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Guns and Safes

California's Handgun License Law

California's Handgun License Law
by Ron Godwin, General Manager

12/10/02, Re-edited 11/3/13

Multiple phone conversations with CA-DOJ personnel
Penal Code Section 12071(b)
DOJ Information Bulletin 2002-03-FD dated 11/22/2002.
DOJ Information Bulletin 2002-05-FD dated 11/22/2002.
Handgun Safety Certificate Manual, Nov 2002
NRA Sacramento Office

The handgun license, (NRA assumed the role of lead negotiator), is, in the text of the law itself, called a "Handgun Safety Certificate" (HSC). It started off to be a "Handgun License". The change to "certificate" allowed our CA NRA lobbyist to claim to dealers and their membership that they defeated the Handgun License and "forced" the Democrat anti-gun legislators to stick to the Basic Firearms Safety Certificate (BFSC) style program. The short version is that they did stick to the BFSC style program, with a number of added impediments to handgun ownership. It is also fair to say that neither the old BFSC nor the new HSC are certificates; they are both licenses. Best response to this self-serving NRA exercise of semantics and, in my opinion, unnecessary compromise, is to call Gun Owners of California at (916) 967-4970 and sign up with a zero compromise organization.

The HSC is a license. You must take and pass a test, pay a $25 fee (, it is valid for 5 years after which it must be renewed. The BFSC required you to take and pass a test, pay a $20 fee, and it was supposed to be valid indefinitely. It went away on Jan 1, 2003, having been replaced by the new HSC. Webster's New College Dictionary defines license as 1. a) Official or legal permission to do or own a specified thing. b) proof of permission granted, as in the form of a document a driver's license. The same dictionary defines a certificate as 1. A document testifying to truth or accuracy. 2. A document issued to a person completing a course of study not leading to a diploma. The HSC is permission to buy a handgun. At some future date it will probably be required to own a handgun. We will continue to refer to the HSC as a license. We presume the NRA and the anti-gun Democrats that wrote the law will continue to call it a certificate.

The difference is in the legal implications. The State of California has now figured out how to license a Constitutional guarantee. Further, while the NRA may argue that they negotiated out some of the more pernicious provisions, they must also admit that their "negotiation" left anti-gun legislators with the foundation and vehicle to add future restrictions. It is unreasonable to assume that future impediments to the private ownership of handguns in California will not be added.

NOTE: Many more unreasonable impediments to handgun ownership have been added since this HSC law and you can read about them at length in the California penal code. Even so, impeding handgun ownership was not enough. Starting January 1, 2014, this so-called Safety Certificate program will expand to include rifles and shotguns. Compromising with the left is never enough, they always come back for more.

As stated the HSC took effect Jan 1, 2003, costs $25 ($15 to DOJ and $10 Instructor fee), be valid for 5 years, and require the passage of a test. The test will be administered by interested gun dealers who must be qualified as CA-DOJ Firearms Instructors. In addition to having an HSC, prospective handgun buyers must also provide proof of residency in the State of California. At present this means that the dealer must retain photocopies of one of the following: utility bills or residential lease from within the last 90 days or a property deed, or military Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. At least one problem with this is that a spouse whose name does not appear on these papers is prevented from buying a handgun.

Once the prospective handgun buyer gets through the HSC and pays the $25 fee, the residence documentation, and the 10 day wait, the delivery process kicks in. The buyer must have an approved by California Firearm Safety Device (FSD). This can take several forms, depending on what is or is not approved for the firearm in question. There are locking devices (locks/trigger/cable), lock boxes and lockers, and gun safes. The buyer must have the original receipt for locking devices that shows it was purchased within 30 days and that identifies the specific device by brand and model. Ditto for lock boxes approved for but a single handgun. The same receipt is required for lockers approved for multiple handguns but the receipt can be older than 30 days. Older HOMAKS and Stack-On lockers that were not California approved may not be used. Gun safes that are UL Residential Security Containers (RSC) or that meet a specific technical description require a receipt or you may sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury. Safes and lockers need not be presented at time of delivery. Locking devices and locks must be present at time of delivery.

