How To Buy a Handgun In California | The Legalities You MUST know!

Uncovering all the necessary steps regarding how to buy a handgun in California can become a tough challenge as soon as you enter a deep rabbit hole of information on the web.

Age restrictions, legal prohibitions for certain individuals, a manual background check process, a mandatory 10-day waiting period, limits on handgun purchases within a 30-day timeframe, and the necessity for a Firearm Safety Certificate present only a few challenges for prospective firearm buyers in California.

Due to the sheer complexity of this whole process, I created a step-by-step guide on buying a handgun in California that will save much more of the precious time you would use researching and potentially failing in the end.

Let's jump right into the steps below!

Key Takeaways:

  • Gun stores in California are federally licensed and must follow specific regulations and restrictions.
  • Age restrictions apply, with individuals under 18 years old prohibited from purchasing firearms and individuals under 21 years old prohibited from purchasing pistols.
  • Certain individuals, such as felons, drug addicts, or domestic abusers, are legally prohibited from owning firearms.
  • The background check process is manual and requires clear evidence of the purchaser's identity and age.


Purchasing a firearm in California comes with a specific set of procedures and requirements. 

One of the essential steps involves obtaining a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) and completing all necessary documentation.

In addition, the FSC ensures that individuals understand gun safety before purchasing a firearm.

The whole process is much more complex, so I decided to break it down into actionable steps you must take to buy a handgun in California successfully.

Obtaining a Firearm Safety Certificate in California

In my experience, taking the Test is a crucial step in the process of obtaining a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) in California. The FSC is a requirement for purchasing firearms and ensures that individuals have a basic understanding of gun safety.

A handgun by the certificate

Taking the Test

The written test required to obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate in California covers firearm safety and basic firearms laws. Also, you  must pass this test to demonstrate their understanding of these topics.

Once you obtain the certificate, it is necessary to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer. The certificate ensures that individuals have the knowledge and awareness of handgun safety before purchasing a firearm.

Purchasing the Firearm

To purchase a handgun in California, you must take a whole set of steps to succeed. 

For example, I needed to submit the application, provide identification and proof of residency, pay some fees, wait for a waiting period to pass, and perform the safe handling demonstration.

These steps outline the necessary procedures that you must follow when acquiring a firearm legally within the state. By examining each stage objectively and impersonally, but also by noting my own experience with this procedure, we can understand the regulations and requirements involved in this process.

Submitting Your Application

Submitting the handgun application requires providing a valid California ID or driver's license. It is important you ensure correct spelling of legal name and address. Additionally, if the ID indicates 'Federal Limits Apply,' applicants must present additional documents.

To successfully complete the application process for a firearm purchase, you  must meet all these requirements. The licensed firearms dealer will verify your proof of residency and conduct a background check before proceeding with the transaction.

Once these steps are completed, you must then proceed with verifying your identification and proof of residency.

ID and Proof of Residency

To proceed with purchasing a handgun in California, it is crucial to have proper identification and proof of residency. A valid California driver's license or identification card is required as government-issued identification.

Additionally, you may also need additional proof of residence if the ID does not show the current address or when purchasing a handgun. Acceptable proofs include CA DMV vehicle registration, CA Hunting License, or utility bills that are not more than 90 days old.

Paying Fees

When you're getting ready to buy a firearm in California, you'll need to budget for the mandatory $25 DROS and associated state fees. Interestingly, these charges are consistent whether you're purchasing one firearm or several in the same transaction. The fees essentially support the background checks carried out by the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Now, here's a little insider tip: Even though the fees are for the DOJ's investigation, you'll actually pay them directly to the firearm dealership. After sorting out the payment, remember to patiently wait for the mandatory waiting period before you can finally have your firearm in hand.

Required Waiting Period

In California, when you buy a firearm, there's a set period you'll need to cool your heels before actually getting your hands on your purchase. 

This waiting game isn't just for handguns; it's a statewide rule for all firearms. Just a heads up: this isn't a mere formality; it's a genuine legal step everyone has to follow when getting a firearm. 

