California has no provision in its state constitution that explicitly guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.

*NOTE: Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision on NYSRPA v. Bruen, “May Issue” states must affirm the right to bear arms in public, marking the end of these subjective and unconstitutional permitting schemes. Now these states are scrambling to figure out how to curtail the decision by passing new laws to effectively make it difficult, or even outright illegal, to conceal carry in public. For that reason, things are moving too fast to keep these specific states updated. Please be vigilant in staying updated with your state laws.


California is a may-issue state based on an applicant’s justified need and suitability. Although there is no system of firearms registration, the state DOJ retains information about the purchaser and seller of all in-state firearms sales and transfers and requires that any firearms imported into the state be reported. A permit to purchase, a background check and transaction report to the DOJ are required to buy a handgun. The open carrying of firearms is governed in California by a set of laws that, at times, conflict with one another. Concealed carry is only legal with a California Concealed Carry Weapons License (CCWL). The minimum age to possess a handgun is 21 years old. California is a Castle Doctrine state and has no duty to retreat. Although it has no stand your ground statute, California allows a jury to acquit someone based on a stand-your-ground defense.

Reciprocal Carry

California does not recognize permits from any other state.

Duty To Notify Police Officer

Some counties in California do not require individuals to inform a LEO of a permit or license to carry but if an Officer asks about a weapon, by law, an answer must be supplied.

Carrying Firearms In Vehicles

California allows people who are legally allowed to possess firearms but do not have a carry permit to carry them in their vehicle so long as the firearm is unloaded and sealed in a locked compartment such as the trunk, or in a locked container such as a safe. These restrictions do not apply to people who hold a valid carry permit.

NFA Items

California permits ownership of all NFA items except for suppressors and pen guns (a type of AOW) provided they are legally obtained pursuant to federal law and additional regulations imposed by CA. A special permit from the CA DOJ is required to own a Machine Gun, and these are rarely granted. Short-barrel rifles and shotguns are only legal if they qualify as a Curio & Relic. In addition, NFA items must also comply with CA’s Assault Weapons Ban.

Self-Defense Laws

California has a form of Castle Doctrine, but does not have SYG. According to California laws, the use of deadly force is justified when all four of the following conditions are met: (1) the use of deadly force is used against a person who is not a resident of the home; (2) the person using the deadly force in their home reasonably believed they or another person was in immediate danger of SBI or killed; (3) the person using the deadly force believed that it was the only way to stop that imminent danger; and (4) they used no more force than was necessary to stop the threat.

Carry In Restaurants That Serve Alcohol

There is no law stating it is illegal except the California application states that you are prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon into bars. You can carry in a restaurant that serves alcohol. Places like Fridays or Chili’s unless they have a “No Gun Sign,” then it is suggested that You not carry into the establishment. This does not include a bar or the bar area of a restaurant. You can carry your firearm into a restaurant that serves alcohol, but you are prohibited from consuming alcohol while carrying a firearm.

Do “No Gun Signs” Have The Force Of Law?

“No Firearm” signs in California do not have the force of law unless they are posted on property that is specifically mentioned in State Law as being off limits to those with a permit/license to carry. However, as a possessor with a real property interest, a retailer, has the right to limit, and qualify the right to enter the property, subject to not carrying a handgun. It would be improper to enter, and the licensee would be subject to ejection for possession of a handgun thereat. Failure to leave once requested would subject the licensee to arrest for criminal trespass.

Firearm Safety Certificate

Individuals wishing to purchase any firearm are required to take and pass a written test on firearm safety.

Storage Of Firearms In Homes With Prohibited Persons

Any gun owner residing with an individual who is prohibited from owning firearms to either keep the firearm in a locked device or carry the firearm on his/her person. Firearm owners may be criminally liable for storage of a firearm in a place where it is reasonably knowable by a person prohibited from possessing firearms.

High Capacity Magazine Ban

California bans the sale, transfer, and possession of high-capacity magazines with no grandfather exemption for magazines that were previously owned legally. High-capacity magazines are defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten (10) rounds. Firearm owners are prohibited from using “conversion kits” to manufacture high-capacity ammunition magazines. Firearms owners are also prohibited from importing, transferring or selling high-capacity magazines to people within CA, but can legally sell or transfer the magazines to someone outside of CA. Anyone in possession of a high-capacity magazine is required to dispose of them. There are four ways a person can legally dispose of these magazines: destroy them, surrender them to a law enforcement agency, sell them to a licensed FFL, or remove them from the state.

