California Assault Weapon Registration: SB 880 Explained

Add a date to your calendar…January 1, 2018.

That’s California’s deadline to register any and all weapons that fall within the new and improved “evil feature” qualifications to achieve assault weapon status.

California has new assault weapon registration legislation?  Again?

On July 1, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill No. 880, or SB 880—companion Assembly Bill 1135, or AB 1135—also known as the California Assault Weapon Registration Bill.

Oprah, You're a Felon
Oprah, You’re a Felon

If you live in California and own or are planning to buy a semi-automatic rifle, read on to stay compliant and avoid registering your guns as “assault weapons.”

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and I’m not a lawyer, always double-check everything with one!

What does SB 880 say I have to do?

The good news is that you get to keep your weapon as long as you already have it.

The bad news is that if your gun fits the revised and expanded description, you get to pay a little fee—$20—for the privilege of registering it as a recognized assault weapon with the Department of Justice.

The additional bad news is that as of January 1, 2017—another date—all the rules for assault weapon purchases and transfers apply to weapons that now qualify thanks to SB 880.

*Update August 1, 2017* CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra successfully pushed the new DOJ regulations through the Office of Administrative Law.  For more details, check out the CEO of Survivor System’s write-up here.

How did SB 880 change California’s definition of assault weapons?

In the past, certain features have conferred the label assault weapon on semiautomatic pistols or semiautomatic centerfire firearms.

Generally, California considered a firearm an assault weapon if it had the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and one of a number of features:

  • Pistol grips
  • Forward pistol grips
  • Thumbhole stocks
  • Telescoping or collapsible stocks
  • Threaded barrels, flash suppressors or silencers
  • Barrel shrouds
  • Grenade or flare launchers
Barrel Shroud
Barrel Shroud

That first little condition, however—a detachable magazine—is what SB 880 and a lot of the fuss are primarily about.

You say, “No problem, dude. Mine’s got a bullet button. It’s not detachable.”

I say, “Not so fast.”

Before, as long as you needed a tool to release your magazine—and yeah, a bullet qualified—it wasn’t considered detachable, and your weapon wasn’t of the assault variety.

Ultimate Bullet Button Tool, Ben Sharmak
Ultimate Bullet Button Tool, Ben Sharmak

But, California changed the condition so that basically any semiautomatic pistol or semiautomatic centerfire firearm that lacks a fixed magazine is now an assault weapon.

The bill states that the fixed magazine must be a “feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.”

Wait! What?

So, does a bullet button now make my semiautomatic an assault weapon?

Short answer—it depends.

For a firearm to have a fixed magazine, the language of the law demands that you must have to disassemble the firearm action to remove the magazine.

If you can remove and replace the magazine without disassembling or removing the receiver or bolt, for example, then you are now the proud owner of an assault weapon that must be registered and henceforth treated and handled as exactly that.

What happens once I register my gun as an assault weapon?

Assault Musket
Assault Musket

Once a gun becomes a registered assault weapon, it’s yours and yours only until death do you part for as long as you and it remains in the state of California.  

That means:

  • If you die first, your heir will have just 90 days to send it out of the state of California, render it inoperable forever or surrender it for law enforcement destruction.
  • You cannot transfer it to anyone before you die—not even a family member.
  • You cannot lend it to anyone—not your 17-year-old nephew (under the legal age for an assault weapon), not your best friend (not immediate family), not your neighbor or co-worker (just no).
  • You’ll need a gunsmith who holds an assault weapon permit.  Otherwise, you’ll have to remain with your gun during repairs or adjustments.  Think about it.  Schedule.  Wait.  Repeat.
  • If you get tired of all the restrictions and want to sell it, you’re limited to negotiating with licensed gun dealers with DOJ permits allowing them to buy assault weapons or lawfully transporting the assault weapon—unloaded in a locked hard case—out of California.

There are more details, of course, but those are the high points.  

Violate any of them, and you can find yourself a felon in the pokey for 16 to 36 months, with some nice fines to boot.

