How to Buy a Gun in California? [Rules & Laws, Where to Buy]

How to Register a Gun in Your Name

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There are a ton of rules and regulations in place for purchasing a gun in California. Knowing the rules and understanding where to buy a gun are essential for any gun owner in the state. This article will provide an overview of how to purchase a gun in California, including the rules and regulations, where to buy firearms, and even answer some frequently asked questions.

California might be the most difficult state to purchase a gun in. Suffice it to say, though, that buying a gun in California requires extra hoops, and there are a lot of guns that you can’t buy at all.

How to Buy a Gun in California

The first step in purchasing a firearm in California is to obtain your Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). You must be at least 18 years old, pass a written test, and pay a fee in order to obtain your FSC. Once you have your FSC, you can start going through the other steps to purchase a gun from any licensed firearms dealer or retailer.

Quick tip: don’t try to buy gun online if you live in California, at least not for your first one. There are guns that are legal in other states that are not legal in California. These include things like short-barreled rifles (which you’d need a tax stamp for anyway), silencers, etc. We’ll cover all of the details a little bit further down.

Getting Your Firearm Safety Certificate

Getting Your Firearm Safety Certificate

In order to obtain your FSC, you must pass a written gun safety test created by the California DOJ, but you can usually take this at gun store at the time of purchase. The test consists of 25 multiple-choice questions that cover basic firearm safety topics such as how to safely store and handle firearms, how to identify different types of firearms, and California gun laws regarding the use of firearms. 

Once you pass the test at gun store, you will be issued an FSC card which is valid for five years. Yes, the FSC card acts as a de facto gun permit and gun owner registration. There is also a fee of $25 to get your FSC card, but you don’t have to retake the test for every firearm that you purchase.

Making Sure the Gun is Legal in California

Making Sure the Gun is Legal in California

Before purchasing any firearm in California, it is important to make sure that it is legal for sale within the state and at local gun stores. The DOJ maintains a list of firearms that are prohibited from sale or ownership within the state. It is also important to make sure that any modifications or accessories that are added to the weapon are also legal under California law. 

Specifically, California law prohibits the following:

  • Short-barreled shotguns
  • Short-barreled rifles
  • Undetectable firearms (things  like a assault weapon hidden inside a cane, belt buckle, etc.)
  • Zip guns (homemade firearms)
  • “Assault weapons”
  • Firearms chambered in .50 BMG
  • Any handguns not on the Safe Handguns list

As you plan your firearm purchase, it’s also worth knowing that there are other things California law prohibits:

  • Stun guns
  • Laser scopes
  • Silencers
  • Armor-piercing bullets

There are certain guns that are only legal to buy if you’re over a certain age, but we’ll cover those further down in the article. 

Getting the Background Check

Once you have found a firearm that is legal for purchase in California on the local gun store, you must then undergo a background check for federal firearms license. All purchasers of firearms in California must submit their information through the Automated Firearms System (AFS) which will determine if they are eligible to own or purchase a firearm under state and federal law. 

The background check can be initiated while you’re at the gun store, and in “normal” times would be done before the mandatory waiting period is over. In times of high demand or other issues, the government may take as long as 14 days to get the background check completed. This isn’t necessarily a California-specific issue, however.

The Mandatory Waiting Period

After submitting your information through AFS (Automated Firearms System), there is a mandatory 10-day waiting period before you can take possession of your firearm. During this time period, the DOJ will review your application and conduct additional background checks if needed. Once the 10-day waiting period has passed, you will be able to pick up your firearm from the seller. 

How Often You Can Buy a Handgun or Any Gun

How Often You Can Buy a Gun

The great state of California will only allow you to purchase one gun every 30 days. Therefore, if you bought a gun this month, you’ll have to wait until next month to buy another one.

For the most part, this probably won’t affect most firearms purchases or handgun purchases. There are only a few scenarios in which a person would want to drop the money on more than one gun at a time anyway, so there’s a good chance you won’t run into problems with this law. 

