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10 Best Guns on the California Roster of Handguns

The California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale is simply a short list of handguns you can buy in California from an FFL.

An easy way of putting this is that if the handgun you want isn’t on the roster, then you can’t transfer it through an FFL unless you are buying it from another California resident.

CA Roster Handguns
Just a few of our on roster guns

This means no ordering online and having it shipped to your local FFL. No having the FFL order it for you. No having your friend buy one and sending it to the FFL. 

The only way around the roster is to find a California resident that owns the gun you want and make a private sale for it, or be exempt yourself from the roster — and that’s LEO only.

Note that this only applies to handguns, long guns and shotguns do not have a roster.

Impact

You can see the list here along with their legalese.

CA DOJ CA Roster

On the surface, it might sound fine…it’s a list of vetted guns that have passed some additional safety tests. But since the roster has existed, massive amounts of handguns have been removed by the DOJ.

Once you dig down to it, it makes it hard for manufacturers to create new firearms that meet the demands of the roster. And how are other states allowing all the other types of handguns if they are not “safe.”

It’s also very likely no new models will be added since there is now a “microstamping” requirement which uses controversial technology that will etch identifying marks on the bullet casing.

A firing pin demonstrating different microstamping concepts. (Photo: David Howitt, Frederic Tulleners and Michael Beddow/University of California, Davis). Btw, μm = micrometer. 500 μm = 0.019 in.

You can check out the link to Wikipedia for a variety of arguments against it, but it boils down to immature technology and very easy ways to get around it such as switching out the firing pin (easy) or picking up brass at the range and scattering it at a crime scene.

Single Shot Exemptions (SSE)

For a while until 2015, many California residents utilized the “Single Shot Exemption” clause which allowed off-list handguns to still be sold in the state. However, this method of obtaining off-list handguns was closed when AB 1964 passed.

Sad goodbye
CA Gun owners, 2015, colorized

We’re only mentioning it here because you’ll find old references or people who haven’t paid attention suggesting it as a means of transfer. 

Bottom line — it isn’t a thing anymore.

Current Status

Now the only way to obtain an off-list handgun is to buy it through a private party transfer. And because of this, you’ll see that the prices of these guns are much higher than the standard prices elsewhere in the country. 

Police officers are still able to purchase off-list handguns.

There are no exceptions made for military members either current or retired.

corrupt LEO
“bad apples” doing bad apple things.

Best Handguns on the California Roster of Safe Handguns

If you’re working within the bounds of what is on the roster, you might want to know what are some of the best and some of our favorites. So of course, we got you covered.

These aren’t in a particular order or grouping, just some of the guns we recommend the most that are on the roster.

1. Glock 19/17 (Gen 3)

Sadly in California, our access to Glock ends with Gen 3, thankfully though the Gen 3 is still highly supported in models and aftermarket parts — partly because of California.

Glock 17 (top) and Glock 19 (bottom), Gen 3
Glock 17 (top) and Glock 19 (bottom), Gen 3

If you want the Honda Civic of guns, a Glock is perfect. It won’t be flashy but it will be outstandingly reliable and has room for a host of modifications and upgrades.

One annoying thing about California is that (okay, one more thing) is that stripped frames aren’t available. 

Since every handgun needs to be on the roster to buy it and stripped frames aren’t on the roster, you have to buy whole guns only.

This makes building a custom Glock a bit more annoying.

570
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

2. Beretta 92FS / M9

I’m a huge fan of the 92 family, one of the first pistols I ever bought was the 92FS, and thousands of rounds later — I still love it.

Two Beretta 92FS (top) Eric’s stock standard and (bottom) my 92FS with some Wilson Combat upgrades

A classic in film and for our military there is a surprisingly decent selection of Berettas on roster for you to pick from.

If you want the pure classic style then the 92FS is for you.

If you want to mount a light, get a M9A1. If you want to get something a bit more fancy, take a look at the Elite II, Brigadier, or even a compact or Inox model.