*Update August 2017*  The link to register your assault weapon is up if you’re in a hurry.

What if I don’t want to register my gun?

Well, I’m not a lawyer, but the law says that if you fail to register a qualifying weapon by the deadline, you’re looking at a felony and up to a year in the county pen.

So, if you want to keep your firearm and remain in California, you basically have three options.

  1. You can comply and register your assault weapon.
  2. You can retrofit your firearm with a bullet button that requires disassembling the firearm action, therefore disqualifying your gun as an assault weapon.
  3. You can retrofit your firearm to a featureless build option that will ensure that your semiautomatic firearm is not an assault weapon.

Just keep in mind that you must either register or retrofit by that January 1, 2018 deadline.

If you can’t retrofit by the deadline, you’ll still have to register, but as things stand now, you should be able to unregister later once you remove the qualifying features.

What is this featureless build of which you speak?

Well, I have an entire article devoted exclusively to the featureless build for an AR type weapon, and you can find it here.

But, essentially, a featureless build allows you to have a really nice, fully functioning firearm just like you want but with no objectionable parts to render it an assault weapon.

For this build…A is not a flash hider, B is not a pistol grip, and C is not an adjustable stock.

Featureless AR-15 Rifle
Featureless AR-15 Rifle

You see, it’s still legal in California to build your own gun.

You can’t, cannot, must not build an assault weapon, but you can build a gun that is featureless or—as I like to think of it—sugar-free, non-GMO, guilt-free, non-evil . . . whatever.

Since SB 880’s main new concern is banning detachable magazines, I’ll deal with the featureless bullet button issue first.

Can a gun with “features” have a bullet button that actually works like a bullet button?

There are some new bullet buttons that will allow your gun to keep its “evil features.”  

AR Maglock and Patriot Pin Combo
AR Maglock and Patriot Pin Combo

My favorite so far is the AR Maglock with the Patriot Pin.

Check out my full review.

Yeah, it’s slower.  Yeah, you still have to break open the gun, but it’s a partial takedown that’s better than the alternative.

Okay, okay! I get it, but if I want to retrofit or do a featureless build, exactly what does SB 880 prohibit?

Well, it’s not a prohibition per se.

The better question to ask is, “Exactly, by weapon type, what will California SB 880 call an assault weapon?”

So, here we go.

What about semiautomatic rifles under California SB 880?

Daniel Defense AR-15
Daniel Defense AR-15…Super CA Assault-y Variety

You have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic, centerfire rifle doesn’t have a fixed magazine but does have any one of these options:

  1. A conspicuous pistol grip.
  2. A thumbhole stock.
  3. A folding or telescoping stock.
  4. A grenade or flare launcher.
  5. A flash suppressor.
  6. A forward pistol grip.
  7. A fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
  8. An overall length of fewer than 30 inches.

Again…here’s my article on how to do a featureless build.

What about semiautomatic pistols under California SB 880?

You have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic pistol doesn’t have a fixed magazine but does have any one of these options:

  1. A threaded barrel capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer.
  2. A second handgrip.
  3. An encircling barrel shroud—partial or total—to protect the bearer’s hands, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
  4. Capacity to accept a detachable magazine at a location outside of the pistol grip.
  5. A fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.

What about AR and AK pistols under California SB 880?

AR and AK pistols weren’t exactly easy to buy in California even before SB 880, and the new law doesn’t make them any easier to get.

AR-15 Pistol
AR-15 Pistol

Okay, first off, AR pistols are designed with a shroud to protect the shooter’s hand, which is a “feature” that makes them assault weapons in California.  Cuz those barrels can get hot!

AR-15 Bacon Cookoff, RescueHumor1
AR-15 Bacon Cookoff, RescueHumor1

So you’ll have to register them or add a new bullet button that (we hope) is compliant with SB 880…one that requires you to disassemble the action to insert a fresh mag.

AK pistols don’t have shrouds, so strike one off the list of evil features that require you to register with the DOJ.  On the other hand, there aren’t any CA-compliant bullet buttons for AK pistols on the market yet.

