Citation(s) from the GunPolicy.org literature library
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2021 ‘Gun Dealers in California.’ Gun Sales. San Francisco, CA: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 23 June
[Editor's note: The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regularly updates its webpages with new data as US gun regulation evolves state by state. For the most up-to-date information on US gun laws, please refer to the Giffords URL below]
Dealer Regulations in California
Local governments in California have authority to regulate firearms dealers and ammunition sellers. The Law Center has drafted a model ordinance for use by California cities and counties that regulates firearms dealers and ammunition sellers.
(1) Licensing Requirements
Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives ("ATF"), although resource limitations prevent the ATF from properly overseeing all its licensees.
Any person who sells, transfers, or loans firearms in California must also be licensed pursuant to state law. There are several exceptions to this requirement, including those for:
- Persons who are selling firearms pursuant to court orders or acting pursuant to operation of law;
- The "infrequent" sale, lease, or transfer of firearms ("infrequent" is defined, for handguns, as less than six transactions per calendar year and, for long guns, as "occasionally and without regularity");
- The sale, lease, or transfer of used long guns at gun shows (subject to several conditions);
- Sales, deliveries, or transfers between wholesalers, importers and manufacturers, and between dealers and wholesalers, importers or manufacturers; and
- Firearm loans that take place at a shooting range for the purpose of shooting at targets.
In order to become a California firearms dealer, a person must:
- Have a valid federal firearms license from ATF;
- Have any regulatory or business license(s) required by local government;
- Have a valid seller's permit issued by the State Board of Equalization;
- Have a Certificate of Eligibility ("COE") issued by DOJ demonstrating that DOJ has checked its records and determined that the applicant is not prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms;
- Have an annual license granted by the duly constituted licensing authority of any city, county, or city and county (if the local jurisdiction does not have a dealer licensing system, the dealer must obtain and provide to DOJ a letter to this effect from the local licensing authority); and
- Be on DOJ's centralized list of all persons licensed to sell firearms…
With limited exceptions for gun shows and non-profit events, California requires firearms dealers to conduct business only in the buildings designated in the license.
Dealers are required to renew their business licenses every year.
(2) Transfer of Firearms & Ammunition
For laws requiring dealers to conduct a background check on prospective firearm purchasers, see the Background Checks in California section. For laws requiring dealers to report firearm transactions to the DOJ, and to maintain records of firearms transactions…
A California firearms dealer may not deliver a firearm:
- During the state's ten-day waiting period, or while DOJ has placed the sale on hold (see the Waiting Periods in California section); or
- Unless unloaded and securely wrapped, or unloaded and in a locked container.
Dealers are also required to:
- Offer to provide a copy of the DOJ pamphlet which summarizes California firearms laws, and may add the cost of the pamphlet, if any, to the sales price of the firearm; and
- Ensure that the purchaser obtains or has obtained a firearms safety device listed on DOJ's roster of approved firearms safety devices…
In addition, firearms dealers are prohibited from delivering a handgun to a purchaser or transferee unless that person:
- Presents a Handgun Safety Certificate ("HSC") (see the Licensing of Gun Owners or Purchasers in California section);
- Submits documentation indicating that he or she is a California resident; and
- Performs a safe handling demonstration with the handgun being purchased…
DOJ may require firearms dealers to charge each purchaser a fee of up to $14, which may be increased as necessary to fund DOJ for costs associated with DOJ's firearms-related regulatory and enforcement activities involving the sale, purchase, possession, loan or transfer of firearms. DOJ has set the current fee at $19.
The packaging and any descriptive materials that accompany any firearm manufactured in California, or sold or transferred by a dealer, including private transfers conducted through a dealer, must bear a label containing the following warning statement in both English and Spanish:
"WARNING Children are attracted to and can operate firearms that can cause severe injuries or death. Prevent child access by always keeping guns locked away and unloaded when not in use. If you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison."
