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A transfer of firearms in California

February 22, 2019

In California, only licensed California firearms dealers who possess a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) are authorized to engage in retail sales of firearms. These retail sales require the purchaser to provide personal identifier information for the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) document that the firearms dealer must submit to the DOJ. There is a mandatory 10-day waiting period before the firearms dealer can deliver the firearm to the purchaser. During this 10-day waiting period, the DOJ conducts a firearms eligibility background check to ensure the purchaser is not prohibited from lawfully possessing firearms. Although there are exceptions, generally all firearms purchasers must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun) and 21 years of age to purchase a handgun (pistol or revolver). Additionally, purchasers must be California residents with a valid driver’s license or identification card issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Generally, it is illegal for any person who is not a California licensed firearms dealer (private party) to sell or transfer a firearm to another non-licensed person (private party) unless the sale or transfer is completed through a licensed California firearms dealer. A “Private Party Transfer” (PPT) can be conducted at any licensed California firearms dealership. The buyer and seller must complete the required DROS document in person at the licensed firearms dealership and deliver the firearm to the dealer who will retain possession of the firearm during the mandatory 10-day waiting period. In addition to the applicable state fees, the firearms dealer may charge a fee not to exceed $10 per firearm for conducting the PPT. 

The infrequent transfer of firearms between immediate family members is exempt from the law requiring PPTs to be conducted through a licensed firearms dealer. For purposes of this exemption, “immediate family member” means parent and child, and grandparent and grandchild but does not include brothers or sisters. (Pen. Code, § 16720.) The transferee must also comply with the Firearm Safety Certificate requirement described below, prior to taking possession of the firearm. Within 30 days of the transfer, the transferee must also submit a report of the transaction to the DOJ. Download the form (Report of Operation of Law or Intra- Familial Firearm Transaction BOF 4544A) from the DOJ website at http://oag .ca .gov/firearms/forms or complete and submit the form electronically via the internet at https://CFARS. doj .ca .gov. 

The reclaiming of a pawned firearm is subject to the DROS and 10-day waiting period requirements. 

Specific statutory requirements relating to sales and transfers of firearms follow: 

Proof-of-Residency Requirement 

To purchase a handgun in California, you must present documentation indicating that you are a California resident. Acceptable documentation includes a utility bill from within the last three months, a residential lease, a property deed or military permanent duty station orders indicating assignment within California. 

The address provided on the proof-of-residency document must match either the address on the DROS or the address on the purchaser’s California driver’s license or identification card. (Pen. Code, § 26845.) 

Firearm Safety Certificate Requirement 

To purchase or acquire a firearm, you must have a valid Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). To obtain an FSC, you must score at least 75% on an objective written test pertaining to firearms laws and safety requirements. The test is administered by DOJ Certified Instructors, who are often located at firearms dealerships. An FSC is valid for five years. You may be charged up to $25 for an FSC. Firearms being returned to their owners, such as pawn returns, are exempt from this requirement. In the event of a lost, stolen or destroyed FSC, the issuing DOJ Certified Instructor will issue a replacement FSC for a fee of $5. You must present proof of identity to receive a replacement FSC. (Pen. Code, §§ 31610-31670.) 

Safe Handling Demonstration Requirement 

Prior to taking delivery of a firearm, you must successfully perform a safe handling demonstration with the firearm being purchased or acquired. Safe handling demonstrations must be performed in the presence of a DOJ Certified Instructor sometime between the date the DROS is submitted to the DOJ and the delivery of the firearm, and are generally performed at the firearms dealership. The purchaser, firearms dealer and DOJ Certified Instructor must sign an affidavit stating the safe handling demonstration was completed. The steps required to complete the safe handling demonstration are described in the Appendix. Pawn returns and intra-familial transfers are not subject to the safe handling demonstration requirement. (Pen. Code, § 26850.) 

Firearms Safety Device Requirement 

All firearms (long guns and handguns) purchased in California must be accompanied with a firearms safety device (FSD) that has passed required safety and functionality tests and is listed on the DOJ’s official roster of DOJ-approved firearm safety devices. The current roster of certified FSDs is available on the DOJ website at http://oag .ca .gov/firearms/fsdcertlist. The FSD requirement also can be satisfied if the purchaser signs an affidavit declaring ownership of either a DOJ-approved lock box or a gun safe capable of accommodating the firearm being purchased. Pawn returns and intra-familial transfers are not subject to the FSD requirement. (Pen. Code, §§ 23635-23690.) 

Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale in California 

No handgun may be sold by a firearms dealer to the public unless it is of a make and model that has passed required safety and functionality tests and is listed on the DOJ’s official roster of handguns certified for sale in California. The current roster of handguns certified for sale in California is on the DOJ website at http://certguns. doj .ca .gov/. PPTs, interfamilial transfers, and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement. (Pen. Code, § 32000.) 

One-Handgun-per-30-Days Limit 

No person shall make an application to purchase more than one handgun within any 30-days period. Exemptions to the one-handgun-per-30-days limit include pawn returns, intra-familial transfers and private party transfers. (Pen. Code, § 27540.) 

PROHIBITED FIREARMS TRANSFERS AND STRAW PURCHASES 

What is a straw purchase? 

A straw purchase is buying a firearm for someone who is prohibited by law from possessing one, or buying a firearm for someone who does not want his or her name associated with the transaction. 

It is a violation of California law for a person who is not licensed as a California firearms dealer to transfer a firearm to another unlicensed person, without conducting such a transfer through a licensed firearms dealer. (Pen. Code,

§ 27545.) Such a transfer may be punished as a felony. (Pen. Code, § 27590.) 

Furthermore, it is a violation of federal law to either (1) make a false or fictitious statement on an application to purchase a firearm about a material fact, such as the identity of the person who ultimately will acquire the firearm (commonly known as “lying and buying”) (18 U. S.C. 922(a)(6)), or (2) knowingly transfer a firearm to a person who is prohibited by federal law from possessing and purchasing it. (18 U. S.C. 922(d).) Such transfers are punishable under federal law by a $250,000 fine and 10 years in federal prison. (18 U. S.C. 924(a)(2).) 

Things to Remember About Prohibited Firearms Transfers and Straw Purchases 

An illegal firearm purchase (straw purchase) is a federal crime. 

An illegal firearm purchase can bring a felony conviction sentence of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000. 

Buying a gun and giving it to someone who is prohibited from owning one is a state and federal crime. 

Never buy a gun for someone who is prohibited by law or unable to do so.