*2018 Update*: Found one with MagLatch AK.

PAP M92 Single Point Sling
PAP M92 Single Point Sling

If you own an AK pistol or want to buy one, you’ll have to register it as an assault weapon, move it out of state, sell it, or refit it with a CA-compliant bullet button before January 1, 2018.

What about shotguns under California SB 880?

Shotguns have three qualifying variations.

First, you have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic shotgun has the capability to accept a detachable magazine.

Second, you have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic shotgun has a folding or telescoping stock and one of the following:

  1. A conspicuous pistol grip
  2. A thumbhole stock
  3. A vertical handgrip

Third, you have an assault weapon if your shotgun has a revolving cylinder.

Are any guns exempt from California SB 880?

The exemptions are the usual suspects: antique firearms and a list of pistols “consistent with the significant public purpose” “sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and by USA Shooting”…basically varieties of Benelli, Hammerli, Pardini, and Walther.

When is too late too late under California SB 880 deadlines?

You had to have already owned your assault weapon-qualifying firearm prior to January 1, 2017.

If you didn’t already have one before then, now is too late.  You’ll have to settle for a featureless or new bullet button build.

If you don’t want to register and instead want to refit your qualifying firearm or remove qualifying features, you have until January 1, 2018, to do so.

If you cannot or choose not to refit or disqualify your weapon yet wish to keep it within California state lines, you must register it by January 1, 2018, or face the consequences.

So, do the right thing, whichever option that means for you.  

That way, we can keep on visiting—and leveling up—here at Pew Pew Tactical.

Or…become more depressed since AB 880 wasn’t the only part of CA’s Gunmageddon group of laws.

50 Leave a Reply

  • The Man

    I bought 3 80% lowers in 2016 and milled them in 2016 with witnesses as I did it in my apartment. Recently I finished the build and bought the standard AR parts from distributors out of state. I have a standard mag release, a standard pistol grip, a collapsible stock and a compensator on a threaded barrel on a Radical Firearms hand guard. I used a drop in trigger because my lower is a polymer. I have not put any serials on my gun but I know it is mine because there are many like it but I will always know my Scarlet from any other ARs out there and I would never let her go. I have already been charged with 12 felonies but they were all dropped and not firearms related even though several of which were violent and heinous. Does owning and making this gun make me a felon even if I accidentally dropped it in the river while fishing from my kayak and shooting invasive Nutrea legally and with a hunting liscense. What are my options? Do I let the invasive rodents destroy crops and native species or do I retrieve my firearm and risk being charged with yet another felony. I know where it sank and it has stainless parts. Also hypothetically what if it didnt sink to the bottom of a polluted river and I still have it?

    3 months ago
  • John

    Good evening all. So i have an ar and a glock 17. Are both under this law? Second problem. I did not hear of any of this crap until after the deadline. What are my options at this point? Signed. Screwed in california.

    10 months ago
    • David

      Your Glock should be fine, nothing about the pistol laws changed other than for 80% guns. The AR will need to become either Fixed Magazine or Featureless to stay legal. A lot of people didn't know about the changes and missed the deadline or tried to register but couldn't because the website was broken. CA is being sued by several gun rights groups because of this. What the actual impact of any of this will be...we don't know.

      10 months ago
  • john

    thanks

    10 months ago
  • Lob

    Leaving this stupid state in 3...2...1...

    10 months ago
  • Felipe

    What is I own a ar-15 since dec 2015.- can still install the maglock? And make it compliant in california?

    11 months ago
  • Ron F

    Wait! In CA if you have an unregistered AR with detachable mag, collapsible stock and a flash hider wouldn't that make you an Illegal and I thought they were welcome in CA? OH, just not the evil gun-owning illegals. I lived in Mass my whole life, retired and moved to Northern NH, I hear shooting all the time and can shoot in my backyard. I assume some day all the Mass people that move to Southern NH to avoid taxes will out-vote us and implement strict gun laws. Sad when people that live in the wilderness of countries like Canada and Australia have the city dwellers banning the guns that they grew up with and used as daily tools for their way of life. In the last couple months I've bought an AR, built an AR and also purchased another lower which I can build into a pistol or rifle "Later!". Can't do that in Mass any longer.