How Private Gun Sales Work in California

How Private Gun Sales Work in California

In addition to buying guns from licensed dealers or retailers with valid hunting license, private gun sales between two individuals are technically allowed under California laws as long as both individuals meet all eligibility requirements including passing a background check through AFS.

That said, the background check has to be done through a licensed dealer, the 10-day waiting period still applies, and the one-gun-a-month rule still applies. All the fees still need to be paid, and at the end of the day, it’s barely cheaper to buy a used gun than a new gun and just as much trouble.  

How to Determine Your Eligibility to Buy a Gun in California

In order to be eligible for purchase or gun ownership of a firearm in California, you must meet certain criteria under both state and federal law. The DOJ provides an online resource which outlines what makes someone eligible or ineligible for owning or purchasing a gun in California department. 

In summary, some of these criteria include being at least 21 years old (unless specified otherwise), not having any felony convictions on record, not having any prior incidents involving domestic violence or other violent misdemeanors, not having been diagnosed with mental illness or drug addiction issues, among other criteria specified by both state and federal laws. 

Nine Things that Makes a Person Ineligible According to the Federal Government:

  1. If you’ve been convicted in any court of a crime that is punishable by imprisonment for a period of time exceeding a single year.
  2. If you are a fugitive from justice.
  3. If you are an illegal user of, or are addicted to a controlled substance, according to the definition in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act. 
  4. If you have been considered to be mentally defective by a judge, or were committed to a mental institution.
  5. If you are an illegal alien.
  6. If you have been dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
  7. If you have given up your United States citizenship.
  8. If you have a restraining order against you that prevents you from stalking, harassing, or threatening an intimate partner or that partner’s child.
  9. If you have committed and been convicted of a misdemeanour crime of domestic violence

Those nine things are taken directly from the ATF’s website. Unfortunately, in California it does not end there.

Limitations on Persons Aged 18-20

If you’re aged 18-20 then you’re going to be limited to assault rifles chambered in rimfire cartridges as well as shotguns. You cannot purchase a handgun, either new or used, until you are 21, and you can’t even purchase something chambered in a centerfire cartridge until you reach that age either. I was not able to find a specific prohibition on semi-automatic shotguns, but I would expect that to be illegal if you’re under 21 as well.

How Recently Was Your Last Gun Purchase?

How Recently Was Your Last Gun Purchase?

Remember, you are only eligible to purchase a firearm in California if you haven’t purchased a firearm within the last 30 days. Even if a firearm was sold or transferred to you by another private party, that counts against your 30-day quota. I don’t believe California is the only state to have this type of law, but it’s certainly one of only a few.


Is It Difficult to Own a Gun in California?

This depends on what you’re comparing it to. The barrier to entry to purchasing a single firearm is higher than in many other states, but still not to the level of “difficult”. Purchasing more than one firearm, however, or trying to purchase a firearm that California hasn’t deemed “safe” can be anywhere from difficult to impossible. 

Can You Keep Guns in a Car in California?

You are, of course, allowed to transport your gun in a vehicle in California as long as the firearm is kept unloaded. If it’s a handgun it needs to be within a locked container or in the trunk while you’re driving. You cannot leave the gun in your car when you get out of it, but must take it with you.

What Guns Can I Not Buy in California?

You can’t buy “assault weapons” (though the word is not defined in the California Penal Code and has no universal meaning), you can’t buy assault weapons in .50 BMG, and you can’t buy any handguns that aren’t on their “Handguns Certified for Sale” list. You also can’t really buy any NFA items even if you’re willing to jump through the federal hoops to do so. 


Buying guns in California requires meeting several eligibility requirements such as obtaining FSC certification, passing background checks, etc. For most people, you’ll be able to get the firearm that you want without more than passing inconvenience. That said, certain types of firearms are prohibited by California law even if the feds allow them. 

I’d like to reiterate a tip I made early on this article, which is to not try to buy a firearm online if you live in California until you’ve bought a few at gun stores and are more familiar with the laws and process. It’s easy to accidentally buy something that’s illegal in the sunshine state and get yourself in some hot water without even realizing it. If you want to register it in your name, you can check out our comprehensive guide on ‘How to Register a Gun in Your Name.

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