Once you've played the waiting game and the period is over, you're all set to showcase the safe handling demonstration, one of the final steps before sealing the deal.

Performing the Safe Handling Demonstration

Performing the safe handling demonstration is one of the most important steps in the firearm purchasing process, ensuring you understand and can demonstrate proper gun safety procedures.

This demonstration is crucial for individuals seeking to exercise their legal right to purchase firearms in accordance with California gun laws. When you complete the safe handling demonstration, potential buyers can showcase their commitment to responsible gun ownership.

A person aiming at the shooting range

Picking Up the Handun

When you finish the whole demonstration thing, you are able to proceed with the final step of the firearm purchasing process by collecting your chosen firearm.

Just a heads up, if you're thinking of going the private sales route for firearms, you'll need to have a valid hunting license in hand.

When picking up the handgun, you should ensure that it is unloaded and you should also ensure all safety procedures are met.

Once collected, you may consider registering your firearm to comply with legal regulations and maintain accountability.


If you're a firearm owner who wants to stay on the right side of the law and keep things transparent, you might consider registering your newly purchased weapon. 

To get this done, you'd typically provide some essential paperwork, like your California driver's license, your birth certificate, and evidence that you're allowed to have a firearm. After you register, they'll give you a unique ID number just for your weapon. 

This isn't just about bureaucracy; having your firearm registered means that if it ever gets stolen or ends up somewhere it shouldn't, the cops can trace it back with ease.

Lastly, getting a Carry Concealed Weapons license (CCW) in California is difficult. The sheriff has broad discretion whether to grant you the license. To apply, contact your county sheriff. You'll have to fill out an application and complete a firearms safety course.

Who Can and Can’t Purchase a Handgun?

Navigating the regulations around purchasing a handgun can be intricate, with various stipulations dictating who's allowed to buy and who's not. 

At the heart of this topic are age restrictions, with most places setting the handgun buying age at 21, though some states have nuances for those 18-20. 

Additionally, a past conviction isn't just a mark on your record; for felons, domestic violence offenders, and drug addicts, it can completely shut the door to firearm purchases. Let's delve deeper into these regulations and unravel the specifics.

What Is The Minimum Age to Buy a Handgun?

Pursuant to Penal Code section 27510, the minimum age to purchase a handgun in California is 21 years old, with specific exemptions provided. This age requirement is in line with federal law which sets the same minimum age for purchasing handguns. The main purpose of this restriction is to ensure you, me, and other gun enthusiasts who are legally allowed to possess firearms have reached a certain level of maturity and responsibility. By setting the minimum age at 21, it is believed that individuals have had sufficient time to develop these qualities.

However, as with everything else there is, there are certain exemptions to this rule which allow individuals under the age of 21 to purchase handguns under specific circumstances. These exemptions include active duty military personnel and law enforcement officers who may be required to carry firearms as part of their duties.

Can People Who Have Previously Been Convicted Buy a Handgun?

Individuals with prior convictions are legally prohibited from purchasing handguns. If you've had a brush with the law in the past, purchasing handguns can become a tricky terrain. Being previously convicted, especially for felonies or specific misdemeanors like domestic violence, legally bars you from getting your hands on these firearms. 

The intention is clear: keep the public safe and ensure guns don't end up where they shouldn't. 

A man in a handgun store

Furthermore, mental health considerations play a part, too; if you've been deemed mentally unsound or committed to a mental institution, handgun purchases are off the table. 

But remember, even if a handgun isn't an option, the law might still allow avenues to own different firearms, maybe an assault rifle or a magazine with a larger capacity. Always be sure to check your local regulations.

Additional Useful Notes

Navigating California's firearm regulations requires keen attention, especially when pinpointing who cannot purchase a gun. While Californians can legally possess unloaded firearms like rifles and shotguns without the hassle of permits or registration, tight restrictions govern private sales. 

Engaging in a private firearm transaction? Be ready for the Private Party Transfer (PPT). 

