When it comes to the process of applying for your Federal Firearms License (FFL), each state has its own unique set of rules and regulations that you must follow. Local zoning laws can cause some sticky problems in becoming a gun dealer.
California is notorious for having some of the strictest firearms regulations in America.
The mountain of regulations federal firearms licensees must complete in the sunshine state may scare many people away from their goal of becoming an FFL dealer or gun distributor. They may even think that it is impossible to pursue licensing.
However, it is possible — getting your FFL in California doesn’t have to be overly complex or challenging.
If you keep reading below, you will find answers to many of your questions and the first steps you need to take to fulfill your dreams of being a licensed firearms dealer in the state of California.
In this article, we will cover:
FFL Cost in California
How much does an FFL cost? An FFL in CA costs between $30-$200 for the first 3 years.
Depending on the FFL license type you choose, the application fee and renewal fee vary.
There are several FFL types that you will have to choose from on your FFL application. Each of these varies in price due to the various functions they allow the license holders to perform.
Most people get a Type 01 FFL license, which costs $200 for the application fee and $90 for renewal every 3 years. A Type 01 license allows you to buy and sell guns as a firearm dealer and/or be a gunsmith. This will also allow you to handle transfers, and charge fees for the service.
To make guns to sell, you need a Type 07 FFL license. This manufacturer’s FFL costs $150 for the first 3 years and for every three-year renewal.
FFL License Cost by Type
There are some other costs to be considered to getting a CA FFL. If you’d like to learn more, check out our breakdown of the costs to get your FFL.
Steps to Getting Your FFL in California
Despite the additional regulations that California imposes on the FFL process, the actual steps of applying for one are relatively simple.
To get your FFL in California, you need to:
- Ensure you meet the federal and state requirements for an FFL
- Choose the right type of FFL for your needs
- Take an FFL course
- Submit your FFL application forms
Step 1: Ensure You Meet the Federal and State Requirements
First, make sure that you meet all Federal and State requirements to apply for your FFL.
We discuss these requirements in detail below.
Step 2: Choose the Right Type of FFL
Second, you’ll choose the appropriate FFL license type.
Depending on the goals you have for your business, you will need to make sure you choose the type of license that will allow you to operate within the confines of the law.
The two most common types of FFLs are Type 01 (used by most firearms dealers/gunsmiths) followed by Type 07 (for firearm manufacturing). A Type 07 license allows you to both manufacture and deal firearms.
To sell certain firearms and related items, you’ll need to become a SOT (Special Occupational Taxpayer) after being assigned your FFL number. This is based on the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA), which was later updated in 1968 with Title II of the Gun Control Act.
NFA items include:
- Full-auto machine guns
- Short-barreled rifles (rifles with a barrel shorter than 16″ or an overall length under 26″)
- Short-barreled shotguns (shotguns with a barrel shorter than 18″ or an overall length under 26″)
- Destructive devices (grenades, mines, bombs, etc.)
- Any other weapons (pen guns, certain special handguns, etc.)
The table below describes each FFL License type and which SOT Class you’ll need to apply for after getting your FFL to sell firearms covered under the NFA.
We cover all the specifics of SOT classes and the NFA in our Get Your FFL Course.
Step 3: Take an Online FFL Course
Next, we highly recommend you take an FFL course.
The actual process of getting your FFL license can be complicated. Sure, you can do it on your own (I did).
But if you want to make sure that you set it up the right way and don’t run into any troubles later, the easiest way is to complete our FFL start-up guide.
Encouraging you to learn more isn’t just a sales pitch for a course I created. I am a firearms attorney that specializes in ATF compliance. That means I could make much more money letting people get their FFL the wrong way, and then charge them my hourly rate later to fix it.
Instead, I designed this course as a simple, painless way to walk fellow firearms entrepreneurs through the process of getting their FFL the right way.
(Bonus: You’ll likely make the money back that you pay for the course in your first gun sale.)
