California Compliance AR-15

California Compliant AR-15: What You Need To Know

California Compliant AR-15

Click here if you need a California Legal AR-15 Lower Parts Kit?

Quick AR-15 CA Compliance Check:

Below is a quick way to check if you are compliant with SB 880 and SB 1135. We have to insert a disclaimer here – we are not and do not attempt to act as attorneys. Please consult with your attorney should you have further questions.

If you have a semiautomatic, centerfire rifle (AR-15) WITHOUT a fixed magazine and the rifle has ANY of the following, YOU ARE NOT COMPLIANT with the current law.

  1. Pistol grip that protrudes beneath the action of the weapon
  2. Thumbhole stock
  3. Folding or telescoping stock
  4. Grenade launcher or flare launcher
  5. Flash suppressor
  6. Forward pistol grip

If you have an AR-15 WITH a fixed magazine and it has ANY of the following, you will need to register the firearm or you will be non-compliant.

  1. Fixed magazine with a capacity to accept more than 10 rounds
  2. Overall length is less than 30 inches

In most cases, a standard AR-15 acquired prior to 2017 will have one or more of the aforementioned attributes. Again, according to our research, you will NOT be compliant and MUST register the firearm with the ATF in California.

Make Your AR-15 CA Compliant

There are a number of solutions that manufacturers have developed to help California AR-15 owners become compliant with the new laws. Here are a few suggestions and ways to comply with the law WITHOUT having to register.

  1. Buy and install a California Compliant AR-15 lower parts kit fixed magazine solution. Click here to purchase.
    1. Going this route allows you to modify your AR-15 so that the magazine is no longer detachable without having to remove the rear takedown pin and lifting the upper. You will then be able to remove the magazine to reload. Please keep in mind you will need to use a 10 round magazine or less in order to remain compliant. Using a larger capacity magazine requires registration even with a fixed magazine.
  2. Buy a fixed magazine 80% lower. Click here to purchase.
    1. An 80% lower receiver that is manufactured specifically to keep the magazine fixed to the lower until removing the rear takedown pin and separating the upper receiver.

Again, seek legal advice if you have any concerns or questions about the laws specifically.

2017 CA Compliant UPDATE:

As many Californians experience the newly enacted Bill SB 880, which classifies formerly compliant AR-15 rifles as being non-compliant, it’s important to understand what the new law defines. Essentially, any semiautomatic centerfire rifle or pistol that does not have a fixed magazine, regardless of the installation of a formerly compliant lower parts kit, is now considered an “assault weapon” and must be registered with the state. More clearly, AR-15s that have a pre-2017 “Bullet Button”, a detachable magazine and pistol grip are required by California to be registered as assault weapons. There is a 365 day grace period for owners to register. The grace period ends for registration requirements on 12/31/2017.

Luckily, as is often the case, there are parts that you can integrate that will make your AR-15 California compliant once again. These parts, once installed, make your magazine non-detachable and, therefore, compliant with the new law and not required to be registered. To learn more about these parts, check them out here.

Here are a couple videos covering the two parts kits options.

AR-15 Patriot Mag Release (Bullet Button Reloaded)
AR Mag Lock

The Lowdown on California Compliance Requirements for the AR-15

Oh, California – your sunshine, your beaches, your confusing firearm laws…. Whether you are a gun-owning resident of the Golden State or you just like to stay up-to-date on the gun laws in our Union, weeding through all of the information regarding the California “assault weapon” laws can certainly be a chore. On the other hand, who wants to serve a prison sentence because they didn’t take the time to learn the rules from the outset? If building a California compliant AR-15 is your prerogative, go no further until you read this post. These regulations really aren’t all that complicated, but understanding them is imperative.

Evolution of California Assault Weapon Laws

The California Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA) of 1989 banned over fifty firearms by specific name and model. Included in this list is the Colt AR-15, which is the original, “true” AR-15 firearm. In order to legally own a weapon on the AWCA list following the ban, the weapon had to be registered with the State of California prior to March 31, 1992. Because many similar firearms were not included on the original 1989 AWCA list, they were not subject to the ban or registration requirements.

In 1999, California SB23 expanded the assault weapon regulations by banning specific firearm features, regardless of the gun’s make or model. During nearly the exact same timeframe, the California Supreme Court ruling in Kasler V. Lockyer declared ALL AR-15-type lower receivers to be assault weapons, regardless of features, makes or models. Registration of firearms legally owned prior to the “expanded” ban was again allowed until January 23, 2001.

Since the assault weapon registration deadline in January 2001, no new registrations are allowed, with one exception: active duty military personnel stationed in California may apply for a permit in order to legally possess a personally owned assault weapon.

In June 2001, the California Supreme Court ruling in Harrott v. Kings County determined that simply banning firearms based on the vague, all-encompassing concept of “series” outlined in the AWCA and Kasler regulations was too nonspecific both for enforcement and for consumers. In sum, the Harrot decision found that banned weapons must be specifically named by make and model, and that the list must be made available to the public. The Court noted that designation of “series” listings should be determined only by the California Department of Justice, with any new additions following a Supreme Court procedure process. With the exception of firearm features listed in the SB23 characteristics ban, possession of a firearm or receiver NOT listed by make and model by the Department of Justice was therefore legal.

