How Hard Is It To Get A Gun In California? A Detailed Look

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. For law-abiding citizens wondering how difficult it is to legally acquire a firearm in the state, the process can seem daunting.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick overview: Getting a gun in California involves clearing background checks, waiting periods, safety certificates, and strict purchase limits, making it more difficult than most other states.

This comprehensive guide will break down California’s gun laws, requirements to purchase and own firearms, and how the process compares to other states.

California Gun Laws and Restrictions

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. These laws are designed to ensure public safety and prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands. In order to purchase a gun in California, individuals must meet certain requirements and navigate through various regulations.

Firearm Safety Certificate

One of the key requirements for purchasing a gun in California is obtaining a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). This certificate demonstrates that the individual has completed a background check and passed a written test on firearm safety.

The FSC is valid for five years and must be presented at the time of purchase.

Purchase Limits

California also imposes purchase limits on firearms. Individuals are restricted to purchasing one handgun per 30-day period. This limit applies to both licensed dealers and private party transfers. The aim of this restriction is to prevent the accumulation of firearms and potential illegal sales.

Approved Handgun Roster

In addition to the FSC and purchase limits, California maintains an Approved Handgun Roster. This roster lists handguns that have been deemed safe and meet certain requirements. Only handguns on this roster can be sold by licensed dealers in California.

This ensures that handguns available for purchase meet specific safety standards set by the state.

It is important to note that these laws and restrictions are subject to change. It is always advisable to consult the official California Department of Justice website for the most up-to-date information on gun laws and regulations in the state. The website can be found here.

Background Checks and Waiting Periods

When it comes to obtaining a gun in California, there are strict regulations in place to ensure public safety. Two key factors that contribute to the process are background checks and waiting periods.

Dealer background checks

California law mandates that all gun purchases from licensed dealers must undergo a thorough background check. This check is conducted by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine if the individual has any disqualifying factors that would prevent them from owning a firearm.

These factors include a history of felony convictions, certain misdemeanor offenses, restraining orders, and mental health issues.

The background check involves searching multiple databases, including criminal records, mental health records, and restraining order databases. The process also includes contacting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to access federal records.

This comprehensive check helps ensure that guns are not sold to individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others.

According to the DOJ, as of 2020, over 1.3 million background checks were conducted in California, resulting in the denial of thousands of firearm purchases due to disqualifying factors. This statistic highlights the effectiveness of the background check system in preventing potentially dangerous individuals from acquiring guns.

10-day waiting period

In addition to the background check, California imposes a mandatory 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases. This waiting period allows for a cooling-off period and provides an opportunity for further investigation if any red flags arise during the background check process.

The waiting period also gives individuals who may be purchasing a firearm impulsively or out of anger a chance to reconsider their decision. It serves as a buffer to help prevent impulsive acts of violence and allows for more thoughtful consideration of the responsibilities that come with gun ownership.

During this waiting period, the individual cannot take possession of the firearm until the waiting period has expired. This waiting period applies to both handguns and long guns, ensuring that the same level of scrutiny is applied to all types of firearms.

It is important to note that there are certain exemptions to the waiting period, such as individuals who possess a valid California Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) permit or those who have already completed a background check through the California Firearms Licensee Check (CFLC) program.

Concealed Carry Permits in California

When it comes to concealed carry permits, California is known as a “may-issue state.” This means that the issuing authority has discretion in granting or denying permits based on certain criteria. In California, the authority to issue concealed carry permits lies with the local sheriff’s departments or police departments.

Good Cause Requirement

One of the key requirements for obtaining a concealed carry permit in California is demonstrating a “good cause.” This means that applicants must provide a valid reason for needing a concealed weapon for self-defense. The definition of “good cause” may vary between different counties in the state.

To meet the good cause requirement, individuals may need to show evidence of specific threats or a history of being in danger. This can include instances of stalking, prior attacks, or credible threats to personal safety.

It’s important to note that the mere desire for self-defense may not be considered sufficient justification for a concealed carry permit in California.

Each county has its own interpretation of the good cause requirement, which can result in significant variations in the approval rates for concealed carry permits. For example, some counties may have stricter interpretations and require a higher level of evidence, while others may have more lenient standards.

