Shopping for a firearm shouldn't have to be difficult or confusing. That's why we wrote this article sharing information about what you need to buy a firearm in California.
Things You'll need:
- Real ID, Drivers License, or State ID
- Two (2) proofs of residence
- Firearms Safety Card, CCW, or Hunter Safety License
Let's dig into each of the bullet points above.
Real ID, Drivers License, or State ID
Having a California driver's license or ID which is considered a federal license is going to be the easiest method of verification. For more information on acquiring a California Real ID, please see this article from the DMV.
Federal limits apply on the old California driver's license or ID and you must provide more pieces of information like a passport, marriage certificate, or birth certificate.
Proof Of Residence
The proof of residence validates where you live (or where you claim to live) is actually where you live. Acceptable forms of proof include a real ID, vehicle registration, a reoccurring bill (such as a PG&E or cell phone), a hunting or fishing license, or a bank statement.
If you choose to use bank statements, we recommend bringing the last 3 months (just to be safe).
Firearms Safety Certification
The Firearm Safety Certification comes in many different forms. The most common is a 30-question test that can be taken at most gun shops for about $20 to $30 (price may vary depending on the gun shop).
The Firearm Safety Certification lasts for 5 years.
If you live in the Central Valley, a CCW qualifies as a waiver for the firearm safety certification. A hunting license can be used, as well as a DD-214 or a VA card for veterans that have been honorably discharged.
Once all the previous requirements and proofs have been supplied, the DROS DES/Nix check takes place (in California it's a DROS or Des everywhere else is considered a Nix Check). This is a state check which requires paperwork highlighting your personal information. Copies of the documents from the last section are included, and that's why we covered those first.
The DROS check asks basic qualifying questions like are you a felon, have you committed a crime, are you mentally sound, etc? The paperwork also includes the info about the firearm you'd like to buy.
The next form that must be filled out is the 4473, which is a federal side document to satisfy the ATF. It has most of the same information as the DROS but with more questions such as: are you the actual buyer of the firearm, have you renounced your citizenship, and roughly 10 - 15 other simple questions that must be answered.
The Wait (Is The Hardest Part)
California calls it the 10-day cool-off. It's the standard 10-day waiting period. This starts from the time the paperwork is submitted; so if you finish at 3:01 and 53 seconds in 10 days you can pick it up in 3:01 and 53 seconds.
Authors Note: Some gun shops will make you wait 11 days to prevent customer dissatisfaction from trying to pick up their firearm before the allowed time on day 10. Your local gun shop can tell you exactly when to pick up your purchase because the time and date are on the DROS. You can even ask for a copy of the DROS to take with you.
What's My Status?
After the 10-day wait, the gun shop will receive a notification about your purchase. The status can include any of the following:
We are equally happy! I'm authorized to release your purchase to you and you get to pick up your new gun. We all go about our regularly scheduled lives, and I'll see you on the range... Need ammo?
Delayed means another 30 days of waiting while the DOJ determines what's going on with your background. There could be something that you may or may not know about (read the next section for more info, and the link).
Undetermined means the DOJ responds to your background check to say they haven't found anything bad, but they haven't found anything good. Undetermined applications are left to the discretion of your local gun shop if they would like to release the weapon.
Some gun shops have a standing policy to not release firearms to clients with undetermined statuses.
It's possible to perform a personal check before the actual background check by filling out a BOF 116 form as we highlight here.
Depending on the return policy of your gun shop, it may be possible to get a refund. Some shops have restocking fees that can reach 25% or 30% so it's best to be certain you will pass the background check before purchasing.
If the background check comes back with a denied status, there is nothing anyone can do about it, and you won't be able to receive your new firearm.
This is another example of how the BOF 116 form can help you get a background check done to see what is going on with your paperwork.
This article covered what documents you need to buy a firearm in California: the BOF 116 form, the background check, its associated statuses, and the waiting period.
We hope this helps you when planning for your next (or first) firearm purchase.