NOTE: The federal 2005 Child Safety Act effectively outlaws the use of a CA approved gun locker or gun safe unless the handgun gun buyer acquired it within 10 days of the handgun delivery date. This law does not affect long guns. Considering that this really asinine law does not apply to long guns, it appears that the democrats who wrote it believe that children can only be injured by handguns and are impervious to bullets fired from long guns. We at the El Cajon Gun Exchange disagree and strongly encourage the use of gun safes as the best means to separate children from all firearms

Handgun buyers must also correctly perform a safe handling demonstration in the presence of a CA-DOJ certified instructor. Both the firearms dealer and the recipient of the handgun are required to sign an affidavit, which the dealer is required to retain as proof of compliance. Persons who are exempt from the HSC requirement are also exempt from the safe handling requirement.

I almost forgot, we also have to collect your thumbprint on the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS).

Now, the part everyone has been waiting for, the exemptions. Generally - consigned handguns being returned to owner, active duty U.S. Military, Active reserve components of the U.S. Military, honorably retired (is there another type of retired?) U.S. Military, active/retired CA and Federal Peace Officer, Level 1,2, or 3 Reserve Peace Officer, Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) permit holder, and several other less likely exemptions - feel free to call for details.


NRA Led Negotiations Result In A CA Handgun License

The Dems wanted a Handgun License. They wanted a full set of fingerprints from handgun owners, a written test, a shooting test, a safe handling demonstration, registration of all handguns, a larger fee, and an expiration date on the license. They got most of what they wanted!

What the Democrats Wanted
What the NRA Negotiated
What CA Gun Owners Won or Lost

Democrat Legislative Proposal The Compromise What we lost
Full set of fingerprints on handgun buyers Gun Lobby Compromises Right thumb print on Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) onlyCriminals are no longer the only ones who get fingerprinted. A full set can easily be written in later. What's next? Mug shots?
Written Test Gun Lobby Loses Another written test with up to a 4 year prison sentence! for dealers who cheat. The legislature acts as if it is a chronic problem when we've never heard of even one instance! We believe that the Legislature is just inventing/looking for reasons to jail gun dealers. One employee can put a gun dealer out of business!
A Shooting Test Gun Lobby Wins Why did the Dems agree? Because the HSC law can easily add this requirement later. Only dealers with range access would be able to deliver a handgun.
A Safe Handling Demonstration Gun Lobby Loses Forces everybody that's not HSC exempt, experienced shooter or not, to perform a poorly written and confusing safe handling demonstration before they can take possession of their handgun. By the way, it takes on average 15-20 minutes of time and creates an additional administrative burden for gun dealers, resulting in a higher cost of handguns to you.
A 5 year expiration date Gun Lobby Loses The Basic Firearm Safety Certificate which the HSC replaced, was good indefinitely. The HSC expires after 5 years.
Increased fee to $25 Gun Lobby Loses The BFSC which never expired and was available after an almost identical 30 question test cost $20. As of 2005 the HSC cost $25 and expires in 5 years. But wait! There's more! The $5 increase goes to DOJ and they do less work for it - we the dealers have to maintain the records for them! Wouldn't we all like to get paid more for doing less? (A BFSC issued in DEC 02 was no good in JAN 03 - no slack for gun owners!)
Registration of all the handguns you own Gun Lobby Compromises Only register the handgun being purchased. Why did the Dems agree? Because the law can easily add this requirement later.
State Qualified DOJ instructors required to administer the HSC system Gun Lobby Loses Gun dealers must find an "Entity Recognized by DOJ as Providing Comparable Handgun Safety Training ..." to qualify their staff as CA DOJ certified handgun instructors. We at the El Cajon Gun Exchange have qualified at our own expense to train others and to date have provided training to many of our competitors, on request, at no charge. Your 2nd Am. rights are more important than our profits.
Fewer exemptions Gun Lobby Loses We lost Honorably Discharged Military, Hunter Safety Certificate, CA Hunting License, and more. They didn't even grandfather BFSC holders who already took and passed almost the same test!
It will be called a "Handgun License" Gun Lobby Wins It will be called a "Safety Certificate". Gun owners still lose. It cost $25, you take a test to get it, you can't buy a handgun without it, it expires in 5 years... sounds like a license to me! We now have a Handgun License in California!


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One last thing- Call your legislator!
Tell them it's the repeating Criminal, and not the repeating Firearm!