See our Licensing of Gun Owners or Purchasers policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California has no express law requiring a person to obtain a license or permit prior to purchasing a firearm. However, California does have several robust, safety-related requirements, which are described below. Entertainment firearms permits are also described below.

Firearm Safety Certificate

Under California law, commencing January 1, 2015, a person must obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (“FSC”)1 and present the FSC—or, in the case of a handgun, an unexpired Handgun Safety Certificate (“HSC”)—to a licensed firearms dealer prior to purchasing or receiving a firearm.2 With certain exceptions, any loan of a firearm also requires that the recipient possess and present a valid FSC.3 Concealed weapons license holders are exempt from the FSC requirement, as are active or honorably retired peace officers.4 The firearms dealer processing the transfer of the firearm must retain photocopies of the purchaser’s FSC or HSC for compliance purposes.5

To obtain a FSC, an applicant must be age 18 or older and successfully pass an objective, written test with a passing grade of at least 75 percent.6 The test must be administered by a California Department of Justice (“DOJ”)-certified instructor.7 The test must cover, but is not limited to, the following:

  • The laws applicable to carrying and handling firearms, particularly handguns;
  • The responsibilities of ownership of firearms, particularly handguns;
  • Current law as it relates to the private sale and transfer of firearms;
  • Current law as it relates to the permissible use of lethal force;
  • What constitutes safe firearm storage;
  • Issues associated with bringing a firearm into the home; and
  • Prevention strategies to address issues associated with bringing firearms into the home.8

If the person taking the test is unable to read, the examination will be administered orally and, if the person is unable to read English or Spanish, the test may be applied orally by a translator.9

DOJ may charge the certified instructor up to $15 for each firearm safety certificate issued by that instructor to cover the department’s cost in carrying out and enforcing the laws regarding FSCs. The certified instructor may in turn charge a fee of $25.10 DOJ is also required to produce a FSC instructional manual, along with audiovisual materials for the test, in addition to the objective test itself, in both English and Spanish. This manual is to be made available to firearms dealers, who must then make it available to the general public.11

California law lists certain information that every FSC must contain.12 If an individual’s FSC or HSC is lost or destroyed, the issuing instructor will issue a duplicate upon request and proof of identification, and the issuing instructor may charge a fee of up to $15 for a duplicate certificate.13

Once issued, a FSC is valid for five years.14 For additional information about FSCs, see DOJ’s webpage entitled Firearm Safety Certificate program.

For additional documentation required for the purchase of a handgun, including proof of California residency, see our Background Checks in California section.

Safe Handling Demonstration

A firearms dealer in California must not deliver a handgun or, starting January 1, 2015, a long gun to a purchaser or transferee unless the recipient performs a safe handling demonstration with the firearm being purchased in the presence of a DOJ-certified instructor.15 With few exceptions, all firearms transfers must be processed through a licensed firearms dealer, so almost all transfers are subject to this requirement. California law lists the particular actions the purchaser or transferee must perform during the demonstration.16 For handguns, these actions differ depending on whether the firearm is a semiautomatic pistol, double-action revolver, or single-action revolver.17 For long guns, DOJ must, commencing January 1, 2015, issue regulations establishing a long gun safe handling demonstration that must include, at a minimum, loading and unloading the long gun.18 Safe handling performance steps for various long gun models are located in the DOJ Firearm Safety Certificate Study GuideConcealed weapons license holders are exempt from these safe handling requirements.19

Entertainment Firearms Permits

To facilitate rentals of firearms for use in motion picture, television and other entertainment productions, California has created an “entertainment firearms permit.” This permit allows any person age 21, after passing a background check, to be exempt from normal firearms dealer transfer requirements when possessing or receiving an unloaded firearm for use solely as a prop in a motion picture, television, video, theatrical or other entertainment production or event.20 Among other things, the following provisions of California law do not apply to a firearms transfer when the recipient is the holder of an entertainment firearms permit:

An entertainment firearms permit is valid for one year.25

Federal law does not require dealers to conduct a background check if a firearm purchaser presents a state permit to purchase or possess firearms that meets certain conditions.26 As a result, persons who have California entertainment firearms permits are exempt from the federal background check requirement as well.27 Note, however, that people who have become prohibited from possessing firearms may continue to hold state permits to purchase or permit firearms if the state fails to remove these permits in a timely fashion.

Notes
  1. Prior to January 1, 2015, this requirement applied only to handguns. ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26840, 27540(e), 31615. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26840, 27540(e). For all exceptions to these requirements, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 31700-31835. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31700. All other FSC exemptions are also listed in this section. ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 26840. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31625, 31640, 31645. If an applicant fails the objective test on the first attempt, he or she must be offered additional instructional materials by the instructor. Cal. Penal Code § 31645(b). The applicant may not retake the written test until 24 hours have elapsed after the first attempt. Id. If the applicant desires to take a written test a second time, he or she will be given a different version of the test by the same instructor who administered the first test. Id. All tests must be taken from the same instructor, except upon permission by the department, which will be granted only for good cause shown. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 31640(a). The instructor certification requirements are available at Cal. Penal Code §§ 16370 and 31635. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 31640. ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 31640(b). ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 31650. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31630,31640. ⤴︎
  12. The FSC must contain, but is not limited to, the following information:
    • A unique firearm safety certificate identification number;
    • The holder’s full name;
    • The holder’s date of birth;
    • The holder’s driver’s license or identification number;
    • The holder’s signature;
    • The signature of the issuing instructor; and
    • The date of issuance. Cal. Penal Code § 31655. ⤴︎
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 31660. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 31655(c). ⤴︎
  15. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26850; 26860. Following the safe handling demonstration, the dealer must sign, date, and retain an affidavit stating that the requirements have been met, and obtain the signature of the handgun or long gun purchaser on this affidavit. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26850(d), 26860(c). Failure to comply may result in removal of the dealer from California’s centralized list of firearms dealers. Cal. Penal Code § 26800. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26853, 26856, 26859. ⤴︎
  17. Id. ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 26860(b). ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 26850(h). ⤴︎
  20. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27000, 27745, 27805, 27810, 27835, 27960, 28100, 31820, 31825. For information about the permitting process, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 29500-29535. ⤴︎
  21. Cal. Penal Code § 27960. ⤴︎
  22. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27000, 27745, 31820, 31825. ⤴︎
  23. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540(f), 27745. ⤴︎
  24. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540(a), 27745. ⤴︎
  25. Cal. Penal Code § 29530. ⤴︎
  26. Federal law exempts persons who have been issued state permits to purchase or possess firearms from background checks if those permits were issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation, including a search of the NICS database, to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3), 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d). ⤴︎
  27. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, U.S. Department of Justice, Brady Law: Permanent Brady Permit Chart (Aug. 26, 2011), at: http://www.atf.gov/firearms/brady-law/permit-chart.html. ⤴︎