California is known for having relatively strict gun control laws, including gun storage requirements and a requirement that almost all gun sales or transfers go through a licensed dealer (Cal. Penal Code §§ 28050, 30605). In an attempt to stem the flow of illegal firearms from states with more lenient laws, California also strictly regulates how guns may be brought into the state. This article summarizes those requirements.
In order to bring into California any guns bought or obtained out of state, California residents must have the weapons directly shipped to a licensed gun dealer. Then, before the dealer transfers the gun to the owner, it must follow the procedures for in-state gun transactions, including:
Some people are exempt from the "direct ship" requirement, including:
(Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540, 27585, 27875.)
Generally, it's a misdemeanor in California (punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of $1,000) to bring a firearm into the state illegally. If the firearm is a handgun, however, the crime is a "wobbler," meaning you could face either misdemeanor or felony charges, punishable by different terms in county jail (up to one year for a misdemeanor or as much as three years for a felony) and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Violation of any of these provisions will be a felony if you either have a previous conviction for the same crime or you are legally prohibited from owning a gun. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 19, 1170(h), 27590.)
If you buy a gun from dealer in another state, the seller will be responsible for shipping it to a licensed dealer in California. Otherwise, you'll have to follow the rules for shipping firearms through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or with common or contract carriers like FedEx or UPS. For more information, visit the FAQ page on firearms prepared by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Updated July 1, 2021