Waiting Period

California requires a ten (10) day waiting period before purchasing a firearm. This ten (10) day waiting period applies to all persons even if you have previously and/or recently purchased a firearm.

Universal Background Checks

Background checks are mandatory for all firearm sales, and transfers between private parties must go through a licensed dealer.

Loans Of Guns Are Now Subject To Background Checks

A new law treats loaning a firearm to anyone other than immediate family as a transfer, meaning that it would have to go through a licensed dealer and the recipient would have to undergo a background check and 10 day waiting period. This would make it a crime to let a friend shoot Your gun at the range or take it hunting unless they completed a background check and waiting period.

Background Checks For Ammunition Sales

A new law requires all sales of ammunition to go through a licensed ammunition vendor, who would be required to conduct a background check on the purchaser and keep records of every sale of ammo for two years. Internet sales of ammunition would have to be sent to a licensed ammunition vendor and picked up in person, much like online sales of firearms.

EXCEPTIONS to ammo restrictions:

Certain transactions will not be subject to the new restrictions, and will not have to go through a licensed dealer or background check. You can sell 50 rounds per month to immediate family members, or give (without compensation) any amount of ammunition to family or friends without having to follow the new restrictions.

Penalty For Falsely Reporting A Gun As Stolen

It is now a misdemeanor to falsely report a gun as lost or stolen to the police when You know such report to be false. Furthermore, anyone convicted of making such a false report is banned from owning guns for 10 years after being convicted.

Mental Health Prohibitions

An individual who communicates to a licensed psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim is restricted from possessing a firearm for five (5) years following the psychotherapist’s reporting of the threat within 24 hours.

“A person is guilty of carrying a loaded firearm when the person carries a loaded firearm on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city or in any public place or on any public street in a prohibited area of unincorporated territory.”

Gun Restraining Orders

Family members can ask a judge to issue a temporary order seizing someone’s firearms for up to 21 days if the judge believes that person poses a danger to themselves or others.

Ban On .50 Caliber Rifles

Centerfire rifles chambered in the caliber .50 BMG are generally illegal to own, unless they were owned prior to 12/31/04 and registered by 4/30/06.

Assault Weapons Ban

California has an extensive “Assault Weapons Ban” (AWB) which bans possession and sale of firearms that are deemed “assault weapons,” unless they are legally registered (see below). “Assault Weapons” are defined in two ways, either being specified by name, or by possessing certain features. California recently expanded their definition of an “assault weapon” to include all semi-automatic rifles having a pistol grip and a button to release a magazine. Assault weapons are divided into 3 categories: Category 1 are those that were named in the original AWB of ’89, Category 2 are those that were listed in the second AWB of ’99, and Category 3 are those that were defined based on features they possess. Category 1 and 2 assault weapons are banned by name (i.e., AR15, AK47). Category 3 defines “assault weapons” as semi auto centerfire guns capable of accepting a detachable magazine, that also possess one of the following features:

(A) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
(B) A thumbhole stock
(C) A folding or telescoping stock
(D) A grenade launcher or flare launcher
(E) A flash suppressor
(F) A forward pistol grip
(G) A semi auto rifle with an overall length under 30”

Many manufacturers made special “California legal” rifles that avoided using prohibited features so as not to be considered Assault Weapons. All “assault weapons” must be registered prior to January 1, 2018. Assault weapons not registered prior to January 1, 2018 must be turned in to local law enforcement for destruction.

DISCLAIMER: The Gun Laws by State Guide (GLBSG) was created to provide its readers with a general educational resource tool to explore the pertinent gun laws in Your jurisdiction.

However, the GLBSG was not researched and/or written by attorneys as a specific legal guide to rely upon. Instead, it is a starting point for your own research. In addition, all laws are always subject to reasonable, but different, legal interpretation as to meaning and application.

As such, the GLBSG is not intended to supplant, nor limit, Your need for independent verification of any and all material contained herein and consultation with competent counsel of choice regarding any specific issues.

This type of specific legal analysis is necessarily beyond the general educational objective of the GLBSG and for which a bar-admitted attorney in the particular state(s) is needed and required. The content of this GLBSG is a general restatement of the law.

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