What This Means Today

The AR-15’s journey through the California court system has resulted in present-day rules and regulations that are far less ambiguous than those which existed just over a decade ago. For starters, California now has three classifications of assault weapons:

Category 1 – any firearm listed in the original 1989 Assault Weapons Control Act, available under Appendix A at http://www.calguns.net/caawid/flowchart.pdf

Category 2 – any firearm listed by make and model by the California Department of Justice, available at
https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/infobuls/kaslist.pdf and Appendices B and C at http://www.calguns.net/caawid/flowchart.pdf

Category 3 – any firearm consisting of features listed in SB23. With regards to an AR-15-type build, this means any semi-automatic centerfire rifle capable of holding a detachable magazine AND having at least ONE of the following characteristics:

  • Pistol Grip or Forward Pistol Grip
  • Thumbhole, Telescoping or Folding Stock
  • Grenade Launcher, Flash Suppressor or Flare Launcher
  • Fixed Magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds
  • Overall Length less than 30 inches

Keep your build legal by avoiding the makes and models listed in categories 1 and 2, as well as the combination of characteristics outlined in category 3. Thanks to the comprehensive lists, this is now pretty simple to do. Remember, there are no new registrations being accepted for category 1 and 2 assault weapons in California. If they weren’t registered by the deadlines named above, and/or if you are not an active military member with a permit, you cannot legally own category 1 and 2 firearms in California. Period.

Three Means of Legal Ownership

  1. There are three ways by which you can legally own an AR-15-style rifle in the State of California. The first is to own an assault rifle that you have already registered. As discussed above, firearms registered as assault weapons prior to deadline dates are not illegal. It should be noted that any assault weapon registered with the State of California prior to these deadlines will always be considered assault weapons, even if the features listed in category 3 firearms are removed. You can’t unregister a registered assault weapon, nor can you transfer it to another person via an FFL process.
  2. The second way you can legally own an AR-15-style firearm is to use an “off-list” make and model without any characteristic features. “Off-list” simply means that you purchase a complete firearm OR lower receiver that is not listed in categories 1 or 2. A featureless AR15 rifle means forgoing the characters listed in category 3. Overall length and 10-round magazines are still required. This type of rifle must have a solid, fixed stock and cannot have a pistol grip, flash hider, or other characteristics outlined above. On the other hand, you can still retain your standard detachable magazine capabilities (albeit with a 10-round magazine) if you choose to forgo the other features.
  3. The third means by which you can legally own an AR-15-style rifle gives you the most feature flexibility and will make your rifle as similar to those deemed “assault weapons” as possible. Again, you must begin by purchasing an off-list complete firearm or lower receiver to avoid those category 1 and 2 restrictions.

The key to this type of rifle lies in the magazine. California law defines a detachable magazine as “any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm with neither disassembly of the firearm action nor use of a tool being required. A bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool.”
Category 3 tells us that detachable magazine and ANY feature characteristics (pistol grip, collapsing stock, etc.) make the weapon illegal. But what if the magazine is fixed? As soon as you render the magazine release inoperable without a tool, you no longer violate those category 3 restrictions – with or without added features. Because a bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool, you can make use of a bullet button.

A bullet button, or magazine locking device, replaces the magazine catch button in a California compliant AR-15 lower parts kit. Once installed, you will be unable to release the magazine with your finger no matter how hard you try. When maneuvered with a bullet, however, the magazine will release and you will be able to reload as usual. California recognizes magazine locking devices as a legal means by which to deem a magazine as “fixed.” Alternatively, you may opt to permanently fix your magazine to your receiver and top-load your firearm.

Once you have a fixed magazine on your AR-15-style lower receiver, you can add features as outlined in category 3, while still owning a completely legal rifle!

AR-15-Style Order of Assembly Tips

When required, make sure you order your off-list lower receiver via the FFL transfer process. Check out our post on Getting to Know Your AR-15 Lower Receiver Options for more information on FFL transfers. Receivers subject to this process are considered to be firearms in and of themselves, so it is essential that they be shipped without attached features regulated by category 3. To remain legal, no feature attachments can be attached until the magazine is fixed.

Magazine Requirements

At the risk of hammering the issue to death, we cannot convey enough the importance of using magazines capable of holding no more than ten rounds of ammunition. You can purchase compliant magazines which are visually identical to standard thirty-round magazines, but have a fixed floor plate that limits the magazine to holding only ten rounds. This will keep your fixed-magazine, bullet button installed AR-15-style rifle legal, while also allowing you to use features such as a collapsible stock and pistol grip.

Constructive Possession Notes

With all of the legal concerns surrounding AR-15-style weapons, you may have some reservations about storing your unassembled parts in one place. The California Department of Justice has addressed this issue, noting that as long as the lower receiver is not banned by make and model and does not have character features attached prior to securing a fixed magazine, you cannot be charged with an offense simply by possessing these parts.

Concerns for Future Bans

Considering the tumultuous history of AR-15-style rifles in the State of California, you may be wary of building a firearm that, although legal today, may be banned in the future. Rest assured, the process of deeming a firearm to be an “assault weapon” requires a superior court proceeding before the firearm can be added to the list of banned weapons. In the event your firearm is added to this list in the future, the procedure also requires a mandatory three-month registration window like those afforded during the initial 1989 AWCA. You would then be allowed to own your newly-designated registered assault weapon, subject to the same restrictions as owners who registered their firearms during the 1989 AWCA.

Get to Building, but Stay Informed

As always, don’t rely on a single source in determining how to proceed with your project. Keep yourself up-to-date on potential changes, and check out local and state regulations through sources such as
http://oag.ca.gov/firearms/regagunfaqs. With this information under your belt, you have the tools you need to confidently build your California compliant AR-15-style rifle.

****We are not legal advisors and don’t pretend to be. Please seek legal counsel if you have any questions regarding the legality of your AR-15 rifle.*****

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