Some good news about California ammo laws

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63. It, in conjunction with related legislation, requires that — among other things, like banning the mere possession of magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds — ammunition buyers undergo a background check prior to buying ammunition in California.

Until 2019, the background check information is conducted by the state, but the only records are kept by the local dealer. Starting in 2019, ammunition purchases from dealers are required to be registered with the state, just like gun purchases.

In addition, direct ship-to-home purchases are forbidden, though one can have ammo ordered and delivered to a local dealer who handles the background check and state registration, as well as the collection of relevant state sales tax. Importing ammo from other states is a misdemeanor, if caught.

As someone who values both my gun rights, my privacy, and the convenience of online ordering, this is a major issue.

Fortunately, the relevant section of law has several exceptions, which I discovered today (other, more informed people likely knew of this long ago but it’s new to me). Let’s look at the relevant section of the California Penal Code:


[Skipping over part (a).]

(b) Commencing January 1, 2018, the sale, delivery, or transfer of ownership of ammunition by any party may only occur in a face-to-face transaction with the seller, deliverer, or transferor, provided, however, that ammunition may be purchased or acquired over the Internet or through other means of remote ordering if a licensed ammunition vendor initially receives the ammunition and processes the transaction in compliance with this section and Article 3 (commencing with Section 30342) of Chapter 1 of Division 10 of Title 4 of this part.

In short: you can order ammo online, but it needs to go to a local dealer who needs to do the background check, state registration, etc. That’s a pain, but it still leaves the option open for those who are willing to jump through the hoops — they could have forbidden all online sales entirely.

(c) Subdivisions (a) and (b) shall not apply to the sale, delivery, or transfer of ammunition to any of the following:

Following is a long list of exceptions, such as exempting police departments, individual police officers (my non-lawyerly interpretation is that it exempts individual police officers, even if they buy ammo for personal use, so long as they are authorized to carry a firearm in the course and scope of their duties), federally-licensed ammo importers or manufacturers, FFL (including standard 01 FFL and C&R 03 FFL) holders residing outside the state (though why they’d need CA approval if they’re not in CA is beyond me), target ranges (so long as the ammo is kept on the range at all times), training facilities for police, etc.

Of particular interest is this section:

(6) A person who is licensed as a collector of firearms pursuant to Chapter 44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States Code and the regulations issued pursuant thereto, whose licensed premises are within this state, and who has a current certificate of eligibility issued by the Department of Justice pursuant to Section 26710.

What’s this? Someone who has a C&R 03 FFL (which costs $30 for 3 years) and who has a $22/year (plus a ~$100 first-year fee) “Certificate of Eligibility” from the state of California is exempt from that law and can order ammo directly to one’s home without having to undergo an annoying background check at each sale, and with the state being none the wiser about what ammo one’s buying?

I asked several major ammo vendors who sell online, and they said their lawyers confirmed my interpretation of the law. Great!

But what is the “Certificate of Eligibility”? According to the state, it’s a document that “certifies the Department of Justice (DOJ) has checked its records and determined the recipient is not prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms at the time the firearms eligibility criminal background check was performed”. It is required for “prospective licensed firearms dealers, licensed ammunition vendors, manufacturers, certified instructors, gun show promoters [WTF? -AZR], explosive permit holders, and other firearm related employment activities”. In short, you get the background check done ahead of time and you’re good to go for a year without needing to deal with the hassles the whole time.

Sure, the local police department is informed about one possessing a C&R 03 FFL, but no action is required on their part and it likely just disappears into some file somewhere or gets thrown out. The state also knows one has a Certificate of Eligibility, but so long as one orders ammo for delivery, they don’t get any information about individual purchases.

Unfortunately, even those with CoEs are required to do the full background check and registration when buying ammo at retail dealers.

These laws are a huge hassle and, while I loathe the fact that a C&R 03 FFL and CoE are required to bypass the absurd background check and state registration of ammo purchases (which ended up costing the state $25 million to start, plus unspecified ongoing costs — hooray bureaucracy!), the fact that one can bypass those absurd requirements with relatively minimal hassle and cost is at least some relief. In addition, one can personally import ammo from other states (e.g., in the trunk of a car) if one has a C&R 03 FFL and CoE.

I already planned on getting a C&R 03 FFL, as I had before I left the country, and getting a CoE means the state gets even less information about me than if I didn’t have one, so that’s not too bad as far as California goes.

2 thoughts on “Some good news about California ammo laws”

  1. You mentioned that you like your privacy. Having a 03FFL and COE makes your home into a place of business into which the state may enter. No thanks, I’ll pass.

    1. [citation needed]

      This is not true. The ATF is entitled to review the bound book and relevant records of a C&R FFL holder, as they are with any FFL, but merely having a C&R FFL doesn’t turn your home into a place of business. If they want to talk to you, they’ll set up an appointment and you can either have them enter your house or you can meet at a local ATF field office. Unless they have a warrant to enter your house, merely having a C&R FFL does not grant them permission to enter your house.

      Similarly, I can find nothing in the law or regulations about mere possession of a COE making one’s home into a place of business. It’s true that California law requires that those in the firearms business must have a COE, but there’s nothing I can find that says that those with a COE must be in the firearms business, or that the address listed on the COE becomes a place of business into which the state can enter at any time.

      That said, I’m not a lawyer, but the whole “C&R FFL = business = no privacy” thing has been an incorrect rumor since long before I started blogging.

      As I’ve said earlier, I don’t like the whole concept of permits, licensing, COEs, etc., but the alternative — specifically needing to be background checked and registered with the state whenever buying ammo at retail establishments while also being prohibited from ordering ammo mail-order — is far worse in my view. With a C&R FFL and COE, my privacy is enhanced. Sure, the ATF can request my bound book (but this happens only extremely rarely, if ever), and the state knows I have a COE, but they don’t know what ammo I purchase, in what calibers, or how often. That’s a big improvement over the current California situation.

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