    11 months ago
  • Frag

    I'd like to know if the 2018 SB880 regulations have any bearing on ARs that were already registered as assault weapons in 1999 when California imposed this kind of registration. If my AR was registered then, there was no bullet buttons, and magazines over 10 rounds could be kept and used. None of this has changed, has it? I have people telling me I'd have to install a bullet button, or that I shouldn't have magazines that can hold over 10 rounds. I wouldn't even know what on earth I could do with a 1999 assault weapon registered Calico M950. They don't make a magazine smaller than 50 rounds.

    11 months ago
    • Bob Nisbet

      Well,..I'm afraid they do. Under SB880 you CAN register what CA defines as an "assault weapon" and you CAN possess it...for your entire life. But you can never loan it to anyone...you can never sell it...and you cannot.give it to family members or friends. When you die..legal-ownership of the firearm passes to the State of California. This law is what I call "deferred-confiscation". They don';t get to take it from you NOW,,,but in-the-end, they will I have two ARE-15's. I retrofitted both with "Patriot Buttons", and purchased a quick-pull ring for the pin that holds the upper receiver to the lower. The PB does not allow the magazine be released unless the weapon is "opened".. But..once the pin is pulled, and the weapon is pivoted "open", the Patriot mag-release button will release the magazine. Then you can slap the weapon closed again, and insert a new magazine. With a little practice, it's almost as fast as the bullet=button itself...and there is no separate "tool" needed (like the nose of a bullet),

      11 months ago
  • thatguy

    what about just a lower reciever that isnt assembled? if i dont want to build it now and can live with whatever restrictions are imposed when i do later on - is it ok or is there some mandate saying that all ar15s must be assembled and registered soon even if theyre featureless?

    11 months ago
  • Kana

    What is the definition of semi automatic in regards to an AR? Can I just remove it's gas tube?

    1 year ago
    • David

      Yes, removing the gas tube would turn your AR-15 into effectively a straight-pull bolt action rifle. You should be aware that the gas will still tap and vent though, this could cause gas blowback to the shooter's face or heat in unexpected places. If you want to go this road I would recommend removing the gas tube and turning the gas block around so that it blocks the gas port of the barrel completely. This should prevent gas from being tapped at all and stop any gas blowback. Be careful the first time you fire the rifle though, keep fingers and such away from the gas port and be looking for excess heat/gas just in case.

      1 year ago
  • Alain Toca

    Hello, does this device allow one to keep all the AR15 features and also not have to register? Thanks

    1 year ago
    • David

      The CA Assault weapons laws only apply to rifles that have a detachable magazine, so by making it fixed magazine you are exempt. There are a number of products on the market that allow you to turn your AR-15 or AR-10 into a fixed magazine rifle. I've never used MeanArm's fixed magazine tool, but I have used their speed loaders for fixed magazine AR-15s - I strongly do not recommend them. There are basic design flaws with their loaders as well as the fact that the polymer used is surprisingly weak for the application. Based on that, I wouldn't trust their fixed magazine option.

      1 year ago
  • manny

    So if I had an 80% lower that I have turned into a featureless rifle, I do not need to register it, correct?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Not a lawyer: yes, but you'll have to abide by the serialization rules though.

      1 year ago
  • Joe

    How do you register an AR that you inherited from a deceased brother, and have made California compliant.

    1 year ago
    • David

      I'm sorry for your loss. As long as you are legally allowed to own a firearm the process is simple, by CA standards. You need a CA FSC (if you don't have one, it's easy to get. Just go to your local gun shop and tell them you need to take an FSC test. $25 fee, 30 multiple-choice questions, you need 80% correct to pass). Then you fill out THIS paperwork, print it out and mail it in per the instructions in the form along with a check or money order for $19.

