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California Gun Laws - Transfer a Firearm

This is not a licensed gun store.

This is not a licensed gun store.

Strict rules

The laws in California concerning the lawful private sale or transfer of a firearm to another party are quite strict. Long gone are the days when you could purchase a 45/70 Marlin rifle from a private seller who ran an advertisement in the classifieds. Now such transfers must go through a fully-licensed firearms dealer. Be sure you understand the proper procedure before you sell or buy a firearm from anyone other than such a dealer.

Of course, if you are a career criminal buying stolen handguns out of the back of a black BMW 750LI sedan, don’t worry about the rules. They don’t pertain to you.

Get informed

Log on to the website of the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) listed to the right. Go to “Contact Us” and ask them how to obtain a copy of their pamphlet “Summary of California Gun Laws & Basic Safety Rules”. This is one of the best summaries available of California’s complex gun laws. Read pages 3 and 4. These summarize Penal Code Sections 12070-12082, and 12285(e).

Step 1

Determine if your firearm is eligible for an exclusion from the transfer regulations. Antique firearms and shotguns and rifles classified as curio/relics that are at least 50 years old are exempt. All other firearms must be transferred through a fully-licensed dealer. This includes handguns classified as curio/relics.

Parabellum Luger 9mm

Parabellum Luger 9mm

Step 2: Exempt or not exempt?

If the transfer is (1) to your parent, child, grandparent, or grandchild; and (2) that person is legally allowed to own a firearm; and (3) the firearm is a rifle or shotgun then you can make the transfer without going through a firearms dealer. There is no waiting period and no forms to file with the California Department of Justice (DOJ). However, if the transfer is between spouses and the firearm is a handgun (not a rifle or shotgun), there is no waiting period but you must file a transfer report with the DOJ within 30 days. You can obtain the necessary transfer forms from the DOJ website.

Gifts, bequests, and inheritances are covered under this section so remember, if Grandpa gives you the 1939 Luger Parabellum 9mm he brought home as a souvenir from World War II, you must file a transfer report. And be careful with it because it is not a prop from a Company of Heroes video game.

Also note that transfers to siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends are not exempted.

Step 3: Find a Licensed firearms dealer

Contact a fully-licensed firearms dealer. Gun stores are licensed dealers. You can also locate dealers through the Yellow Pages or internet websites. Many public ranges are also licensed to conduct firearm transfers. Both the buyer and seller must go to the dealer in person and complete the necessary paperwork. Bring valid photo ID with you. If the firearm is a handgun, the buyer must also have a Handgun Safety Certificate (HSC). Most firearm dealers can administer the HSC test at the same time you complete the transfer paperwork, so call ahead to see if he provides this service.

Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson

Step 4: 10 day wait

The dealer will take possession of the firearm and hold it for California’s ten day waiting period. During this time the DOJ will complete a criminal background check on the buyer to ensure he or she is legally allowed to own a firearm. The DOJ will also register the transfer of handguns noting information about the buyer and the make, model, and serial number of the firearm. Rifles and shotguns are not registered.

After the waiting period is up and it is determined you are not a criminal or victim of mental illness, you may go pick up your firearm. Of course, if you are a criminal you don't have to wait for ten days, register your gun, or pass a background check. The law only applies to law abiding citizens.


Satchel on January 01, 2015:

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My prolebm was a wall until I read this, then I smashed it.

k,cheno on December 14, 2013:

I am trying to find a printable form to transfer a gun from grand parent to grand child

2NDAMEND2012 on June 03, 2012:

I am getting ready to purchase a handgun from my brother of 54 years. The fact that I took the handgun safety test and passed it for $35 should be enough. With the WWW firmly intact I believe current photo ID and them running a check on the handgun card which takes nano seconds should be all the waiting necessary. I've been a law abiding citizen all of my life and having to wait ten days while the dealer collects their fee on the FFL transfer is a F@#^ing joke. Guns do not kill people, people kill people no matter what way you look at it or through whatever lense used. Now a complete stranger is holding onto my brothers gun while I wait for the BS to be taken care of? Come ON MAN!! 2ND AMEND 2012

jamil on January 29, 2011:

f you've seen the amazing ray guns made by Weta (this the company that makes great collectible toys, normally movie license stuff like Lord of the Rings, etc.), then you might want to check out this video on how to make your own retro ray gun so you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on one of the new Weta ray guns or one of the older vintage ones.

Jed Fisher from Oklahoma on January 24, 2011:

I read the Hub, it's good stuff about California gun laws. I imagine the difficulty of trying to enforce such laws. My heart goes out to all the police, and I have to ask...really?

j michael on December 13, 2010:

Is there a grandfather clause for people who have had their

guns, like forever?

Lethbridge Seo on December 05, 2010:

Those who agree with the gun laws, like the lady above me, are ignorant of the facts.

Angela Lethbridge on December 01, 2010:

My brother lives in California and likes to collect antique guns and yes the gun laws are strict and at times hard to follow the reasoning but I agree with it.


Bryce Jackson on July 06, 2010:

Very helpful hub here. The laws are complicated in California but this outlines one of the more complicated pieces of the gun legislation there.

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