Everyone is familiar with the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. However, far fewer people know the specifics of what this law, along with other federal and state laws concerning gun ownership really means. While the majority of people in the United States have the right to own a gun, the purchase of these weapons must follow a set of processes in order to be legal.
If you are looking to purchase a firearm, it is critical that you ensure you follow all laws when doing so. Otherwise, you could inadvertently find yourself on the wrong side of the law, when all you ever wanted was to assert your rights to gun ownership.
Determining Your Eligibility to Buy a Gun in California
Before you ever go to a gun shop, there are several steps you should take at home when you are considering buying a gun. You must first determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements for gun ownership. Some things to review if you are hoping to purchase a firearm in California include:
- Your age
- Your criminal record
- Your residency status
- Other circumstances which may disqualify you
To buy a shotgun, rifle, or handgun in the state of California, you must be at least 21 years of age.
Your Criminal Record
If you have been convicted of a crime, you will need to check if the offense affects your gun rights. Under federal and state laws, you may be disqualified from gun ownership if you have been convicted of any of the following:
- A crime that is punishable by more than one year in prison
- A violent felony crime
- A misdemeanor concerning assault, intimidation, stalking, domestic violence, or firearms
You may also be banned from owning a firearm as a condition of probation or part of a court order.
Your Residency Status
If you are a non-citizen or non-resident, there are further requirements for obtaining a firearm. Lawful permanent residents must bring their green cards with them when they go in to purchase a gun. For those with a non-immigrant visa, many additional conditions must be met, including:
- You must have been in the United States for at least 90 days.
- You must either have a hunting license issued in the country or be an official from a foreign government.
- You must bring a copy of your visa and I-94 card when you go to purchase the firearm.
- You must not have given up United States citizenship.
Because gun purchases for those with a non-immigrant visa are rare, many gun dealers are not familiar with the process. You may have to shop around to find a gun dealer who knows how to process these sales.
Other Circumstances that May Disqualify You
There are several other things that could disqualify you from owning a gun in California. A few of these include:
- Dishonorable discharge from the military
- A court ruling of mental incompetence or illness
- A restraining or protective order
- Drug addiction
- If you are under conservatorship due to alcoholism
- If you were reported by a psychiatric professional for threats made against another person
If you have checked through all of the above items and are still not positive of your eligibility, you can request a Personal Firearms Eligibility Check (PFEC). After submitting the request form, you should hear back regarding your eligibility within 60 days.
For a free legal consultation, call (310) 896-2723
Obtaining a Firearm Safety Certificate in California
After determining your eligibility, the next step you must take is to obtain a firearm safety certificate. However, before going through the process to get this certificate, you should check if you need it for the purchase(s) you wish to make. While most firearm purchases require the certificate, there are certain exceptions, including:
- If you are in the military or with California or federal police force, or if you honorably retired from these services
- If you have a hunting license and are purchasing a long gun
- If you have a Carry a Concealed Weapon Permit or Special Weapons Permit
- If you have a Curio & Relic Collector License and are buying an antique gun
- If you have an old Handgun Safety Certificate and it has not yet expired
If none of these apply to your situation, then you need to obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate. The first thing you will need to do is to study for the test. You can find a study guide and instructional video on the website for the California Attorney General.
Taking the Test
Once you feel prepared, you can go to a gun shop or a firearm training center to take the test. Most of these facilities administer tests and issue Firearm Safety Certificates.
The test costs $25 and consists of 30 questions. You must correctly answer 23 of the questions to obtain your certificate. If you fail, you can come back after 24 hours and take the test again, although the questions will have changed.
A second test does not require an additional fee. However, if you need a third test or you change testing facilities, you will have to pay the $25 again.
Purchasing a Gun in California
Once you have met all the requirements, you can visit a licensed gun dealership to purchase a firearm. Even if you are purchasing a gun from a private seller, the transaction must be conducted through one of these facilities.
Once you arrive at the facility, you can choose the gun you would like to purchase. There are then several steps that will take place between selecting a firearm and bringing it home. These include:
- Submitting your application
- Paying fees
- Purchasing a safe or lock
- Performing the safe handling demonstration
- Picking up the gun
Submitting Your Application
Submitting your application entails presenting your valid California driver’s license or state ID and Firearm Safety Certificate, paying a deposit or full-price for the weapon, filling out some forms, and submitting your thumbprint.
If you are purchasing a handgun, you must also prove your residency. This proof could be in the form of a utility bill, residential lease, property deed, or a second form of government-issued ID. If you don’t have a Firearm Safety Certificate, you must also present documentation showing why you are exempt.
For each firearm transaction, you must pay Dealer Record of Sales fees along with other state fees. Additionally, the dealer may have separate fees they charge. It is important to discuss the total price you will pay before you finalize the deal.
If you are buying from a private party, the dealer is allowed to charge $10 per firearm for overseeing the deal.
Required Waiting Period
For almost all firearm sales, you are required to wait ten days before you can pick up the weapon. During this time, your application will be reviewed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the California Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
If none of these organizations denies your application or delays it to investigate, you will be able to go to the store to pick up your firearm at the end of the ten-day period.
Purchasing a Safe or Lock
California law requires that all gun owners either purchase a state-approved gun safe or purchase a new gun lock for each firearm they buy.
Performing the Safe Handling Demonstration
You will go through safe handling instructions with a DOJ Certified Instructor, who will sign a statement saying that you completed them.
Picking Up the Gun
You are now ready to receive your firearm. You can bring your proof of safe or lock ownership to the dealer with you to show that you meet the legal requirement. Proof of safe ownership can come in the form of an owner’s manual or a receipt. Proof of lock ownership must be a receipt dated within 30 days of the pickup date.
Most gun dealers include a gun lock with your purchase. However, it is important to note that these locks do not always satisfy the requirements of California’s Department of Justice.
You can then sign papers that declare you as the new legal owner of the weapon.
As long as you follow all of these steps, you can rest assured that you have legally purchased your firearm and are not in violation of any California laws.