California’s gun laws provide that certain immediate family members can conduct paperless transfers of legal firearms. “Paperless” means the person transferring the gun does not have to be a licensed firearms dealer and is not required to run a background check on the recipient. The transferor can simply hand the gun over to the transferee.
Transfers among “immediate family members” include transfers between a parent and their adult child, a grandparent and their adult grandchild, and between spouses and registered domestic partners.
In most other transfers, the person supplying the firearm must possess a valid Federal Firearm License (FFL) and be a legal firearms dealer. That person is also required, per United States federal law, to initiate and complete a background check on the transferee before any transfer can take place.
A person that sells or transfers a gun without being licensed to do so violates California Penal Code 26500 PC, California’s statute regarding unlicensed gun sales. Penalties include misdemeanor charges and up to six months in county jail.
Per Penal Code 26840 PC, any person who acquires a firearm must have a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). This means that while some family members can conduct a paperless transfer, the transferee must still have a valid FSC.
How does a parent transfer a firearm to an adult child?
California gun laws allow a parent to conduct a paperless transfer of a gun to an adult child, provided that:
- the child is not prohibited from the possession of the firearm (e.g., is not a felon), and
- the firearm is legal to possess (e.g., is not an assault weapon).1
The same rules apply when the transfer of a firearm is between a grandparent and an adult grandchild. The transaction is similar to gifting the gun. The transferor can simply hand over the firearm to the transferee.2
Note that the following family members are not allowed to perform paperless transfers:
- uncles, and
In addition, paperless transfers are only allowed if the family members are both California residents.
Legal transfers of guns between immediate family members are sometimes referred to as:
- intrafamilial transfers, or
- intra-familial firearm transactions.
Note that if the firearm being transferred is a handgun, state law says that the transferee must obtain:
- a Handgun Safety Certificate prior to gun ownership/possession, and
- a Report of Operation of Law, or a Report of Intra-Familial Handgun Transaction.
With the latter, the recipient must submit the report and $19 to the State of California’s Department of Justice (DOJ) within 30 days after taking possession of the firearm.
Can spouses/registered domestic partners transfer a firearm between themselves?
Spouses/registered domestic partners can conduct paperless transfers of guns provided that:
- the recipient is not prohibited from possessing the gun,
- the firearm is not illegal to possess, and
- the spouses/partners are California residents.4
If the firearm is a handgun, then the same rules stated above apply.
Outside the specific transfers mentioned above involving qualified immediate family members, almost all other gun transfers in the State of California must be performed through a licensed gun dealer.5 This even includes:
- transfers at gun shows, and
- private party transfers (sometimes referred to as “PPTs”).
What is required to be a licensed dealer?
In order to obtain a California license to sell, transfer, or lease firearms, a person must obtain and maintain all of the following:
- a valid FFL,
- any regulatory or business license or licenses required by local government,
- a valid seller’s permit issued by the State Board of Equalization,
- a certificate of eligibility issued by the DOJ, and
- an appropriate one-year license issued by an authorized licensing authority.6
Note that even if a person is a licensed dealer, he/she can only sell or aid in the transfer of legal firearms. Illegal firearms in California include (but are not limited to):
- guns classified under California’s assault weapons laws, including .50 BMG rifles (unless the person has a permit for such weapons specifically),
- “generally prohibited weapons,” and
- handguns not listed on the DOJ’s “Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale.”
When a gun gets sold in California, dealers must request a valid diver’s license (or another appropriate form of identification) from the purchaser to ensure that he/she is 21 years of age or older. Persons under 21 are prohibited from purchasing a gun.7
In addition, the dealer must:
- initiate and complete a background check on the buyer, and
- collect certain DROS information from the purchaser and submit it to the DOJ.
Federal law prohibits a person from acquiring or possessing a gun if he/she:
- has been convicted of certain crimes, or
- is subject to a court order related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition.8
California law imposes a 10-day waiting period before a firearm can be released to a purchaser or transferee. Further, the recipient of the gun must pay the seller certain transfer fees.
What happens if a person sells or transfers a gun without being a licensed dealer?
Penal Code 26500 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to sell, lease, or transfer firearms in the State without a valid license or permit. 9
A violation of the law is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and
- a maximum $1,000 fine.10
These penalties are imposed for every firearm that one sells, leases, or transfers without a permit.
Certain people, transactions, and firearms are exempt from prosecution under PC 26500. These include (but are not limited to):
- people acting under the operation of law or court order,
- law enforcement officers,
- people disposing of guns they have inherited,
- transfers to and from federally authorized firearms importers, dealers, and manufacturers,
- the temporary loan of firearms at target facilities,
- use of unloaded firearms used as props in movies, television shows, and other entertainment productions,
- delivery of unloaded curios or relics to licensed collectors of antique firearms, and
- the loan of a firearm to a gunsmith for repair.11
- California Penal Code 27870 and Penal Code 16720 PC. On June 4, 2021, a federal judge overturned California’s ban on assault weapons on the grounds that it violates the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. But assault weapons remain illegal in California while the state appeals the ruling.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 16720 PC.
- California Penal Code 27870 PC and California Family Code 850 FAM.
- California Penal Code 27545 PC.
- California Penal Code 26700 PC.
- See California Attorney General’s website, “What is the process for purchasing a firearm in California?”
- Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, 107 Stat. 1536.
- California Penal Code 26500 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 26510-26587 PC.