Gun ownership rules for a permanent resident in California
January 7, 2012 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Does a permanent resident (green card holder) living in California have the legal right to own a gun?

I have shot other people's guns many times in the past and found it quite enjoyable, but have no formal experience with firearms. My gun experience involves someone handing me a loaded gun which I promptly discharge towards a target. However, I've been thinking about taking up shooting as a hobby.

I'd like to start from the beginning by buying a starter gun - nothing fancy, I am thinking about a bolt-action 22LR rifle, which from what I gather is the most appropriate caliber and configuration for a beginner. I've shot 22LR handguns and rifles in the past, so I know what to expect.

However, I am not an American citizen, and the legality of buying a gun a permanent resident (i.e. a green card holder) is a little murky to me. There's a lot of conflicting information on the internet about it.

Does anyone know what are the rules in California for gun ownership for permanent residents? Any other tips for a beginner are much appreciated.
posted by gertzedek to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The short answer is yes. You are allowed to own a gun in California as a green card holder. State and federal law do not prohibit you from doing so, assuming you meet the other non-citizenship-related requirements (not a felon, don't have any restraining orders, etc.).

California's Department of Justice offers a handy PDF describing California gun laws (useful FAQ as well). Familiarize yourself with these because being convicted of a gun offense would be bad for your future citizenship.

Also, a bolt action 22LR is cool, but semi-auto 22LR rifles like the Ruger 10/22 are a ton of fun, and easy to maintain.
posted by Mercaptan at 2:45 PM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, other tips:

Take a class. The NRA basic rifle class is fantastic, cheap, and will acquaint you with the basics of both safety and shooting.

Consider buying a used gun from another person. They're cheaper and already broken in. In California, you have to do the transfer through a dealer, but you still save money this way.

Don't forget cleaning materials.

A good shooting range is valuable. Look them up in your area!

A nice case or bag is a good thing to have. Especially if your neighbors might be gun-phobic.
posted by Mercaptan at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2012

My friend is a UK citizen and US green card holder living in CA, and he has a small arsenal of handguns, shotguns, and rifles. I believe he has to fill out some additional paperwork in order to buy guns, but overall seems to have no problems. If no one else is able to provide more detailed information, MeMail me and I can ask him for specifics.
posted by autojack at 3:08 PM on January 7, 2012

the legality of buying a gun a permanent resident (i.e. a green card holder) is a little murky to me.

I don't think it's been tested in court yet, Heller still being brand-spanking new by jurisprudential standards, but interfering with the ability of permanent residents to own firearms might well constitute discrimination on the basis of national origin, in direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The theory is that because owning a gun is a right protected by the Second Amendment, making a distinction in the availability of that right between citizens and permanent residents would constitute discrimination.

So, if someone does give you static, you may well have some legal options.* But filling out an extra form or two, as autojack suggests might be a possibility, probably doesn't count.

*About which you'd need to consult a competent civil rights attorney in your jurisdiction.
posted by valkyryn at 3:54 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up on a lever-action .22, which was always great.
posted by rhizome at 5:32 PM on January 7, 2012

When I was still a PR rather than a citizen, I did not feel comfortable being the official owner of a gun in California (my wife on the other hand...). That was because the law is sloppily written.

Take a look at page 32 of the document Mercaptan helpfully links to. While the second to last paragraph refers to "Any citizen of the United States or legal resident" having the right to carry on your private property, the next paragraph says only that any "citizen" can transport a firearm in their vehicle (no reference to other residents). As written, it means that a PR can't legally drive their own gun to the range! It's fair to assume that the intent is also to give the same right to legal residents, but assuming makes a test case (and perhaps deported) out of you and me.

I was a very, very paranoid Green Card holder though, YMMV and I think it's pretty clear that the intent of the law is that you have the same rights as a citizen WRT firearms.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:17 PM on January 7, 2012

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