California’s more than 6 million gun owners are going to see new restrictions in 2018 stemming from sweeping regulations lawmakers and voters have approved over the past two years.
But due to pending court challenges, shifting deadlines and contradictions in the laws, many gun owners say they’re unsure about new rules regulating where they can buy ammunition, what classifies as an assault rifle and whether it’s still legal to own high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“I still get questions every single day,” said Nathan Woodard, manager of Sacramento Black Rifle, a Citrus Heights gun store. “People are still confused.”
With that in mind, The Sacramento Bee addresses some of the most pressing questions facing California gun owners.
Can I still own an assault rifle?
Yes, but you can’t buy them any more. And you have to register the ones you have.
In 2016, California’s already-tough gun laws got tougher when lawmakers passed a bill that sought to ban the sale of guns with so-called “bullet buttons” that gun-control activists said circumvented a law banning assault weapons. California now defines an “assault weapon” as any semi-automatic, centerfire rifle or semi-automatic pistol that lacks a fixed magazine and has one of a number of features that include a protruding pistol grip or a folding or telescoping stock.
If you already owned such a gun before the new law, you can keep it, but you were supposed to register it with the California Department of Justice by the end of this year. However, the registration deadline has been extended to June 30, 2018.
Can I own a detachable magazine holding more than 10 rounds?
Yes. For now.
Californians who owned detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition were supposed to get rid of them by this past July or face criminal penalties. But gun rights groups challenged the ban. A judge issued an injunction this summer preventing the ban from taking effect while the legal challenges play out.
Two pending cases are likely to have hearings early next year, one of them before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a gun-rights group.
Can I buy ammunition online or from a catalog?
Yes, but you can’t ship it to your home any more starting Jan. 1. You can still buy online or from a catalog, but you now have to ship ammunition first to a licensed vendor who can charge you a processing fee.
This isn’t a big change for Sacramentans. Their city, along with a few others around California, already had ordinances prohibiting direct mail of ammunition.
Does that direct-mail ban apply to “reloading” supplies such as bare bullets and empty cartridges?
No. The regulations on mail order sales don’t address unassembled ammunition parts bought by those who make their own.
Will I have to undergo a background check to buy ammunition?
Not in 2018. While you will have to go through a licensed dealer to transfer or buy ammo in California starting Jan. 1, background checks won’t start until July 2019.
Will I have to buy a special ammunition permit under the new background check rules?
Probably not. Proposition 63, approved by voters in 2016, included a provision that would have required ammunition buyers to pay the state up to $50 for a four-year permit to buy ammunition. But legislation signed the same year by Gov. Jerry Brown appears to have overridden that provision – at least for the time being. Rather than requiring a permit, the legislation Brown signed says ammunition buyers will instead pay a $1 state fee for a background check at the point of sale.
Legal experts say it’s not a sure bet that the law Brown signed would survive a court challenge, since voter-approved initiatives usually supersede legislation.
But so far, no one is pressing that issue. The backers of Prop. 63, championed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, haven’t challenged the legislation pushed by State Sen. President Kevin de León and signed by Brown. (Newsom and de León had a spat in 2016 over whose plan for regulating ammunition should prevail.)
Combs, the president of the gun rights group, said he doesn’t expect 2nd Amendment activists to push for Prop. 63’s background check rule either, because the legislation Brown signed is less of a hassle for consumers than what voters approved.
Can I drive in ammunition I bought out of state?
No. On Jan. 1, it will be illegal to import into California ammunition purchased in another state. The legislature passed a bill in 2016 that would have allowed hunters to bring in up to 50 rounds from out of state without taking it to a dealer, but Proposition 63 overrode that, according to the Department of Justice.
Will there be a limit on how much ammo I can buy?
No. The new rules impose no limits on ammo quantity.
Didn’t California ban open-carry of long guns?
Sort of. This fall, Brown signed a bill that makes it a misdemeanor starting Jan. 1 to openly carry an unloaded long gun in an unincorporated area of a county, but the law only applies in areas where county supervisors have prohibited shooting firearms. Most counties don’t have such shooting bans, and national forest lands, wildlife refuges, gun ranges and other areas where shooting is currently allowed wouldn’t fall under the ban.
Are there exceptions to these rules?
Yes, there are, but in very limited cases. For instance, law enforcement officials are exempt from some of the rules pertaining to ammunition, assault weapons and magazines; so are federal firearms license holders. Chances are the folks exempt from the rules already know they’re exempt, but further information can be found at the Department of Justice firearms website.