Published by The Law Offices of Bruce Colodny
Revised & Copyright © 2017
Importation By New California Residents
Any person who moves into California as a new resident and who brings a firearm (other than a firearm classified as an antique firearm under Federal law) with them, must do one of the following:
1. Complete and submit a NEW RESIDENT REPORT OF FIREARM OWNERSHIP form, downloadable HERE to the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms together with the processing fee indicated on the form.;
2. Sell or transfer the firearm to a California licensed firearms dealer, or to another person through a California dealer.; or
3. Sell or transfer the handgun(s) to a California police or sheriff's department.
CAUTION: Some varieties of semiautomatic firearms and some shotguns cannot be brought into California by new residents because they have been classified as Assault Weapons, see California Assault Weapons below.
Failure to report imported handguns as required could result in criminal prosecution for violation of Penal Code Section 27590, a misdemeanor, with a possible penalty of up to six months imprisonment in the county jail, or by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by both such imprisonment and fine. In addition, the importer should expect forfeiture of handguns not reported.
Firearms Which May Not Be Imported Into California (Without a Special Permit)
Many firearms may not be imported into California without a special permit.
Those semi-automatic centerfire rifles and shotguns classified as assault weapons in California cannot be imported under most circumstances. See California Assault Weapons, below.
Cartridge shotguns with a barrel length under 18" or an overall length under 26" are generally not importable, and possession may be a felony under both California and Federal law. CAUTION: Handguns designed to fire both .45 Colt cartridges and .410 shotgun shells (for example many Taurus revolvers such as "The Judge"), while not subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act of 1934 because they have rifled (rather than smooth-bore) barrels, are classified in California as short-barreled shotguns and it is a potential felony to imported into or possess them in California without a special permit.
Cartridge rifles with a barrel length under 16" or an overall length under 26" are generally not importable, and possession may be a felony under both California and Federal law.
Cartridge rifles with a bore diameter greater than .50" are generally not importable, except for big bore sporting rifles. Modern big bore rifles other than sporting rifles are classified as "Destructive Devices". Possession may be a felony under both California and Federal law.
Rifles which can fire the .50 Browning Machine Gun (.50 BMG) cartridge are not importable because such rifles have been classified as Assault Weapons.
A rifle with a tubular magazine capable of holding more than ten cartridges is also not importable, unless the rifle is .22 caliber, or the magazine is contained in a lever action rifle. For applicable penalties, see Large Capacity Magazines, below.
California Assault Weapons
If you are NOT planning to import any semi-automatic centerfire rifles, any semiautomatic pistols, any semiautomatic shotguns, any shotgun with a revolving cylinder, or any rifle which can fire the .50 BMG cartridge, you may skip this section, otherwise pay very careful attention.
Before you move to California you must make certain that you are not planning to import any firearm which may be considered to be Assault Weapon as defined by California law.
Importation of an Assault Weapon is a felony which, upon conviction, shall be punished by four, six or eight years in state prison.
In the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) the California Legislature defined Assault Weapons by listing specific makes and models. Those named firearms remain Assault Weapons and cannot be lawfully imported into California. Far more firearms were classified as Assault Weapons by certain generic characteristics effective January 1, 2000. To determine if a firearm which you are thinking of importing may be a prohibited Assault Weapon, carefully compare the characteristics of your firearm to the statutory language:
California Penal Code section 30515. Assault weapon further defined
1. Any semiautomatic centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following;
A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon,
A thumbhole stock,
A folding or telescoping stock,
A grenade launcher or flare launcher,
A flash suppressor,
A forward pistol grip.
2. A semiautomatic centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
3. A semiautomatic centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches.
4. A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and and one of the following;
A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer.
A second handgrip.
A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside the pistol grip.
5. A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
6. A semiautomatic shotgun that has both of the following:
A folding or telescoping stock.
A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip.
7. A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
8. Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
Further, California Penal Code § 30530 specifies that any rife that can fire a .50 BMG cartridge is an Assault Weapon, and therefore such rifles are generally not importable.
The California Department of Justice offers their Assault Weapons Identification Guide HERE. However, if you have any concerns that some of the firearms you want to bring into California may be classified as Assault Weapons, consult a qualified California attorney before such firearms are transported to the State.
Olympic Pistol Exemptions
A few makes and models of precision target pistols which accept the magazine outside of the pistol grip have been exempted from Assault Weapon regulation to permit their use in National Rifle Association, International Shooting Union (ISU), and Olympic competition. These specifically named firearms are chambered for one of the three calibers used in such competitive shooting, .22 short, .22 long rifle, or .32 S&W Long. The original list of eighteen exempted pistols has been widely expanded at the request of USA Shooting, the national governing body for international shooting in the United States. For the list as amended go HERE.
Large Capacity Magazines
A "large-capacity magazine", meaning any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds, is generally not importable, but the prohibition does not apply to a feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate more than ten rounds, a .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device, or a tubular magazine that is contained in a lever action firearm. Importation of a large-capacity magazine as defined may be punished as a misdemeanor with up to one year imprisonment in the county jail, or as a felony with a sentence of up to three years in state prison.
Restricted Importation Of Handguns
Most of the handguns which may be legally imported into California for sale or to be kept for sale are handguns of those specific makes, models, types, barrel length and caliber presently listed on the Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale see HERE
These handguns have all been submitted for testing and certification by manufacturers or importers who are required to pay an annual fee to renew the listing. Each variety of handgun certified has passed firing, safety and drop testing. Certain single-action revolvers and single-shot pistols are exempt from certification.
Many specific makes and models of target pistols suitable for use in Olympic competition have been exempted from both the "unsafe handguns" and assault weapons provisions. For the latest complete list see HERE
California also allows importation of certain handguns of unusual interest to collectors which are classified as curios or relics by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). To read the ATF's explanation of curio or relic status and for lists of specific firearms which have been classified as curios or relics, use this link to the ATF website page with information and links concerning curio or relic firearms HERE.
Importation By California Licensed Collectors
If a Californian who has a Type 03 Collector of Curios or Relics Federal Firearms License (03 FFL) and California Certificate of Eligibility (COE) acquires a firearm classified as a curio or relic from outside the state, within five days of transporting the firearm into the state, the collector must submit to the California Department of Justice a Form BOB 4100A CURIO OR RELIC FIREARM REPORT, downloadable HERE, together with the required fee.
Importation Through California Licensed Dealers
Before you commit to purchasing a cartridge firearm from an out of state source, make certain that a Federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL) qualified to do business in California may lawfully receive the firearm and transfer it to you. Effective 1 July 2008, every FFL dealer wherever located who wishes to transfer a firearm to any FFL dealer in California must first register with the Firearms Bureau of the California Department of Justice, and before shipping or delivering a firearm, must obtain an authorization number from the Firearms Bureau. No approval number is required for a firearm which is being transferred to a California FFL by a private party.
This article was drafted by Attorney Eric H. Archer for the Law Offices of Bruce Colodny. Subsequent revisions were made by Mr. Colodny.