California Gun Law

New legal analysis suggests shipping guns to California isn't as hard as you think.

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Issues & Events|October 2019

Shipping guns from the UK to The US has become more complicated over the years. It was once possible to send guns built prior to 1898 from the UK, via Parcelforce, direct to the customer’s home in the USA.

That has not been possible for over a decade now but specialist courier firms, like HGSS, now provide the answer for individuals and businesses wanting to move guns across the Atlantic. By keeping abreast of changes in legislation and protocols they ensure a snag-free passage either to an airport of the customer’s choice or to a friendly and experienced FFL in the US, like Mike Schneible, from where it can be sent anywhere in the mainland USA for a modest courier fee.

Californian gun collectors have recently been having difficulties with direct shipment from other states in the US because of a perceived clash with California legislation, which places further restrictions on guns imported from out of state.

One of our US contacts ‘Jim’ has investigated the details of this and found that many FFLs in the US and shipping companies are mis-interpreting the statutes and needlessly restricting their shipments, causing both inconvenience and adding cost to these transactions.

Jim told me ‘I did some research, and found what I believe to be the correct law.  This applies to shipping guns (that are already in the U.S.) from one state to another.  Some states may have their own legal peculiarities, but these seem to be the general rules.’

...any firearm made in or before 1898 is an "antique firearm," which is not included in the legal definition of a regulated firearm.

The key document is the Gun Control Act of 1968, as codified in 18 U.S. Code section 921(a). This comes from the U.S. Government Publishing Office website.  It says that any firearm made in or before 1898 is an "antique firearm," which is not included in the legal definition of a regulated firearm. 

That is the key definition; because a gun made in or before 1898 is not legally classed as a regulated firearm, there's no need to use an FFL to transfer it from one state to another.

Some people (including many FFLs) make the mistake of using the National Firearms Act definition of an "antique firearm”, which treats any firearm that uses modern ammunition as a regulated firearm, regardless of when the gun was made. 

However, the NFA applies only to machine guns, sawn-off shotguns, silencers, etc.  It does not cover conventional sporting arms such as vintage double guns with normal-length barrels.

Of course, employees at some shipping companies may not know or care what the law is, and they may routinely insist on using an FFL, regardless of when a gun was made.  So, because antique firearms legally aren't "firearms" under GCA68, some sellers just describe their shipment as "antiques" or "antique sporting goods" (without mentioning the word “gun"). This is legally correct and allowable.

For pre-1899 guns, there are no real legal barriers to shipping them into California, contrary to the common belief that California is a special case.  While California does have some complicated laws for shipping modern firearms, they don't apply to antiques. 

The drawback of using a California FFL is that, if a gun goes through their books, even an antique gun, state law requires them to collect about 10% in sales/use tax before releasing the gun to its new owner.  

...they sometimes have new or uninformed staff who need a little help to find the correct answer.

Jim told me; ‘Most employees of BATFE and similar state agencies know this law.  But, like all organisations, they sometimes have new or uninformed staff who need a little help to find the correct answer.  If nothing else, perhaps this will point people in the right direction for doing their own research.’

While the VGJ is not a law firm and this analysis should not be considered a legally definitive case study. Jim is a qualified lawyer 9not currently practising) and we believe the data he has uncovered represents the correct terms of legislation that those shipping pre-1899 ‘antique’ guns across state lines in general and to California in particular. Those wishing to pick up the thread and seek official legal confirmation may find the contacts below, for lawyers Chuck D. Michel and Bruce Colodny useful.

We hope this information will prove useful to those individuals and businesses involved in such transactions.

1.  Chuck D. Michel, Esq. 
His firm:
His profile:
His book:

2.  Bruce Colodny, Esq.
His firm:
His profile:
His answers to FAQs:

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Issues & Events|October 2019

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