California is home to some of the most beautiful vistas and pristine beaches that our country has to offer; unfortunately, for the citizens of the Golden State, they also have a ridiculous amount of restrictive gun laws.

Today, we’ll take a look at California Compliance and break down what it takes to make a handgun legal to own in the state. 

The Roster

To purchase a handgun from a California FFL or transfer one from an out-of-state dealer, the gun must first appear on the California Roster of Certified Handguns. To land on the roster, the handgun manufacturer kicks off the process by submitting the make and model to be approved for testing with the California Department of Justice. Once testing is complete and the gun is verified to be safe, it can be added to the list; but not before the manufacturer pays a registration fee of $200 for every gun model to be sold in California. The firearm is then added to the handgun roster for exactly one year. To keep the handgun on the approved list, the gun maker must, you guessed it, pony up a $200 maintenance fee per model every year. 

Of course, there are certain entities able to purchase off-roster handguns. This begs the question, why would someone who works for the DMV be allowed to have an off-roster gun while a non-commissioned citizen cannot? That’s just California gun law for you, I suppose. 

Now that we know that a gun has to qualify for the Roster of Certified Handguns, let’s look at what that testing entails. 

The Testing

Before a handgun can be sold in California, it must pass a series of tests to ensure the gun is “safe” for users. While the general law seems to ignore what most gun owners already know -- that safety is inherently a mindset first and foremost – California lawmakers put the onus of safety on the gun maker to display. 

  • The manufacturer must submit three unmodified handguns to an independent testing laboratory, certified by the California Attorney General.
  • The laboratory must fire 600-rounds of ammunition from each gun, stopping at specified intervals. These intervals include stopping after each 50-rounds for 5 to 10 minutes to let the gun cool down and stopping after each 100-rounds to check for loose screws and routine cleaning. Of course, the testing facility must also cease-fire to refill magazines along the way. 
  • Each of the three models submitted to the laboratory must fire the first 20-rounds of ammunition without a single malfunction that is not due to ammo. 
  • Each of the three models submitted must also have no more than six malfunctions during the entire course of 600-rounds fired, that is not due to ammunition. The handgun must be free of cracks or breakages to operating parts of the handgun that increase the user's risk of injury. 
  • After the successful passing of the above live-fire tests, the laboratory then puts the gun through a series of drop safety tests to ensure the gun doesn’t fire if accidentally dropped. 
  • The same three handguns will be subjected to a series of six drop tests each with a primed case, no powder or projectile inserted into the chamber. The handgun passes this test if every one of the guns does not “fire the primer.”

Once the gun has passed all tests, it is deemed a “safe handgun” and allowed entry on to the roster. It should be noted that a manufacturer must submit every gun they intend to offer on the roster, even if there are only slight cosmetic changes that don’t affect the function of the gun. For example, four Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm pistols were added to the roster in 2020, all of which had to be tested separately. The only difference between them was the color of the gun. 

What Makes a Handgun 'Unsafe' in California?

As stated above, what makes a handgun unsafe is inherently the user of the firearm; however, California instituted additional requirements to ensure the gun’s “safety.” All handguns must meet the below qualifications

  • No capacity over 10 rounds
  • Any center-fired handgun manufactured after January 1, 2006, must have a loaded chamber indicator or a magazine disconnect mechanism.
  • Any rimfire handgun manufactured after January 1, 2006, must have a magazine disconnect mechanism, if it has a detachable magazine.
  • Any center-fired handgun manufactured after January 1, 2007, must have both a loaded chamber indicator and a magazine disconnect mechanism if the handgun has a detachable magazine.


Where Are All the New Handguns?

Take a quick look at the California Handgun roster, and you’ll notice that newer model guns are conspicuously missing. Where is the Sig Sauer P365 or even a new Glock Gen 5? While legacy models that meet all the requirements prior to 2014 are allowed to stay on the roster, models that don’t adhere to new microstamping laws won’t make the list. California's Crime Gun Identification Act of 2007 requires that all new semi-automtic pistols manufactured for sale in the state to be designed and equipped with microstamping technology. This means all new handgun models must imprint the gun’s unique mark in on the spent cartridge. This is called microstamping. 

In theory, this would allow investigators of a crime to identify who the gun belonged to more easily. However, as with most CA gun laws, there is a hitch. The technology costs are so prohibitive, not to mention ineffective, that manufacturers have thrown collective hands up as to say, “not worth it.” This is why many manufacturers, like Glock and S&W, have said they won’t manufacture California-compliant guns moving forward. In doing so, this keeps desirable firearms out of the hands of law-abiding Californians. 

The effectiveness has even been questioned by the U.S. Department of Justice and the microstamping’s inventor Todd Lizotte. Lizotte’s research concluded, “…legitimate questions exist related to both the technical aspects, production costs, and database management associated with microstamping that should be addressed before wide-scale implementation is legislatively mandated.” So, to say that this is a deterrent or even a helpful measure to preventing gun violence is suspect at best. 

It should also be noted that microstamping only applies to new semi-auto handguns. This leaves some companies like Ruger with new semi-auto guns left off the roster every year while revolvers are accepted. This also begs the question, are revolvers not used in crimes? 

Are Older Guns Disappearing?

Every year guns fall off the roster due to the manufacturer’s inability to keep up with the laws' stringent demands. Further, California lawmakers are pushing to remove more guns from the roster. Introduced in February 2020 by Assemblyman David Chiu, AB2847 aims to remove older model handguns that do not meet the new microstamping technology requirements. For every new handgun added to the roster, the DOJ will remove three older model handguns that do not meet the new rules. 

The bill was passed on September 1, 2020, and will take effect on July 1, 2022. 


Unfortunately, California gun law is designed to be confusing and has caused unnecessary hoops for customers. Fortunately for you, has made buying a California compliant handgun easier with a dedicated page just for compliant guns. Check out our latest selection by clicking the button below.


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