So, you’re a California resident and you have decided that enough is enough: it is time to arm yourself. Congratulations on the decision! The right to self-defense is a fundamental human right. 

We’re going to dive into the identification requirements for all prospective gun owners in California.


Whether or not it should be, firearm purchases are one of the most heavily federally regulated commodities on the market. The federal regulations that stipulate firearm purchases are rigorous and present a baseline legal framework that all states must abide by, and anything beyond the federal regulations is at the discretion of each individual state. 


The Second Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1791, was the single sole piece of federal regulation regarding firearms for nearly one and a half centuries; it was not until the National Firearms Act of 1934 that any federal code beyond 2A existed at all. According to the ATF, “The NFA was originally enacted in 1934. Similar to the current NFA, the original Act imposed a tax on the making and transfer of firearms defined by the Act, as well as a special (occupational) tax on persons and entities engaged in the business of importing, manufacturing, and dealing in NFA firearms.”

This was, of course, the infamous NFA that required all short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, machine guns, sound suppressors, etc., to be registered with the federal government. This was a knee-jerk reaction to the gangster activity of the Roaring Twenties, where such weapons were commonplace. Of course, you will recall that Prohibition was the cause of the Roaring Twenties in the first place. Had it not been for the federal prohibition of alcohol, you would have never known Al Capone’s name. 

In response to the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and MLK, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted. It was the first gun control measure enacted by our congress, and it remains the backbone of the gun control program to this day. Of course, it has accumulated a whole host of riders to the original legislation, none of which have done anything to curb criminal activity

Here is the ATF’s verbatim rundown on who cannot possess a firearm or ammunition:

A person who —

(1) Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year;

(2) Is a fugitive from justice;

(3) Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;

(4) Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution;

(5) Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;

(6) Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;

(7) Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship;

(8) Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner issued after a hearing

at which notice was given to the person and at which the person had an opportunity to participate, and includes a finding that the person subject to the order represents a credible threat to the intimate partner or child or the intimate partner OR explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force against the partner; or

(9) Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence cannot lawfully receive, possess, ship, or transport a firearm or ammunition, and is prohibited from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving firearms and ammunition.

A person who is under indictment or information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year cannot lawfully ship, transport, or receive a firearm or ammunition. Such persons may continue to lawfully possess firearms and ammunition obtained prior to the indictment or information but cannot do so once the conviction becomes final.

Eligibility is determined by the use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Good, bad, or totally useless, it is what we are stuck with. 

The California DOJ has published a useful matrix for prohibiting categories of gun ownership. The thing is, they are no different than the ATF’s limiting factors. 


The thing is that if you are not expressly prohibited from owning firearms, then you are eligible. It’s that simple. But eligible does not mean simple.


Residents of California that are U.S. citizens and meet all of the aforementioned requirements as far as not being determined ineligible by the Fed or the state are eligible. They must provide valid and current proof of identification. The address on the valid ID needs to be current, but if it is not current, then the buyer must bring proof of address such as a utility bill or lease agreement (Pen . Code, § 26845). 

Permanent Residents and People with Visas 

Any legal alien residing in the United States is allowed to purchase and own a firearm. The exceptions to this rule are aliens admitted under a nonimmigrant visa and they do not meet one of the exceptions found in 18 U.S.C. 922(y)(2). Per California DOJ, only illegal aliens are prohibited from ownership.

California ID requirements

California identification (driver’s licenses) are issued in two types: “REAL ID”, and “Federal Limits Apply.” If the individual’s ID is labeled as Federal Limits Apply, firearms dealers should require them to provide proof of lawful presence which includes: 

  • Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card
  • Certified copy of U.S. birth certificate
  • U.S. Certificate or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen
  • Valid, unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. immigrant visa and approved Record of Arrival/Departure (I-94) form
  • Certified copy of a birth certificate from a U.S. Territory
  • Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. Citizenship
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card

Buying a gun in California is a major headache, but the right to self-defense and self-preservation sometimes demands that we do the uncomfortable. Regardless of our feelings on the matter, the laws that are in place are not likely to get rolled back in California. If history is any indicator, they will continue to be more oppressive for legal gun owners. However, if you are an eligible individual, you should exercise your rights to self-defense and buy a firearm.

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