sales of ghost gun components, see the Ghost Guns in California section).
California law also prohibits anyone from altering or removing the name of the maker, model, manufacturer’s number, or other mark of identification, including any distinguishing number or mark assigned by DOJ on any firearm, without DOJ’s permission.21 Under California law, with certain limited exceptions, it is a misdemeanor to knowingly buy, receive, sell, or possess a firearm that has had the name of the maker or model, or the manufacturer’s number or other mark of identification, including any distinguishing number or mark assigned by the Department of Justice, changed, altered, removed, or obliterated.22
Department of justice report: transparency and accountability
In 2021, California enacted legislation, AB 1191, to require the California Department of Justice (CalDOJ) to regularly analyze firearm tracing data for patterns and trends relating to crime guns recovered by law enforcement that were illegally possessed, used in a crime, or suspected to have been used in a crime, including the leading sources and origins of those firearms. This legislation requires CalDOJ to submit a publicly available report to the Legislature by July 1, 2023, and annually thereafter, summarizing that firearm tracing analysis and including specific information “to the extent possible,” including all of the following:
- The total number of crime guns recovered in the state.
- The number of crime guns recovered, disaggregated by county and by city.
- The number of crime guns recovered, disaggregated by the firearms dealer where the most recent sale or transfer of the firearm occurred. This shall include the full name and address of the firearms dealer.
- The number of crime guns recovered, disaggregated by manufacturer.
- The total number of unserialized crime guns recovered in the state.23
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- Cal. Penal Code § 27515.
- Cal. Penal Code § 27520(b).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 27520(b), 27510.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 27520(b), 27540.
- Cal. Penal Code § 28465.
- Cal. Penal Code § 27555. Shipments to or from entertainment firearms permit holders are exempt as long as the transfer involves the loan or return of a firearm used solely as a prop in a television, film, or theatrical production. Cal. Penal Code § 27835.
- Cal. Penal Code § 27555.
- Cal. Penal Code § 27555(c)(3).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 28225; 28235.
- Cal. Penal Code § 27585.
- All exceptions to this requirement are listed at Cal. Penal Code § 27585(b).
- 18 U.S.C. § 923(i).
- 18 U.S.C. § 922(k).
- Cal. Penal Code § 27530. See also §§ 23920-23925.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23910.
- 2016 Cal. AB 857; Cal. Penal Code §§ 29180, 29182.
- Cal. Penal Code § 29180(d).
- Cal. Penal Code § 29180(e).
- See 2019 CA AB 879.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23900.
- Cal. Penal Code § 23920. The exceptions to this requirement, including for acquisitions by peace officers and members of the military, are listed at Cal. Penal Code § 23925.
- See Cal. Pen. Code 11108.3(e), (f) (added by 2021 CA AB 1191, Sec. 2.).