California Gun Laws 2023
California Gun Laws in 2023: What You Need to Know
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. With new legislation passed in 2022, and more bills likely coming in 2023, things are constantly changing for California gun owners. It can be tricky to keep up with all the legal mumbo-jumbo, so this article aims to break it down into simple terms.
Background Checks and Waiting Periods
In California, all firearm purchases and transfers require a background check through the Department of Justice. There is a mandatory 10-day waiting period before you can take possession of the gun, even if you pass the background check right away. This applies to both dealer sales and private party transfers.The goal here is preventing crimes of passion and suicides by making people wait before getting a gun. But it can be a hassle for lawful owners who just want to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.
Firearm Safety Certificate
To buy or own a gun in California, you need a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). This involves passing a written test on gun laws and safety. The test has 30 multiple choice questions, and you need to get at least 23 correct to pass.Many gun shops and ranges offer the FSC test. It costs $25 and is valid for 5 years before renewal is required. Applicants must be at least 18 years old to get an FSC.The FSC program began in 2015 and applies to all firearms except antique guns made before 1899. Critics say the test is redundant since gun safety is already part of the process for getting a hunting license. But supporters think it’s a common-sense way to ensure some level of training.
California maintains an approved handgun roster that shrinks over time. Any handgun introduced after 2013 must have microstamping technology to imprint a serial number on bullet casings. Since this tech does not exist yet, no new handgun models have been added to the roster since then.This functionally bans future handguns, leaving only pre-2013 models legal for sale. There are exemptions for law enforcement, collectors with a Curio and Relic license, and single-shot pistols. But most people are limited to the ever-dwindling handgun roster.Gun rights groups have challenged the roster in court with mixed results so far. They argue it infringes on 2nd Amendment rights by banning new technology. But supporters say it helps police by identifying fired casings.
Assault Weapon Ban
California has banned the manufacture, sale, and possession of “assault weapons” since 1989. But what qualifies as an assault weapon is complex and constantly changing.Basically, rifles with certain features like pistol grips, folding stocks, flash suppressors, and detachable magazines are prohibited. Owners of grandfathered assault weapons must register them as assault weapons with the DOJ.However, these laws are full of loopholes. For example, “California legal” AR-15s without banned features are popular. And you can legally own assault weapon parts like stocks and grips, you just can’t assemble them into an illegal configuration.In 2022, a federal judge overturned California’s assault weapon ban, arguing it violates the 2nd Amendment. But the state has appealed, so the legal battle continues.
Magazine Capacity Limits
Since 2000, California has banned manufacturing, importing, selling, or lending magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. That shrank from a 15-round limit that voters passed in 1994.Possession of “high capacity” magazines is still legal if they were acquired during the windows when higher limits applied. But you can‘t transfer them to others in-state.A 2016 law attempted to close this “grandfather clause” and ban possession of magazines over 10 rounds altogether. But in 2020, a federal judge struck down this law under the takings clause of the 5th Amendment. Owners are allowed to keep their legally acquired larger magazines.
In 2019, California implemented new laws requiring background checks to buy ammunition and banning mail-order ammo sales.Now you must visit a licensed vendor in person and undergo a DOJ check before purchasing bullets or shotgun shells. Critics argue this makes buying ammo more burdensome without improving public safety.California also bans certain types of ammunition like flechette darts, explosive bullets, and armor piercing rounds. And in 2022, a new law restricted mail-order hunting ammo sales to just one purchase per month.
Concealed Carry Permits
California is a “may issue” state for concealed carry permits. Local sheriffs have discretion over whether to grant permits based on a good cause requirement. Simply wanting self-defense is not enough – you must prove a special need for CCW.In parts of California like Los Angeles County, concealed carry permits are rarely issued to average citizens. But other counties are more gun-friendly in doling out CCWs.The Supreme Court recently struck down New York’s strict “may issue” laws. California‘s CCW policies are now being challenged under this precedent to see if good cause requirements violate the 2nd Amendment.
Transporting guns in California requires meticulous adherence to the rules. All handguns must be unloaded and in a locked container, with ammo separate. Long guns can’t be loaded either, but don’t need to be in locked cases.You can only transport firearms directly between lawful places like your home, business, range, or gun dealer. No unnecessary stops in between! And you must follow the most direct route that doesn’t risk “unauthorized” possession.Storing guns in cars is allowed if they are locked in a container out of sight. But leaving them unattended in a vehicle is illegal under most circumstances. Be careful not to make any mistakes that could lead to criminal charges.
Gun Storage Laws
California has strict laws about safely storing firearms to prevent unauthorized access. At home, all guns must be locked in a safe, lock box, or other DOJ-approved device when not under your direct control.Alternatively, you can use a trigger lock or remove a key component like the bolt to disable the firearm. But ammunition must be stored separately from guns in a locked container too.If someone prohibited from owning guns, like a child or felon, gains access and uses your unsecured firearm, you could face criminal charges. Fines for violating storage laws start at $1,000 and go up from there.
Red Flag Laws
California passed one of the first red flag laws in the country in 2014. Also called Gun Violence Restraining Orders, these allow police to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed dangerous.Family members and even roommates can request a GVRO hearing before a judge. If granted, police will confiscate any guns from the subject for 21 days. The person can then petition for their return at a second hearing.Supporters say red flag laws help prevent suicides and violence from people in crisis. But critics argue they undermine due process rights by taking away guns without a crime. Several states now have similar red flag laws after mass shootings brought more attention to the issue.
Recent and Upcoming Legislation
California continues passing new gun control bills every year. Recent laws banned ghost guns, restricted marketing firearms to minors, and limited multiple purchases of semiautomatic centerfire rifles.Bills likely coming up in 2023 include:
- Expanding red flag laws to cover more people and make GVROs last longer
- Limiting concealed carry permits by requiring social media searches and psychological exams
- Raising legal age for buying long guns from 18 to 21
- Requiring liability insurance for firearm owners
Gun rights activists will surely challenge any new laws that get passed. But California remains committed to having the toughest gun policies in America despite the opposition.
California gun laws are complex, extensive, and constantly changing. For lawful gun owners, staying compliant requires jumping through many hoops that seem unnecessary and burdensome. But lawmakers believe these strict regulations improve public safety by keeping firearms away from dangerous people.While the political and legal battles continue, responsible citizens just trying to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights get stuck dealing with the hassle. Understanding the key issues around background checks, rosters, permits, storage, transportation, and new legislation is essential to legally owning guns in California.