Are Pistols Illegal In California?

are pistols illegal in california

When it comes to owning a weapon there are a lot of things to consider. What may be perfectly legal in one state can constitute a serious crime in another. 

Not only are there differences in the country’s law concerning what guns are and are not legal there are also different restrictions concerning the permits issued, rules of carrying the gun, and how it must be stored.

Here we will tell you everything that you will need to know about owning a pistol in California.

Are Pistols Illegal In California?

California has some of the strictest gun laws throughout the entire United States of America. Although many may believe this to be a violation of the second constitutional right (the right to own a weapon) the Californian Supreme Court has indeed ruled that the restrictions are constitutional as the document does not explicitly guarantee anyone the right to buy, own or carry firearms.

So, does this mean that pistols are illegal in California? No, not necessarily. California is one of the few states that will class a pistol as legal if it has the necessary permit and paperwork. This doesn’t mean that you simply walk into any shop and buy a pistol. You must first obtain the proper permissions.

What makes a pistol legal in California?

The only way to legally own a pistol in California is to apply for the correct permit with the issuing authority. Only certain circumstances will be considered a good enough reason to issue the permit. Even once you have the permit you may then be subject to restrictions such as only carrying the pistol in the situations for which you were issued the permit. 

For example, if you are given a pistol permit on the basis of self-protection and you are found to be using it to shoot targets hung up on your house then this is an illegal use of the weapon. The fact that you have the permit will not make any difference to this judgement. 

In addition to the permit, the gun itself must be in good working order. Before purchase, the pistol must pass rigorous testing, including firing test, safety checks and drop tests. Each gun will be considered in regard to itself and any extra features or adjustments will also be thoroughly checked to ensure that the pistol is as safe as it can be.

Are Pistols Illegal In California? 1

How Do I Get A Pistol Permit In California?

Whereas some guns have an age restriction of 18 (for example, rifles and shotguns) you must be at least 21 years of age to own a pistol.

If you meet the minimum age requirement then you can carry on with your application. You will need to contact your county sheriff’s office to have them answer any questions that you may have. They can then provide you with the application form for a pistol license. This is known as a CCW license, or a Carry Concealed Weapon license. 

If you already have a CCW license from another state please note that this will not be valid in the state of California. You must reapply to obtain a new license in California otherwise your pistol will be considered illegal.

You will be subject to significant questioning when filling out the application, but this is just for safety concerns. A few of the things that will be considered are:

  • Are you a moral person?
  • Are you a Californian resident? Or do you work in California?
  • What is the reason you need a CCW permit?
  • Have you undergone firearm training? Note: this is mandatory.
  • Do you suffer from any mental illnesses?
  • Do you use, or have you ever used, drugs?

Some sections of the application will need to be completed with a notary officer present.

If you pass the application process then you will also have to purchase the permit which can be anywhere from $70-$100 depending on the county. 

Are Pistols Illegal In California? 2

Who Is Banned From Owning A Pistol?

Even if you meet the vast majority of the criteria for the CCW application you may still be rejected. This is again for safety concerns. Some of the things that will result in a rejection include:

  • Previous felony, misconduct or misdemeanor 
  • Addiction to narcotic(s)
  • A danger to yourself or others

How Often Do I Need To Reapply For A CCW License?

The pistol permit will expire every two years and so if you want to legally keep your pistol then you will need to renew the license.

If you need to update any information on your license then you will not need to reapply for a completely new permit. Instead, you can simply inform your local county sheriff’s office that you need to update the permit.

These changes can be anything from the addition of a new pistol to a request to change the time and place you are allowed to carry the weapon and even to change your name and/or address.

It is always best to keep your license up to date as this can affects its validity.


So, although pistols are not actually illegal in California they are very difficult to legally own. The reason for this is safety concerns. You must be vetted beforehand to ensure that you are mentally capable of being trusted with a pistol as well as providing a valid reason for the need to carry a pistol.

The gun itself must then be considered safe and fine to use and carry. If there are any safety concerns then the gun simply will not be sold.

Once you have obtained your permit if there are any changes to the usage of your gun, or your details change, then you should inform the relevant authority as this may invalidate your carrying of the pistol. Any permits obtained from outside of the state of California are not considered to be valid. You will need to reapply within the correct county in order to register your pistol and ensure it is legal.