california compliant gun laws

The Rapidly Disappearing California-Compliant Handguns And Rifles

There is such a thing as California-compliant guns...but they are getting fewer every years. The state of California has been long known for its insouciance concerning the Second Amendment rights of its citizens and is getting worse every year.

That state imposes a number of regulations on guns, including which makes and models are acceptable to own. California authorities' inimical disposition towards...well, seemingly freedom...makes it imperative that residents getting into guns and anyone that will be moving there know which guns are kosher and which have been voted off the island, so to speak.

Regulations Concerning California Compliant Guns

california compliant guns

California compliant guns generally fall under two categories: long guns and handguns.

California compliant rifles break down into traditional rifles - your typical bolt gun is no problem - and modern sporting rifles, and that's where you have some issues. Modern sporting rifles/semi-automatic rifles are subject to a "banned features" list. Yes, that means an "assault weapon" ban. Granted, you can try to get a CA Dangerous Weapon Permit, but the average Joe isn't getting one.

As such, a semi-automatic rifle in California cannot have the following features:

  • A detachable magazine and any one of the following:
  • Pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously below the stock
  • Thumbhole, telescopic or folding stock
  • Grenade or flare launcher
  • Flash suppressor
  • Forward pistol grip
  • Fixed magazine holding more than 10 rounds
  • Overall length shorter than 30 inches

Regulations governing Massachusetts' compliant guns are lax by comparison; the only rifles that ordinary citizens can own that can hold more than 10 rounds are lever-action rifles.

Additionally, any semi-automatic shotgun is prohibited if:

  • It accepts a detachable magazine and any of the following:
  • Pistol grip protruding under the stock, action or a vertical handgrip
  • Collapsible or folding stock
  • A revolving cylinder

In other words, nothing tacticool allowed. You can get certain permits that will allow it, such as a Dangerous Weapons Permit, or a props permit for the movies, but outside of that...just forget it. Magazines in excess of 10 rounds are legal to own, but cannot be bought, sold, imported, gifted or otherwise obtained by legal means.

That brings us next to

California Compliant Handguns...What's Left Of Them

california compliant guns

California compliant handguns are disappearing faster than the California Condor. Just like Massachusetts and New York, there is a 10-round magazine capacity restriction. Unlike Massachusetts, there is no trigger pull weight requirement, however.

Where California handgun laws get truly insidious is the requirement for two "microstamps" to be imprinted on a spent cartridge. These must be unique stamps imprinted by the action of the mechanism; they must be unique to the firearm that fires the round. This means every shot fired by the pistol can be accounted for and no, the firing pin alone doesn't count.

Microstamping can be achieved by laser-engraving a unique stamp onto the head of the firing pin and on the breech face. This creates two unique stamps - tiny numbers, readable under a microscope - that, again, can identify the gun. The hitch is that it was only supposed to take effect once at least two manufacturers had begun making guns with this technology.

None currently are, yet the law is being enforced as of 2013. We'll actually revisit that in a bit here.

Just like Massachusetts, California maintains an approved handgun list. The California compliant pistols list updated every year and every year it shrinks a little more as fewer guns are approved as they are submitted for certification.

Thing about Massachusetts is that if you're in doubt, a 1911 or a concealed carry revolver almost always meets requirements and tends to pass their tests. Both are great carry guns in their own right, of course, but the state of California is a lot more hard-nosed. Various models of revolver are added to the banned list every year, as well as 1911-pattern pistols.

You can view the current California roster of handguns, and it is ample...but notice that every gun must be recertified by January 2019. It would be a good bet that the list shrinks by a considerable amount at that date.

California Compliant Guns And Lawsuits

california firearm compliance

Currently, California is facing a number of lawsuits concerning its gun laws in general and the list of California compliant guns.

One of the most famous recent suits was Peruta v. San Diego, sometimes referred to as Peruta v. California a Ninth Circuit case concerning a challenge of California's stringent "may issue" concealed carry laws, which are "no issue" in all but name in some jurisdictions. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the state. Since you can technically get the permit, the court says, that means your Second Amendment rights are properly respected. After all, their reasoning went, it doesn't say "carry and bear without getting a permit."

The National Shooting Sports Federation - the same folks who put on SHOT Show - filed a lawsuit against the state of California over the microstamping requirement initially in 2015, which was initially dismissed and then given a hearing on appeal. As of late 2017, the case is being considered by the California Supreme Court. The NSSF contends the law is unenforceable, as the law requires a technology be used that no one has figured out how to actually make work.

The NRA filed two lawsuits in that year against the state of California, one over the ammunition capacity restriction and another over a prohibition against "bullet buttons," a type of magazine release button that can be actuated with a tool. This is a popular feature on AR-pattern rifles, which allow the shooter to depress the button with, say, a loose round and drop the magazine free. The state requires any firearm with these devices to be registered as an "assault weapon."

And so on and so forth.

The state of California has largely been backed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, so exactly what will take place if any suits make it into the Supreme Court over time. The situation in the Golden state is complex, to put it nicely, and the trend in recent years has not been a positive one for people who actually relish their Second Amendment rights.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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