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Know the Laws: California

UPDATED January 2, 2017

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Below is information about state gun laws in California.  A restraining order or criminal conviction may make it illegal for an abuser to have a gun.  However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply. To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages. 

Please consider getting in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area.   To find help in your area, please go to the CA Where to Find Help page.

 

The Abuser Isn't Supposed to Have a Gun...Now What?

back to topIf the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser is convicted of a crime and his gun is taken away, it will be destroyed or sold by law enforcement officials.  If the abuser is ordered to give up his/her gun(s) by a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO), s/he has two choices: s/he can give them to local law enforcement officials for storage and safekeeping or s/he can sell them to a licensed gun dealer.* 

If the abuser gives his/her gun(s) to a local law enforcement agency, the gun(s) will be kept in the property warehouse until the protective order expires.  The abuser will have 24 hours after receiving notice of the order to turn in or sell his/her gun(s).  After 48 hours of receiving notice of the order, the abuser will have to fill out form DV-800 (“Proof of Firearm Turned In”) and file it in court to show that s/he has turned in or sold his gun(s).  If s/he fails to file this form, s/he will be violating the protective order.* *

This procedure will be explained to the abuser on the copy of the DVRO that is given to him/her. 

* Cal.Penal Code § 12028
** Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(c)(1)-(2)

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back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the State Police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our CA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in California on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our CA State and Local Programs page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.*

* United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?

Under CA state law, anyone who has, buys, or tries to buy a gun while under a protective order is guilty of a public offense and can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, jail/ prison time for up to 1 year, or both.*  The abuser might also be violating federal firearm laws as well, which carries separate penalties.  See Federal Gun Laws for more information.

* Ann.Cal.Penal Code §12021(g)(1)-(2)

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