Published by the Law Offices of Bruce Colodny
Revised & Copyright © 2017
For California residents, attending an out of state gun show can be a nostalgic trip down memory lane, often frustrating, and sometimes too tempting. You can have a great time, but if you plan to buy or sell anything, you must be mindful of restrictions imposed by Federal law and regulation, the State of California, and, also, the locality where the gun show is held.
Always Remember Federal Firearms Laws Apply Everywhere
Since 1968 in every state, Federal law prohibits transfers of modern firearms by private parties to anyone who is not a resident of their own state, except for transfers to a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), and there are very few exceptions to this prohibition. For example, although one unlicensed Nevada resident may purchase or receive a modern firearm direct from another, an unlicensed Nevada resident cannot directly transfer a modern firearm to an unlicensed California resident.
Federal law also usually bars transfer of a firearm by an FFL to a resident of another state, unless the recipient is a Federally-licensed dealer or collector of curio or relic firearms. In some states, an FFL dealer may transfer a rifle or shotgun to a resident of another state if the prospective buyer's state does not object, but California bars such transactions.
SUGGESTION: If you are thinking of buying a firearm from an out of state dealer or a resident of another state, check to make sure a California FFL dealer can legally receive that 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, obtain an authorization number from the Firearms Bureau.
Federal law everywhere also bars transfer of firearms to any person whom you know, or should know, is legally prohibited for varied reasons, such as pending felony charges, prior felony convictions, prior misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence, prior findings of mental illness, outstanding restraining orders, habitual use of narcotics, dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military, or illegal residence in the United States.
Unusual firearms that are illegal or highly restricted in California may also be Federal contraband unless they are properly registered to the current possessor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (commonly called BATFE or ATF). Examples of firearms which are normally subject to Federal registration and transfer under the National Firearms Act (NFA) include:
A cartridge firearm which does, or may be readily converted, or restored to fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger, i.e., a machinegun, abbreviated MG.
A souvenir machinegun which has been deliberately made unserviceable, commonly called a DEWAT, meaning deactivated war trophy.
Any combination of parts from which a machinegun may be assembled and any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun.
A cartridge firearm with a bore greater than .50 caliber, except for sporting shotguns, and a few big game sporting rifles. Such a firearm is classified as a destructive device, or DD.
A cartridge shotgun with barrel(s) less than 18" and/or an overall length less than 26", termed a Short Barreled Shotgun, or SBS.
A cartridge rifle with barrel less than 16" and/or an overall length less than 26", termed a Short Barreled Rifle, or SBR.
A cartridge pistol made using the action of a rifle or shotgun.
A cartridge firearm with a smooth bore, other than a shotgun of lawful length, under Federal law termed an Any Other Weapon, or AOW.
A cartridge firearm with both a rifled barrel and a shotgun barrel where the overall length of the barrels is less than 18", commonly called a combination gun, also Federally classified as an Any Other Weapon, or AOW.
A functioning cartridge firearm which looks like something else, such as a belt buckle, pipe, glove, knife, flashlight, or cane, commonly called a gadget gun, also classified as an Any Other Weapon or AOW under Federal law.
A cartridge pistol or revolver with a barrel under 16" fitted, sold, or possessed with a detachable shoulder stock, often called a pistol-carbine.
Any firearms silencer, combination of parts designed or redesigned and intended to assemble a silencer, and any part intend for use only in assembling or fabricating a silencer.
Some unusual firearms generically described above may not require NFA registration if they were manufactured in or before 1898 and use fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade, if they are listed as exempt from the NFA in an ATF publication, or if they are specifically exempted from NFA registration by an ATF ruling letter.
SUGGESTION: If you are not familiar with the rules governing National Firearms Act weapons, or if you do not know if your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) will approve your application to the ATF to transfer an NFA weapon to you, don't commit to buying an NFA firearm until you have confirmed that you may lawfully receive and possess it in California.
More Restrictive State Laws Take Precedence Over Federal Law
California laws often restrict or bar possession, importation, or transfer of firearms or accessories which are not prohibited under Federal law. This is nothing new; the Gun Control Act of 1968 expressly allowed more stringent state regulation. Moreover, as California's weapons laws have changed, many prized collectible firearms became restricted or problematic. If you are a Californian thinking of buying, importing, or selling any firearm other than a conventional manually-operated sporting rifle or shotgun, you may be unpleasantly surprised.
Effective January 1, 2000, some very collectible semi-automatic firearms became highly restricted in California when generic definitions of Assault Weapons were added to the California Penal Code by Senate Bill 23. California's Assault Weapons Control Act does not recognize Federal curio or relic status, so the World War Two classic U.S. military M1A1 carbine became a California Assault Weapon because it accepts a detachable magazine, and it is fitted with a folding stock. Language in the same bill, intended to reclassify the Marlin semi-automatic Camp Carbine with a "bullpup" stock as an Assault Weapon, may have the same effect on curio or relic semi-automatic Mauser "broomhandle" and Luger pistol carbines if the overall length is less than 30".
In contrast, earlier California law does allow possession of Short Barreled Rifles if they are curios or relics lawfully possessed under Federal law. For example, a former U.S. Air Force Harrington & Richardson M4 bolt action .22 Hornet survival rifle with 14" barrel would be legal in California if it is Federally registered as an NFA weapon, and possessed by the Californian named in the registration papers.
However, many firearms collectors do not realize that California's definition of an antique firearm is not as generous as the Federal rules which exempt from regulation as antiques those firearms made in or before 1898. California uses the same 1898 date, but the state does not exempt short barreled antique cartridge rifles or carbines for which rimfire or centerfire ammunition is available through commercial channels from the minimum 16" barrel length requirement. As a result, a Winchester Model 1892 "trapper" carbine in .44-40 caliber made with a 14" barrel in 1898 or earlier, is objectionable in California as a short barreled rifle, but an identical firearm made in 1899 is acceptable in California if the ATF has classified and listed it by serial number as a curio or relic.
Always Expect Continuing And Intense Scrutiny At Gun Shows
Every gun show attendee should expect observation by law enforcement. Investigation of your identity, firearms ownership, and eligibility to own guns may begin as soon as you park at the facility where a gun show is held. Such investigative activity has been conducted at gun shows in adjacent states by California law enforcement. Although local gun law enforcement may not be as energetic or obvious in other states, Federal agents should be expected everywhere gun shows are open to the public.
SUGGESTIONS: At a gun show always assume you are under observation and that everything you do or say is being recorded. Expect and immediately decline all invitations to act illegally. Attempted parking lot deals, invitations to step outside to see some bargains or "special" firearms, and questions about improper or informal firearms transfers are common preludes to entrapment. Finally, do not offer to buy or sell California restricted items at gun shows.
This article was drafted by Attorney Eric H. Archer for The Law Offices of Bruce Colodny.