Since you are reading this, we can assume you are curious about gun ownership in The Golden State. Maybe you are moving here from another state and need to know the ins and outs of legally owning a firearm. Or maybe you have watched your beloved home state fall into a chaotic abyss of crime and don’t believe you should be a victim. We don’t believe you should be a victim, either. We believe in the right of the people to take up arms and defend themselves. But where do you even start, especially in a state with some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation? We’ll get into this together and try to make sense of California’s gun laws.


The first place to start with any firearm purchase is understanding the laws and regulations that apply to you, the firearm owner. Believe it or not, the law is more than willing to prosecute you, the law-abiding citizen, to the fullest extent of its power, for even accidental infractions. To avoid these situations, you must understand the parameters of legal firearm ownership and operate within them, regardless of how mindlessly stupid they are. 

All of the information used in this article is taken directly from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms, so you are assured of its authenticity. 

Age To Purchase

The first place to start with is age. The requirement for a purchase age is universal across federal law but is reinforced by state law. 

The federal age limits are: 

  • 21 for handguns
  • 18 for long guns. 

California state law mimics this age requirement, so that is good. However, one complication is the issue of ammunition. The ATF states that handgun ammunition also must abide by the 21 years of age limit, and dealers may sell long gun ammunition to 18-year-olds. But there is a growing movement of pistol-caliber carbines in circulation, namely in 9x19mm Parabellum. So if you are under the age of 21 and plan to purchase a pistol-caliber carbine, you should keep this in mind.  

Prohibiting Factors 

There are several prohibiting factors regarding the legal purchase and ownership of firearms in California. 

The list of items is too long and complicated to get into, but you are out of luck if you are a convicted felon. 

Also noteworthy is that California has a sliding scale of prohibitions which include lifetime, ten years, and five years. If you have anything in your record that you think might preclude you from gun ownership, you can have an eligibility check conducted by the California DOJ for $20. 

Waiting Period

The Brady Bill framed the original waiting period for firearms in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, known widely as the “Brady Bill.” It imposed a five-day wait on all handgun sales and went into effect on November 30, 1993. Fortunately, the Brady Bill was short-lived, sunsetting precisely five years later, along with its five-day waiting period. 

California has buckled down and preserved its ten-day waiting period for all firearms despite several legal proceedings. However, once the DROS information is submitted to the DOJ, the clock starts ticking on the ten-day wait. 

Now, if you do not take possession of the firearm within thirty days of submission of the DROS information, the dealer is required to cancel the sale. Should you decide to take possession of the firearm, you must conduct the entire process again. 

Firearms Safety Certificate (FSC)

This is another rule which is state-specific and has no federal precedence. 

In California, you must present a valid FSC. This is a written test administered by the DOJ Certified Instructors throughout the state, and applicants must pass with a 75% or higher score. The cost to take the test may be up to $25, and a passing test and issued FSC are good for five years. 

Also, while it is not a component of the FSC, there is a safe handling requirement in which all firearm owners must demonstrate safe firearm handling in the presence of DOJ Certified Instructors. This must be performed before taking ownership of the firearm. 

Reporting Requirements for New Residents

If you are moving to The Golden State, you must report firearms ownership to the DOJ within sixty days of bringing them into the state. 

Make sure to do this because if you don’t and you get caught with it, or especially if you have to use it defensively, you will get roasted by the authorities. Make no mistake: even if you are fully justified in your use of force and are otherwise law-abiding but haven’t registered the firearm used, you will still face legal ramifications. 

Magazine Capacity 

One of the core tenets of the Brady Bill was magazine capacity restrictions to ten rounds. Not surprisingly, during that five-year timeframe, people simply bought larger caliber pistols that didn’t hold more than ten rounds anyway, and subcompact pistols like the Glock 26/27 were introduced and became very popular. 

One key takeaway from the Brady Bill and its restrictions was that it did nothing at all to firearm-related homicides. But if you are a California resident and plan to own a firearm, you need to honor the magazine limits. If you don’t, you ask for legal troubles down the road. Is it unfair? Yes, absolutely. Do criminals abide by it? Of course not. But YOU will become a criminal if you ignore it. So, you may think about either going with a more significant caliber firearm with a naturally lower capacity or a smaller firearm in a standard caliber. 

This primer on California gun laws is far from exhaustive. If you are new to the state or have been a resident and plan to exercise your right to self-defense, do yourself a favor and read the “California Firearms Laws Summary” thoroughly. And then reread it. Check out the CA DOJ Bureau of Firearms website and review it in depth.

You can also contact us directly with any questions you have about firearms legality. We have partnered with a team of the nation’s finest 2A and firearms attorneys. Bear in mind California is not the most 2A-friendly state. When you plan to exercise your rights to firearm ownership, you must be a model, law-abiding citizen. Not only for your rights and legal preservation but for the entire gun-owning community in California.

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