      1 year ago
  • ryan

    so what is the cons to having your rifle reg as an assualt weapon?seems to me now your rifle is legal the way uou want it so am i missing someghing here? besides the pain of getting it registerred and not being able to sale or pass it on to family or have it worked at a shop unless they are licenced to what other drawbacks or negative effect i guess would it be to just have it registerd as an assualt weapon? wouldnt you want to take advantage of being able to have it registered and bot have to worry or is there more that im missing.. thnx

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      As I understand it, you still need to have a regular bullet button on it even when registered as an AW. So you don't get to use your mag release still. Plus, some will say that registration = confiscation.

      1 year ago
  • Dru-down

    Just to let people know that after you registered your firearm as an assault weapon, you can at any point request to de-register your assault weapon as long as make it featureless. Then you can sell it regularly, it beats having to go out of state.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good point!

      1 year ago
  • Thomas

    Just Curious, I own 2x 80% lowers & a full lower, I have not built my weapons yet. Do I have to register those also, along with my completed weapons?

    1 year ago
  • Eddie Magana

    So to cut to the chase, will the Patriot Mag Release feature "legalize" my AR-15 and AK-47 under the current legislation rules or is it still questionable. And if it does, does that mean I can keep all my existing features?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      It should as far as we know, but again, please consult a lawyer for the final say.

      1 year ago
  • KVN

    I have just read all through your above article, as well as doing the long task of doing a search for the word "firearm" in any CA Bills on the CA legislature website- read them all. And I have not found an answer to this- All the Bills that speak about Assault Rifles, define them with the same beginning sentence- "A semi-automatic centerfire [firearm]". Well what if your AR is not a semi-automatic? What if it is a pump-action or has a bolt locking device? That would classify it as a single-shot firearm and negate all this BS correct? Thanks!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      I believe so, but I'd still double-check.

      1 year ago
  • Craig

    Great site and article! Lots of good info here. My dad is still in CA (I got the heck out 5 years ago) and he got his AR back in August of 2016. He actually purchased it in 2015 but took almost a year to come in. Thats NUTS! Its got the bullet button of course, but what Im curious about now is if the shop he purchased from registered it for him when he did his paperwork or does he now have to do it. Is there any place he can check? I guess I can just call the store (Turners Outdoorsman) and ask them. I keep telling him to just send it to me here in Pennsylvania but who knows if that will even be legal. Seems CA wants to make it hard to give your firearms to your kids now too.

    1 year ago
  • Heidi

    What are the laws regarding moving OUT of california with "assault weapons"? Do we have to sell them in california or can we take them with us?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      It would probably depend on which state you're moving to!

      1 year ago
  • Mark

    California, that's just another way of saying Communism. Brown is using his two brain cells to make the criminal element safer.

    2 years ago
  • Rcba

    This kind of stuff is exactly why I left clownifornia. It's a big beautiful state with some great people,just not enough of them anymore. Someone else here said it and it's true-free States be ever vigilant,this bs is headed your way sooner or later.

    2 years ago
    • Randy Ashman

      Yes, I agree we have to be very diligent that this sort of stuff doesn't get passed/spead to other states.

      2 years ago
  • Drag

    So... Will there be 2 classes of assault rifles? A bullet button class of assault rifle? Or after registration, can you take off the bullet button?

    2 years ago
    • Randy Ashman

      I have heard/read that when you register you have to send in pictures of the gun and are not allowed to modify it after that. Problem is you aren't compliant before registering without the bullet button and you can't modify it after - which means you can't remove the bullet button. Nasty surprise, but the author is correct that no one knows for sure.

      2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      I believe having a mechanism that requires disassembly of the action will make it NOT an assault weapon. Assault rifle = fully-automatic capable No one is sure that you can take off the bullet button if you register.

      2 years ago
  • Denise

    PS- I find it so undignified to have to give a thumbprint to buy a box of handgun ammo in Sacramento- especially when Dianne Feinstein, hag dowager of San Fransisco, is a senior member of the Senate Defense committee, while her husband gets rich on defense spending. It's all so wrong! Nevada, here I come!

