What Is the Legal Way to Bring a Firearm Into California?

It may be against the law to buy a gun out of state and simply drive it back to California. Learn how to bring a gun here the right way—and the penalties if you do it illegally.

By , Legal Editor
Updated 6/16/2022

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.

Out-of-State Guns Must Come Into California Through a Dealer

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:

  • a criminal background check
  • a 10-day waiting period, and
  • a requirement that the owner presents a firearm safety certificate.

Some people are exempt from the "direct ship" requirement, including:

  • people who are listed in a firearms registry as owning the guns they want to bring into the state
  • someone with a dealer's record of sale showing that person is the owner and received the gun from the dealer
  • anyone bringing a handgun into the state who has a California license to carry that weapon
  • California residents who want to bring into the state any guns they acquired (and kept) in another state before 2015
  • adults who've inherited a gun from an immediate family member (although they must have a valid safety certificate and meet other conditions), and
  • licensed collectors or importers.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 27540, 27585, 27875.)

Penalties for Bringing Guns Into California Illegally

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.)

Getting Your Gun Home Legally

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.

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