If you plan to deal in NFA items, such as silencers or machine guns, get our combo pack. This not only walks you through how to get your FFL in CA, but also how to become a SOT to legally sell these more niche firearms and weapons accessories.
Step 4: Apply for Your FFL License in California
The last step is to actually submit your FFL application.
Once you have made sure you fulfill all federal/state requirements, have verified the license type you need, and understand the application process, you can “pull the trigger” and apply for your FFL!
The steps to this can be challenging and may require multiple forms and extra steps depending on your location. However, if you completed our start-up guide, you’ll have every detail and access to all the necessary forms to get your own Federal Firearms License hassle-free.
Federal Requirements for an FFL
The first step to getting your FFL in California is to make sure you meet the Federal requirements for the license. These have to be met before even considering applying for an FFL in any state.
To get your FFL, the federal government requires that you:
- Are at least 21 years old
- Are a US Citizen or legal permanent resident
- Are legally allowed to possess firearms and ammunition
- Have a predetermined location for conducting FFL activities (this includes home-based FFLs)
- Ensure your business activity at that location meets zoning requirements
- Have not violated the Gun Control Act (GCA) or its regulations
- Do not lie on your FFL application
To over-simplify it: You qualify for an FFL if you’re at least 21, lawfully allowed to possess firearms and ammunition, and intend to sell guns and/or ammo as a business.
Can you get an FFL without a business? No, you cannot get an FFL without a business. You must intend to establish a business to get an FFL. According to federal guidelines, you should not apply for an FFL only to save money on guns.
However, your business could just be charging for an occasional private party transfer or even receiving firearms shipped from another FFL for a firearm transfer.
[18 U.S.C. 923(d)(1); 27 CFR 478.47(b)]
Once you satisfy all of these requirements, you can then move on to the state-specific requirements.
California State Requirements for an FFL
State requirements for an FFL in California can be broken down into 3 categories:
- State licensing requirements
- Business registration requirements
- California Ammunition Vendor License (if you plan to sell ammo)
CA State Licensing Requirements
According to California penal code, the State Licensing Requirements are:
- Certificate of Eligibility (COE)
- A valid listing on the DOJ Centralized List of Firearm Dealers
Certificate of Eligibility
A California Certificate of Eligibility is a certification from the California Department of Justice (DOJ) that the recipient is not prohibited from acquiring or possessing firearms. The Certificate of Eligibility application process involves a criminal background check by the CA DOJ.
To get a California COE, applicants must apply for the CoE online and register annually. Additionally, employees of the gun dealer must also have their own CoE.
The cost for the initial COE is $71, and CoE renewals are $22.
DOJ Centralized List of Firearm Dealers
Applicants for an FFL in California must also be listed on the CA DOJ Centralized List of Firearm Dealers. This allows CA FFLs to be listed when a shipping FFL uses the California Firearms Licensee Check (CFLC) system.
To be listed:
- Fill out the Centralized List of Firearms Dealers Application
- Submit it to the CA DOJ Bureau of Firearms
CA Business Registration Requirements
In addition to the FFL registration requirements in California above, there are also special business registration requirements that must be followed. These include:
- A license granted by the duly constituted licensing authority of any city, county, or city and county
- A State Board of Equalization Seller’s Permit
California FFLs must get a business license from their local municipality and a State Board of Equalization Seller’s Permit.
FFLs can apply for their permit online on the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration system. You can learn more about obtaining a seller’s permit on this CA Seller’s Permit FAQ page.
Like any other state, you’ll need to register your business with the State of California.
If you register your business in another state (we suggest this in our Get Your FFL course), you’ll still need to have an official presence in California.
Registering a business in California is, you guessed it, complicated. Thankfully, the California Secretary of State (SOS) has a registered California business guide.
California Ammunition Vendors License
Many gun dealers don’t just carry firearms in their store, but also sell ammo to go with them.
To sell ammunition in California, dealers must pass background checks are required and have a valid Ammunition Vendor License.