    2 years ago
  • Denise

    I am a fourth-generation Californian, grew up cattle ranching- guns, horses, etc were tools to my people. It is just too sad and infuriating to stay here any longer! My parents agree- they say they would leave if they weren't in an old-folks home! I know that in my new free state I will be treated like a "Californian who is ruining it for the rest of us." I totally get it, since California has been ruined by hipster tech idiots who call it "Cali"- how I detest that word. I'm outta here!!

    2 years ago
  • Dave Blancett

    Someone coined the term "The Left Coast" and these a-holes took it seriously. I live in california (lower case, doesn't deserve caps) and absolutely detest the fools that "regulate" my life. Were moving a viable option, I'd be gone last week. It is my understanding that a featureless build can have a normal mag release. If you have a california AR that needs mods to comply, one change you must also make is remove the "bullet button" mag release and install a normal mag release. This is one tiny little spot of light in the black hole universe of darkness that is california.

    2 years ago
    • Randy Ashman

      You are correct - another advantage of a featureless build is that you can have a regular magazine release. Instead of the flash suppressor get one advertised as a muzzle break and/or compensator (or both). Those are fine. There are several companies that have non-pistol grips as well. Pin your stock or get a fixed stock and you are good to go - no registration.

      2 years ago
  • CRB

    Phenominal article. And your website is just plain awesome. Now, I am SO glad I don't, and will NEVER live in the People's Republic of California. Keep your weather, it's not worth my soul. I like to look and laugh at the train wreck of abuses of rights, but really it's not funny. It's sad that there are not enough decent inhabitants of the PRoC to defend their rights.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much and wish us luck.

      2 years ago
  • Jim Brennan

    Manufacturer: Prince Bullet Button AR-15 Patriot Mag Release So my understanding is that there are two makers of the Mag Lock style workaround and CA DoJ has not ruled either is acceptable to exempt AR style guns from the 01/01/18 registration as an assalt weapon with attendant restrictions. In the video the manufacturer says his device has been preliminarily approved. I don't know what preliminary approval would mean. Could you please clarify the actual current legal status of these devices as of 04/04/17. Thanks... an avid PewPew fan / NRA and CRPA ,member and voracious consumer of news about these subjects.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Yea I'm hesitant to speculate on the approval...it would be best to reach out to the manufacturers themselves for any proof.

      2 years ago
  • Dogg

    on top of all this, Kalifornia wants to be come a sanctuary State, All of the anti-gun legislators have CCW permits and or bodyguards so the anti-gun people are the best armed and have the most respect and value for firearms, they just don't want the law-abiding to have them, it's only OK for the criminals to have them, it's the Democratic method of wealth-transfer from the working class to the poor gang members and drug dealers.

    2 years ago
  • Lucan

    Am now truly glad to live in the neighboring FREE state of Arizona. The socialists are slowly whittling away our wonderful Republic into a facsimile of Stalin's USSR. At least this is so far confined to the Grunge Coasts and not the heartland.

    2 years ago
  • Noj

    California is systematically disarming it's citizens. Moving out of the state IS NOT a solution. We need to spread information and pressure our legislators to reverse the damage they've done to our freedoms. If you think this can't happen to you or to your state YOU ARE WRONG. As tech expands we've seen huge increases in population density in cities like Austin, TX and Pheonix, AZ. With that expansion comes many uninformed voters who may disrupt these states' status quo, especially when it comes to gun laws. I encourage you all to take new shooters to the range, inform people (politely!) about why many of these laws are ridiculous and in some cases dangerous, and go out and vote in every election! The only way these laws will change is with education and encouraging others to get active and push for change.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good stuff Jon!

      2 years ago
    • CRB

      I agree with your post sir. You are dead on.

      2 years ago
  • Choctaw

    I'm done with California. I'm so pissed. I don't want to move away from my family but I'm moving out of California✌. California

    2 years ago
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