The buyer and the seller must process the PPT through a licensed firearms dealer who'll run a rigorous background check, especially focusing on those who may be disqualified for various reasons. And don't forget, there are other documents like proof of residency and proper identification that could be demanded. 

Before diving into any transaction, it's wise to get legal guidance to ensure you're on the right side of the law, especially concerning those barred from firearm ownership.

Handguns on a rack in firearms store

Can You Buy a Handgun Online In California?

Yes, you can buy a handgun online in California. Internet gun sales provide individuals in California with access to a broader marketplace for purchasing firearms. 

This expanded availability of online platforms allows you to connect with sellers beyond the limitations of good old brick-and-mortar gun stores. However, there are several important considerations when it comes to buying a handgun online in California:

1. Detachable Magazines: Ensure your online handgun choice aligns with California's strict guidelines on detachable magazines. Remember, the state frowns upon magazines that house more than 10 rounds.

2. Green Card Requirement: If you're a non-U.S. citizen legally calling California home, have your green card or equivalent documentation ready. This is mandatory for online firearm acquisitions.

3. Firearm Safety Certificate: A valid Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) from California isn't just a piece of paper—it's a testament to your grasp of essential firearm safety norms. Make sure you have it before clicking "buy."

4. Verification at Gun Store: Starting your purchase journey online doesn't mean it ends there. Swing by a licensed gun store to wrap things up, ensuring all background checks and paperwork are in order before that gun officially becomes yours.

For those considering buying a handgun online in California, I believe it's essential to grasp these key points to ensure legal compliance and safe firearm practices.

A person researching an online handgun store on their laptop

How To Sell a Handgun In California?

The minimum age requirement for selling handguns in California is an important aspect to consider when discussing how to sell a handgun in the state. According to federal and state laws, licensed dealers are prohibited from selling firearms to individuals under 18 years old or pistols to individuals under 21 years old.

It is crucial for all sellers to follow these age restrictions and ensure that they verify the buyer's age before completing a sale.

Minimum Age

In California, gun dealers must adhere to both federal and state rules, which means they can't sell handguns to anyone under 21. This age limit is set to make sure guns are only in the hands of mature and responsible adults. 

With this restriction, California seeks to blend individual rights with broader community safety. Local gun stores play a pivotal role, ensuring they always check a buyer's age before selling. 

By doing this, they aim to stop younger folks from getting guns and possibly getting into dangerous situations, upholding both safety and citizens' rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any restrictions on the types of handguns that can be purchased in California?

Yes, there are certain restrictions on the types of handguns that can be purchased in California. However, these restrictions are not specified in the given background information and would require further research to provide an accurate answer.

Is there a limit to the number of handguns someone can own in California?

No, there is no limit to the number of handguns someone can own in California. However, effective July 1, 2021, individuals are limited to purchasing one handgun or semi-automatic centerfire rifle within a 30-day period.

Can someone with a misdemeanor conviction purchase a handgun in California?

No, anyone with a misdemeanor conviction can’t purchase a handgun in California. Certain misdemeanors, such as domestic violence offenses, result in the loss of gun ownership rights under state and federal law.

What is the process for transferring ownership of a handgun in California?

The process for transferring ownership of a handgun in California requires a background check and adherence to specific regulations. The transfer must be conducted through a licensed firearm dealer, who will ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

Are there any additional requirements or restrictions for purchasing a used handgun in California?

No, there are no additional requirements or restrictions for purchasing a used handgun in California. This ironic lack of regulations allows individuals to freely acquire used handguns without any further scrutiny or limitations.


In conclusion, purchasing a handgun in California involves complying with several regulations and restrictions. These include:

- Age restrictions

- Background checks conducted by licensed dealers

- A 10-day waiting period for firearm delivery

- Firearm rationing to one handgun or semi-automatic centerfire rifle within a 30-day period

Obtaining a valid Firearm Safety Certificate is also required, unless exempted through specific criteria.

It is interesting to note that according to the California Department of Justice, as of 2019, there were over 1 million active firearms licenses in the state. This statistic highlights the significance of firearms ownership in California.

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