Can I Buy An Ar-15 In California?

With gun laws constantly evolving in California, many firearms enthusiasts wonder if they can legally purchase an AR-15 in the Golden State. This semi-automatic rifle has been at the center of much debate around the right to bear arms versus public safety. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The sale of new AR-15s is banned in California, but it is still possible to legally obtain and own certain approved AR-15 models if you meet all state and federal requirements.

In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into the nuances around buying an AR-15 in California. We’ll outline the history of assault weapon legislation in the state, explain current laws, and provide guidance on how to legally acquire and register an AR-15 model that complies with California’s definitions.

Background on California’s Assault Weapons Laws

California has some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States, including restrictions on the purchase and ownership of assault weapons. The state has taken a proactive approach to regulating firearms, with a focus on public safety and preventing gun violence.

As a result, buying an AR-15 or any other assault weapon in California can be a complex process.

1989: Ban on Assault Weapons Enacted

In 1989, California became the first state to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons following a mass shooting in Stockton. The legislation, known as the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, prohibited the manufacture, sale, and possession of specific models of semi-automatic firearms with military-style features.

This law laid the foundation for California’s assault weapons regulations.

2016: Expansion of the Original Ban

In 2016, California further tightened its assault weapons laws with the passage of Senate Bill 880 and Assembly Bill 1135. These bills expanded the definition of assault weapons and closed certain loopholes that allowed individuals to modify firearms to bypass the existing ban.

The new laws also imposed additional restrictions on high-capacity magazines and required individuals who owned assault weapons before the ban to register them with the state.

What Qualifies as an Assault Weapon?

Under California law, an assault weapon is defined as a semi-automatic firearm that meets certain criteria. These criteria include features such as a detachable magazine, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, a folding or telescoping stock, or a flash suppressor.

The list of banned assault weapons is regularly updated and can be found on the California Department of Justice website.

It’s important to note that California’s assault weapons laws are subject to change, and individuals looking to purchase or own firearms should consult the most up-to-date information from official sources.

The goal of these regulations is to balance the rights of responsible gun owners with the need to ensure public safety and prevent gun violence.

Current Laws on Buying AR-15s in California

California has some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States, and this includes regulations on the purchase of AR-15 rifles. While the availability of AR-15s may vary depending on local ordinances and specific circumstances, there are general laws and restrictions that apply statewide.

Purchasing a New AR-15 is Prohibited

As of 2017, the state of California banned the sale and purchase of AR-15 rifles with certain features that are considered to enhance their lethality. These features include a detachable magazine and specific cosmetic characteristics.

This ban was put in place to address concerns about mass shootings and the potential for these firearms to be used in acts of violence.

According to the California Department of Justice, the sale, transfer, or purchase of new AR-15 rifles is prohibited in the state. This means that individuals cannot buy a brand new AR-15 from a licensed dealer or any other legal means.

Exceptions for Registered Assault Weapons Owners

There are exceptions to the ban on purchasing new AR-15 rifles in California. Individuals who legally possessed an AR-15 rifle prior to the ban may be allowed to keep and register their firearms as assault weapons.

These individuals are required to obtain a Dangerous Weapons Permit from the California Department of Justice and comply with specific regulations regarding storage, transportation, and use of the firearm.

It’s important to note that these exceptions only apply to individuals who had a legally owned AR-15 prior to the ban and have taken the necessary steps to register their firearm as an assault weapon.

Requirements to Legally Obtain an Approved AR-15 Model

While purchasing a new AR-15 with certain features is prohibited in California, individuals may still be able to legally obtain an approved AR-15 model. To do so, they must comply with the following requirements:

  • Choose an AR-15 model that is compliant with California’s strict assault weapon laws. These models are commonly referred to as “California compliant” or “featureless” rifles.
  • Ensure that the AR-15 does not have any of the banned features, such as a detachable magazine or specific cosmetic characteristics.
  • Complete a background check and comply with all other firearm purchasing requirements, including age restrictions and documentation.
  • Purchase the AR-15 from a licensed dealer who is authorized to sell compliant firearms.

It’s important for individuals to familiarize themselves with the specific regulations and requirements in their local area and consult with legal professionals or law enforcement officials for guidance.

For more information on California’s gun laws and regulations, you can visit the official website of the California Department of Justice at

How to Register an AR-15 in Compliance with CA Laws

California has specific laws and regulations regarding the ownership and registration of firearms, including the AR-15. If you are wondering whether you can buy an AR-15 in California, the short answer is yes.

However, there are certain steps you need to follow to ensure that you are in compliance with the state’s laws.

Choose a Compliant AR-15 Model

When purchasing an AR-15 in California, it is important to choose a model that is compliant with the state’s laws. California has a list of approved firearms known as the “California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale.”

