See our Retention of Firearm Sales and Background Check Records policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue nationwide.

Record-keeping and reporting by dealers: California law requires most firearm transfers to be processed through a licensed firearms dealer. See the Private Sales in California section for further information about this requirement. Firearms dealers are required to report all Dealer Record of Sale (“DROS”) transactions to the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) electronically.1 Subject to limited exceptions, licensed dealers are required to keep a record of electronic transfer of information to DOJ for each sale of a firearm, containing detailed information on the purchaser and the firearm being sold.2 Firearms dealers must include in the record of electronic transfer the date a firearm is delivered to the transferee.3 The dealer must require the purchaser to sign his or her name on the record.4 Dealers are also required to obtain the right thumbprint of a purchaser or transferee before completing any transaction.5

Dealers are also required to maintain a firearms transaction record and this record must be made available to law enforcement during business hours.6

Certain firearm transfers are exempt from the requirement that they be processed by a licensed firearms dealer. As a result, transferees receiving a firearm through some of these exceptions are required to report the receipt of the firearm to DOJ directly.7

Database of firearm transactions: California law requires the Attorney General to permanently maintain and keep a database of all information pertaining to the sale or transfer of firearms reported to DOJ.8 This database must include certain information, including identifying information about the person receiving the firearm, identifying information about the person transferring the firearm, and identifying information about the firearm itself.9 DOJ may furnish information contained in this database, generated by the DROS forms to prosecutors, district attorneys, city attorneys prosecuting civil actions, and law enforcement for use in the arrest and prosecution of criminals, the recovery of lost, stolen, or found property, or for other purposes expressly authorized by law.10

Under a law passed in 2014, all California law enforcement agencies must develop and implement written policies and standard protocols pertaining to the best manner in which to conduct a “welfare check,” which is an investigation into the welfare or well-being of a person motivated by a concern that such person may be a danger to himself, herself, or to others. These policies must encourage officers, whenever possible and reasonable, to first conduct a search of the DOJ registry to determine whether the person being investigated is the owner of a firearm.11

For more information on data retained pursuant to a firearms purchase or transfer, see our section on Dealer Regulation in California.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 28205(c). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 28100; 28160. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 28160(c). ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 28160(d). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 28160(b). All other information required to be maintained is listed at Cal. Penal Code § 28160(a). This includes the date and time of the sale, the make of the firearm, manufacturer’s name (if stamped on the firearm), model name or number (if marked on the firearm), the purchaser’s handgun safety certificate number, the caliber, type, and color of the firearm, the name of the purchaser and other identifying information about the purchaser, and certain information about the dealer, including address and telephone number. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 26900. ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code §§ 27850-27966. ⤴︎
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 11106(a)(1); (b)(1). ⤴︎
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 11106(b)(2). All other information required to be in the database is listed in this subsection. ⤴︎
  10. Cal. Penal Code §§ 11106(a)(2), 11106(b)(3) (both subsections reference Cal. Penal Code § 11105). Law enforcement officers receiving information from the database may only disseminate it to specifically authorized persons and, even then, only under conditions related to an instance of domestic violence expressly identified by Cal. Penal Code § 11106(c). ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code §11106.4. ⤴︎