To learn all about the additional California requirements for FFLs, see the California Firearm and Ammunition Seller requirements.
We also cover each of these requirements in our course.
California Local (City/Town) FFL Requirements
Zoning issues caused by local laws can be one of the biggest hang-ups for people applying for their FFL in California. You must ensure that the location you have chosen (most often a home-based FFL) allows for a business.
Unfortunately, too many people are told that they can’t have an FFL in a residential area and give up. Very often, the restrictions on business in certain regions are due to a misunderstanding about business activity.
For example, zoning departments hear “FFL,” and they assume heavy foot traffic and retail activities. However, most home-based FFLs only occasionally have a customer stop by and aren’t going to be having retail-level traffic.
We cover this and more, including business hour requirements, in our Get Your FFL course.
California FFL Summary
As you can see, with the right guidance, getting your California FFL is more achievable than many people believe (especially with all the California gun laws).
As long as you use the resources we have provided in this article, in addition to the information available to you in our course, you should have no problems getting your FFL and becoming a licensed dealer or manufacturer.
Just note that even after you get your ffl in California, there are more things to pay attention to, like the California Handgun Roster and the DROS fee.
FAQ for California FFL Licensing
How much does it cost to get an FFL in California?
An FFL costs anywhere from $30 to $200 for 3 years. Here’s a breakdown of all the costs associated with getting your FFL.
Do I need an FFL to sell guns in California?
Yes! According to California Law, you have to have an active FFL to be a legal firearms distributor.
Does California require extra licensing for FFLs?
Yes. In addition to having an active FFL, you are also required to:
- Have a Certificate of Eligibility
- Be listed on the California DOJ Centralized List of Firearm Dealers
- Require each of your employees to have their own Certificate of Eligibility
- Apply for a special license granted by the city and/or town that your store will be located in
- Acquire a State Board of Equalization Seller’s Permit.
Do I need to register a business for an FFL in California?
Yes, when you form a business for your FFL, it must be registered in the state of California.
How long does it take to get an FFL?
According to the ATF, it takes about 60 days to get your FFL after submitting your application.
Will I be able to possess an assault weapon in california with an ffl?
Maybe. The California assault weapons laws are strict, but most all of them have an exemption for federal firearm licensees.
Extra Resources For Getting a California FFL
US Code § 923: This US code describes the federal regulations for importing, manufacturing, and dealing in firearms and ammunition. Code § 923 is the federal law that requires everyone in the firearms business to have an FFL.
US CFR § 478.47 – Issuance of license.: Code CFR § 478.47 defines the process of issuing a Federal Firearms License, including who is responsible. It directs the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) on how to qualify applicants and issue Federal Firearms Licenses.
This code states that if a correctly submitted FFL application has been submitted on ATF Form 7, the Chief of the Federal Firearms Licensing Center (a department at the ATF) should issue the license and assign the licensee a serial number.
Gun Control Act (GCA): Passed in 1968 in response to three firearm-related assassinations, the GCA establishes stricter laws on the firearms industry. Specifically, it created new regulations regarding firearms offenses, firearms/ammunition sales to “prohibited persons,” and federal jurisdiction over what it calls “destructive devices” (bombs, grenades, mines, etc.).
California FFL Listing: This database keeps a listing of current FFL dealers in the state of California.
Starting a Business in California: This article from the State of California walks you through the complex laws of starting a business in the Golden State.
Certificate of Eligibility: This document outlines what the CoE in California is used for and why it is required.
Application for Centralized List of Firearms Dealers: You will need to fill out this application to join California’s Centralized List of Firearms Dealers.
FFL Types: There are several types of FFL’s, depending on what you’re going to be doing as a gun dealer. Use this guide to ensure that you choose the right kind of license for what you want to do.
Home-Based FFL: Don’t want to pay for a storefront, but instead want to operate as an FFL holder from your home? Check out this article with more details on how to do just that.