It’s also worth mentioning that California is considered to have one of the most restrictive concealed carry permit processes in the United States. According to data from the Crime Prevention Research Center, as of 2021, only about 0.3% of California adults hold concealed carry permits, compared to the national average of about 7.6%.

For more information on the concealed carry permit process in California, you can visit the official website of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms

How California Compares to Other States

When it comes to gun laws and regulations, California stands out among other states in the United States. The state has some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. These measures are in place to ensure public safety and prevent gun violence.

Let’s take a closer look at how California compares to other states in terms of gun accessibility and regulations.

Background Check Requirements

One of the main factors that sets California apart from other states is its stringent background check requirements. In California, individuals looking to purchase a firearm must undergo a background check conducted by the California Department of Justice.

This check includes a review of criminal records, mental health records, and restraining orders. Additionally, California has implemented a waiting period of 10 days for all firearm purchases, regardless of whether the buyer passes the background check or not.

Assault Weapons Ban

California has a comprehensive ban on assault weapons, which is stricter than the federal ban. The state defines assault weapons based on specific features such as detachable magazines, pistol grips, and telescoping stocks.

This ban restricts the sale, possession, and transfer of these firearms in California. It’s important to note that the definition of assault weapons can vary from state to state, with some states having looser restrictions or no ban at all.

High-Capacity Magazine Ban

Another notable aspect of California’s gun laws is the ban on high-capacity magazines. In 2019, a law was passed that prohibits the possession and sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

This restriction is aimed at reducing the potential harm caused by mass shootings by limiting the number of rounds a shooter can fire without reloading.

Concealed Carry Permits

Obtaining a concealed carry permit in California is quite challenging compared to other states. The state operates on a “may-issue” policy, meaning that local authorities have discretion in issuing permits.

Applicants must demonstrate “good cause” to carry a concealed firearm, and the criteria for what constitutes “good cause” can vary across different jurisdictions within the state. As a result, concealed carry permits are relatively rare in California compared to states with more lenient “shall-issue” policies.

Firearm Registration

California has a comprehensive firearm registration system. All firearms purchased in the state must be registered with the California Department of Justice. This registration process involves providing personal information, details of the firearm, and undergoing a background check.

It is important for gun owners to comply with this requirement to avoid any legal issues.

Navigating California’s Strict Gun Laws

California is known for having some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Navigating these laws can be a complex process, but understanding the requirements and following the proper procedures is essential for anyone looking to obtain a gun in the state.

Use a licensed dealer

One of the first steps in getting a gun in California is to use a licensed dealer. Unlike some states where private sales are allowed, California requires all firearm transactions to be conducted through a licensed dealer.

This ensures that the buyer undergoes a background check and completes the necessary paperwork.

When purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, it is important to bring the required identification documents, such as a valid California driver’s license or identification card, proof of residency, and any other documentation that may be required by the dealer.

It’s also a good idea to check the dealer’s reputation and reviews to ensure they are reputable and trustworthy.

Understand all requirements

California has several requirements that must be met in order to legally obtain a gun. These requirements include:

  • Completing a background check: All gun buyers in California must undergo a background check conducted by the California Department of Justice. This check includes a review of criminal records, mental health records, and restraining orders.
  • Completing a safety certificate: Before purchasing a gun, individuals must complete a safety certificate course to ensure they understand the safe handling and storage of firearms.
  • Waiting period: California has a mandatory 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases. This waiting period allows for additional time to complete the background check and for the buyer to reconsider their purchase.
  • Restrictions on certain firearms: California has additional restrictions on certain types of firearms, such as assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These restrictions may require additional permits or certifications.

It’s important to thoroughly research and understand all of these requirements before attempting to purchase a gun in California. Failure to meet these requirements can result in legal consequences.

For more detailed information on California’s gun laws, you can visit the official website of the California Department of Justice at This website provides comprehensive information on the state’s gun laws, including frequently asked questions, forms, and resources for gun owners.


While not outright impossible, California’s strict purchasing requirements, background checks, and permitting processes make legally acquiring firearms more difficult compared to most other states. With ample research and adherence to the law, it is possible for eligible citizens to own guns.

We hope this guide provided useful insight into legally obtaining firearms in California.

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