A yellow triangle containing an exclamation mark must appear immediately before the word "Warning" on the label.
Dealers who sell long gun safes that do not meet certain standards are also required to attach warnings regarding those long gun safes…
All licensed firearms dealers must process private party transfers of long guns upon request. Licensed dealers who sell, transfer, or stock handguns must also process private party handgun transactions.
As regards ammunition sales, California adopted a groundbreaking law in 2009 (AB 962) that prohibits anyone engaged in the retail sale of handgun ammunition (including firearms dealers), or holding themselves out as being in the business of selling handgun ammunition from, among other things, selling or transferring any handgun ammunition without recording certain information about the purchaser at the time of delivery, including his or her right thumbprint and the name of the salesperson that processed the transfer, as well as the brand, type and amount of ammunition purchased.
The law also requires that delivery or transfer of handgun ammunition may occur only in a face-to-face transaction, and the purchaser must provide some form of photo identification.
The provisions of AB 962 were to go into effect on February 1, 2011, but are not yet in effect due to ongoing litigation…
(3) Posted Warnings
California firearms dealers must conspicuously post certain specified warnings regarding, among other things:
- California's child access prevention laws;
- The likelihood of lead exposure when handling firearms or ammunition;
- The federal regulation that requires dealers to transfer firearms within 30 days of a background check; and
- California's prohibition against purchasing more than one handgun per month.
The warnings must be posted in block letters not less than one inch in height.
(4) Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms
Dealers must report the loss or theft of any firearm within 48 hours of discovery to the appropriate law enforcement agency in the city, county, or city and county in California where the dealer's business premises are located.
(5) Storage of Firearms
Subject to very narrow exceptions, all firearms in the inventory of a licensed California firearms dealer must be kept at the dealer's licensed location.
Any time a dealer is not open for business, he or she must secure all firearms stored at the licensed place of business using one of the following methods for each particular firearm:
- Store the firearm in a "secure facility" that is a part of, or that constitutes, the licensee's business premises;
- Secure the firearm with a hardened steel rod or cable of at least one-eighth inch in diameter through the trigger guard of the firearm. The steel rod or cable must be secured with a hardened steel lock that has a shackle. The lock and shackle must be protected or shielded from the use of a bolt cutter and the rod or cable must be anchored in a manner that prevents the removal of the firearm from the premises; or
- Store the firearm in a locked fireproof safe or vault in the licensee's business premises.
The licensing authority in an unincorporated area of a county or within a city may impose stricter security requirements than those specified above.
A dealer may not display a handgun or imitation handgun, or placard advertising the sale or other transfer of a handgun or imitation handgun, in any part of the premises where it can readily be seen from the outside.
(6) Employee Background Checks
California firearms dealers may require any agent or employee who handles, sells, or delivers firearms at a dealer's place of business to obtain and provide to the dealer a COE from DOJ demonstrating his or her eligibility to possess firearms. DOJ is required to notify the dealer in the event that the agent or employee having a COE is or becomes prohibited from possessing firearms.
A dealer must prohibit any agent or employee who the dealer knows or reasonably should know is within a class of persons prohibited from possessing firearms from coming into contact with any firearm that is not secured.
The city or county where the dealership is located may also:
- Conduct an additional background check on the dealer's agents or employees;
- Prohibit employment based on criminal history that does not appear as part of obtaining a COE, provided that the local jurisdiction may not charge a fee for the additional criminal history check; or
- Enact an ordinance imposing additional conditions on dealers with regard to agents.
If the city or county in which the dealer operates requires a background check of dealer's agents or employees, an agent or employee must obtain a COE.
(7) The Reporting of Acquired Firearms
Dealers must report the acquisition of any handgun to DOJ on the date he or she receives the handgun. Commencing January 1, 2014, this requirement is extended to long guns. However, this reporting requirement does not apply to firearms the dealer receives from wholesalers, federally licensed importers, manufacturers, or out-of-state dealers…