This list includes specific models that have been tested and meet the state’s safety requirements. Make sure to select an AR-15 model that is listed on this roster to ensure compliance.

Modify to Make it California Compliant

Once you have purchased a compliant AR-15 model, there are certain modifications you will need to make to ensure it is California compliant. These modifications typically involve features such as the magazine capacity, flash suppressor, and collapsible stock.

California law requires that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 have a fixed magazine with a capacity of no more than 10 rounds. Additionally, certain features like flash suppressors and collapsible stocks are prohibited.

You may need to consult with a firearms expert or gunsmith to make these modifications.

Register with the CA DOJ

After purchasing a compliant AR-15 and making the necessary modifications, you will need to register the firearm with the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The registration process involves submitting an application, providing proof of ownership, and paying a fee.

It is important to note that the registration process is mandatory for all firearms in California, including the AR-15.

Safety Certificate and Background Check

In addition to registering your AR-15, California law requires firearms owners to obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) and undergo a background check. The FSC is obtained by passing a written test that covers firearm safety and laws.

Once you have obtained the FSC, you will need to undergo a background check conducted by the California DOJ. This background check verifies that you are eligible to possess firearms under state and federal law.

It is crucial to follow all of California’s laws and regulations when purchasing and registering an AR-15. Failure to do so can result in serious legal consequences. For more information on California’s firearms laws and regulations, you can visit the official California Department of Justice website at

Owning and Using an AR-15 in California

The laws regarding owning and using an AR-15 in California are quite strict compared to other states. It’s important to understand the regulations and requirements before purchasing or using this type of firearm. Here are some key points to consider:

Magazine Capacity Limits

One important restriction to be aware of is the magazine capacity limit in California. As of 2021, individuals are prohibited from possessing magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. This means that if you purchase an AR-15 in California, you will need to ensure that any magazines you have are compliant with this restriction.

It’s worth noting that this law has faced legal challenges and there may be changes in the future.

Storage and Transportation Rules

California also has specific rules regarding the storage and transportation of firearms, including AR-15s. When not in use, the firearm must be securely stored in a locked container or with a trigger lock to prevent unauthorized access.

Additionally, when transporting the AR-15, it must be unloaded and locked in the trunk of a vehicle or in a locked container. These rules are in place to ensure the safety and prevent theft of firearms.

Where You Can and Cannot Use Your AR-15

It’s important to understand where you can and cannot use your AR-15 in California. Generally, it is illegal to discharge a firearm within city limits, unless in self-defense or at an authorized shooting range.

However, there are additional restrictions in certain areas, such as near schools, parks, and government buildings. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with local ordinances and regulations to avoid any legal issues.

For more detailed information on California’s laws regarding AR-15 ownership and use, you can visit the official California Department of Justice website at They provide comprehensive resources and guidelines to ensure compliance with the law.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bring an AR-15 into California from out of state?

Bringing an AR-15 into California from out of state is not as straightforward as it may seem. California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and the regulations surrounding the possession and transportation of firearms can be quite complex.

In general, it is illegal to bring in an AR-15 that does not meet California’s specific requirements, such as having a fixed magazine with a maximum capacity of 10 rounds and being equipped with other state-mandated features.

It is important to consult with local law enforcement or legal professionals to ensure compliance with California’s laws before attempting to bring an AR-15 into the state.

What if I already own a non-compliant AR-15 model?

If you already own an AR-15 model that does not comply with California’s regulations, you may be wondering what options are available to you. As of July 1, 2018, the possession of a firearm that does not meet California’s requirements is generally prohibited.

However, there is a process called “bullet button assault weapon registration” that allows individuals who possessed an AR-15 with a bullet button before January 1, 2017, to register it with the California Department of Justice. This registration must be completed by June 30, 2018.

It is crucial to understand and comply with the registration requirements to avoid any legal complications.

Are there exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel?

There are exceptions to California’s AR-15 regulations for law enforcement and military personnel. These individuals may be permitted to possess and use AR-15 rifles that do not meet the same requirements as those imposed on civilians.

However, it is important to note that these exceptions are specific to individuals who are actively employed or serving in a law enforcement or military capacity. It is crucial for these individuals to follow all applicable laws and regulations governing the possession and use of AR-15 rifles.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on California’s AR-15 laws, it is recommended to visit the official website of the California Department of Justice’s Firearms Division at


While the process involves jumping through some legal hoops, it is possible for California residents to legally obtain AR-15 rifles that comply with the state’s assault weapons definitions. By choosing an approved model, modifying features, and properly registering with the CA DOJ, you can own an AR-15 while following all California gun laws.

With the right knowledge and preparation, you can exercise your Second Amendment rights even in a state with strict assault weapons legislation. Just be sure to do your due diligence in understanding the most up-to-date laws and regulations around owning an AR-15 in California.

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