Inheriting a gun in California

A lifetime transfer of a firearm ownership is usually completed through a Federal Firearm Licensed (FFL) dealer. The gun will be held by the dealer for a mandatory 10 day waiting period as the parties are required to complete a Dealer’s Record of Sale and a background check is initiated with the state Department of Justice. Firearm purchasers are also required to secure a Firearm Safety Certificate before taking possession of the firearm.

These rules do not apply if you receive the gun by inheritance so long as the following requirements are met:

  • The decedent is a California resident;
  • The person receiving the firearm is 18 years or older and is not legally prohibited from owning a firearm (see the “No Gun List” below);
  • The transfer is “infrequent” (defined as less than 6 transactions per year or, for firearms that are not handguns, occasional and without regularity);
  • The transfer is between immediate family members (parent/child, grandparent/grandchild or spouses);
  • Before taking possession of the firearm, the new owner completes a firearm safety course and receives a Firearm Safety Certificate (however, if it is a handgun the new owner may use an existing, unexpired safety certificate);
  • Within 30 days of taking possession of the firearm, the new owner must provide the California Department of Justice with a completed Intrafamilial Transaction Report; and
  • The firearm must NOT be an assault weapon.

California is intent on eliminating assault weapons by making their transfer nearly impossible. If a person dies owning or possessing an assault weapon, the law requires that, within 90 days, the weapon must be: (1) removed from California, (2) sold to an FFL dealer, (3) destroyed, or (4) turned over to law enforcement.

To read more and learn exactly what California considers to be an “assault weapon”, the full definition is listed on the California Department of Justice website.

What about the gun grandpa used in WWII? Isn’t this an “antique” firearm that is exempt from these rules?

No – although grandpa’s gun may be old, it is not old enough to be an exempt “antique.”

California law defines antique guns (and replicas) as those which were manufactured before 1899, and are “firearms that are not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or centerfire ammunition” or “firearms using fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in California and not readily available in the ordinary course of business.” These guns can be transferred without going through an FFL dealer. However, since 2014, the person receiving an antique gun must have both a California Certificate of Eligibility and the gun must be registered with the California Department of Justice.

The No-Gun List:

Here is a general list of the people who are prohibited from owning firearms. A full list is included on the California Department of Justice website in a document titled “Firearm Prohibiting Categories.”

  • Convicted Felons
  • Anyone subject to a Gun Violence Restraining Order
  • Anyone who has been ordered not to possess firearms as a condition of probation or is under a protective order or injunction prohibiting the possession of a firearm
  • Certain persons with mental illness (for example, those found to be a danger to themselves or others, persons found not guilty by reason of insanity or those who have been found incompetent to stand trial)
  • Anyone addicted to the use of narcotics

If you own firearms, think carefully about the person you chose to deal with your firearms on your death, and make sure they are familiar with the laws relating to the storage, transportation and transfer of firearms.

If you are the Trustee or Executor of an estate, it is vital that you take immediate steps to secure any firearms that are part of the estate and that you consult an FFL dealer regarding the transfer or disposition of the firearms as soon as possible in order to minimize any risk to the estate and your own potential liability resulting from the theft or illegal transfer of a firearm.

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