How to Buy Ammo in California
If you’re a resident of California, you probably understand that your state is unique in its approach to all things firearms. Unfortunately, for those who live within this otherwise beautiful state, the state government has, for a long time, taken what can only be described as an adversarial approach to everything involving guns.
As a result, buying ammunition in California is considerably different than purchasing ammunition in other states.
It can be confusing to try and unravel the many laws and regulations California has passed regarding guns and ammunition. We’re going to use this space to try to make some sense of it, but remember: nothing said in this blog post or anywhere else on our site should be taken as legal advice.
We aren't lawyers, and we’re also not in the business of giving advice. Instead, we’re just trying to give you information to help you clarify some admittedly muddy waters. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a lawyer or law enforcement in your area for more information about gun laws in your state.
What’s Different about Buying Ammo in California?
While every state is different, in most states, anyone can walk into a store and purchase ammunition. Similarly, the same people can choose to order online and have the ammunition shipped straight to their door. In California, not so much.
California has multiple laws that specifically regulate the sale of ammunition in a similar manner to the sale of guns — requiring that the purchaser submit to a background check, for example. So, going to purchase ammo in California requires a bit more work than simply going to the store with your money and leaving with the ammo.
Here's a look at some requirements and other rules for buying ammo in California.
California specifically prohibits people who are ineligible to purchase a gun from owning, purchasing or possessing ammunition. California also has a restriction that anyone labeled in court as a member of a street gang is not allowed to possess or purchase ammunition in any way.
People under the age of 18 are considered to be minors in California, and while they are not eligible to purchase ammunition, they may have it in their possession with permission of a parent or legal guardian. This permission must be actual written permission or the parent or legal guardian must be physically present.
You must clear a background check to buy ammo in California the same way you would if you wanted to purchase a gun. It’s important to note here that this law is still facing legal challenges, so it’s possible that it might be overturned in the future (fingers crossed for you). But, as of right now, if you want to buy ammo in the Golden State, you have to pass a background check.
Actually, you might have to pass two of them — that is, if you fail the first one for some reason. There are two different tests: One is called the standard eligibility check and the other is called the basic eligibility check. The standard eligibility check is supposed to take two minutes; if, for some reason, it goes beyond that time or it comes back that you have not passed, you move on to the basic eligibility check.
The good news is that if you have recently purchased a firearm, you’ll pass the standard eligibility check no problem. It’s checking for the same types of things as were checked when you made the firearm purchase.
If you’ve purchased a long gun at any point since 2014 or a handgun since 1990, then you’re likely five-by-five and it’ll only be a few minutes. On the flipside, if it’s been a while since you’ve made a qualifying purchase, it could take longer and end up forcing you into the basic eligibility check.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing if you will have to undergo the basic eligibility check or if the standard will be enough. So, just to be on the safe side, you should probably expect to have to do the basic. Hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Something else to be aware of is that there’s an extended timeframe for the basic check. The standard takes only minutes, but the basic could actually end up taking days to come back, so plan accordingly.
You should also be aware of the cost associated with the background check. Since this is the government you’re dealing with, it's, of course, passing that cost on to you. Thankfully, the standard eligibility check only comes with a price tag of $1. However, should you have to move up to the basic eligibility check, the price increases to $19.
For this check, make sure you have a valid driver’s license with current information. If you just moved or if something is not up to date on your license, it could cause further delays and pretty much guarantees that you’ll have to do the basic eligibility check.
Anyone selling ammunition in California must be a licensed vendor — or, more accurately, all ammunition sales must go through a licensed vendor. So, if you have a buddy that wants to go shooting with you that offers to buy some ammunition from you, you would have to take the ammunition to a licensed vendor and have them perform the background check in order to make the sale.
Person-to-person sales are essentially not possible under California law because of this requirement. Sure, you can technically make the sale by going to a vendor and having them perform it for you, but that defeats the purpose of the person-to-person sale. The same goes for gun shows: Purchases must happen through a licensed vendor who performs the background check. So, if you had some hand loads that you wanted to take to the gun show to make a couple extra bucks off of, you’ll have to get a license and be able to perform the background checks or sell through a licensed vendor.
There is an exception to the licensed vendor requirement for firearm sales in California, though, and that's your family. Even with the restrictions in place, you're allowed to sell firearms ammunition to members of your family. This family exemption applies specifically to spouses, domestic partners, parents, children and grandchildren. You are also able to share ammunition freely with anyone, so if you and your buddy go to the range, you can use his ammo and he can use yours.
California also allows for the sale of ammunition at a range for use at that range. That ammunition does not require a background check for the purchase as long as it isn’t going to leave the range. If you plan to take the ammunition home or if you don’t shoot all of it, you have to undergo the background check.
Thanks to these laws and California’s hostility towards guns in general, many websites that sell ammunition won’t ship to California. This is somewhat understandable, given that there are constant changes in the laws as well as ongoing litigation fighting against them. Thankfully, Ammunition Depot is not one of those places. We will happily ship to California.
Because of those laws, though, there are some differences in how our process works for California. The biggest issue is the licensed vendor requirement. Thanks to the specific requirement, we can’t actually ship the ammunition straight to your door. Instead, we ship it to a licensed vendor for you to pick up.
It’s understandable that this might seem like a headache or hassle. Why bother buying online if you still have to ship it to a vendor? Why not just go to the vendor and buy from them? You’re certainly not going to be blamed for asking those questions.
But buying online still carries some significant advantages. As we discussed in previous blogs, you’re going to get better options, better pricing and the ability to buy in greater bulk if you buy online. Buying online is a serious improvement over buying at a store, so don’t discount it because you have to comply with the edicts of the politburo in Sacramento. There’s no need to punish yourself to ensure compliance.
Every state has its own quirks when it comes to guns; we’re not trying to single out California. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that those who live in California sometimes need a little bit of help understanding what they can and can’t do regarding firearms purchases. For better or worse, this now extends to ammunition as well.