Shockingly, we even have the 92G on roster also — that’s the decocker only model and I highly recommend it.

If .40 Cal is your thing then check out the 96 family, we have a good selection of them available to us also.

775
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Bersa Firestorm

My personal EDC CCW gun and I love it.

Based on the Walther PPK the Bersa is a DA/SA single-stack .380 ACP pistol with a wonderful single-action trigger pull and a decent double-action.

Bersa Firestorm
Bersa Firestorm

The sights are very Glock in their style and are easy to pick up and use.

Plus magazines are easy to find and fit my hand really well.

It’s small, slim, and really easy to conceal carry. 

Best James Bond CCW Clone
270
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You should take a look at my full review for all the awesome details!

4. CZ 75 B / SP-01

We LOVE the CZ 75 family, a lot in fact.

The 75 B is a more classic version and the SP-01 an upgrade and modernized version. Both are outstanding.

Hidden Hybrid OWB SP-01 with APL, Outside
Hidden Hybrid OWB SP-01 with APL, Outside

They also have a wide selection of options on the roster to pick from. While none of the newer and most awesome versions are available like the Shadow 2, we do have options.

Safety only, de-cocker only, single action only, you can get exactly what works for you.

These are full-sized guns that aren’t lightweight so you might not want to EDC CC one — but they are amazing for competitions, range shooting, and long training days. 

Best for Production Competition
819
at Guns.Com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. CZ P-01

If you do want to CC a CZ I highly recommend the P-01!

Again you have options in decocker or safety and magazines are easy to find.

CZ P01 with Sig Romeo 1 (4)
CZ P01 with Sig Romeo 1

Best of all, it’s basically an SP-01 just smaller. It has that strange magic rarely found in small guns that it doesn’t feel small. It is small, but it doesn’t feel like it in your hands.

It just fits perfectly for almost any hand size or shape.

730
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

We have a full review on it though so you can get a ton more information!

6. Smith & Wesson SD9VE

If you need a budget semi-auto the SD9VE is perfect.

More CA Roster CCW Handguns
(far left) SD9VE with FDE rubberized grip covering

The trigger is mushy and horrible to use if you’re used to good triggers, but if you’re a new shooter this really won’t be something you notice.

(If that trigger does bother you — APEX makes a drop-in kit that really improves the feel and weight.)

Beyond that, it’s a great gun.

Basically a Glock design with a slightly different grip angle and almost half the price generally, the SD9VE is a great gun.

Best Workhorse
330
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Tried the Smith & Wesson SD9VE? Make sure to rate it below!

7. Sig Sauer P226 / P220

A classic around the world and several options on the roster for you to pick from.

The P226/220 has been combat-proven since its release and continues to serve around the world for police and military. 

Sig P226 looking awesome
The SIG Sauer P226 Nitron is sort of the baseline P226 of the line-up but it’s a solid pistol you’d probably love shooting.

DA/SA, full-sized or compact, this is a beast of a pistol that won’t let you down.

It’s not as easy to customize if you want to trick it out, but it also doesn’t need it very much. 9mm or .40 cal, both are widely available. 

550
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

8. Wilson Combat 1911

This won’t be cheap, but it is amazing.

1911s are outstanding guns and have a place in the modern-day, while they aren’t perfect for everyone — they are awesome.

Wilson Combat CQB with Light Rail
Wilson Combat CQB with Light Rail

Sadly, we don’t have options for anything really cool like a 2011 and only have a couple of not-great 9mm 1911s on the roster.

We do have a few Wilson Combat offerings though and they are all amazing. These are very high-quality 1911s with a glass-like feel and finish to them.

Great triggers made outstanding by Wilson Combat and reliability that is basically as good as a 1911 can ever become (very, very reliable).

Dream 1911
3100
at Wilson Combat

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

9. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield

Is it fancy? No. Is it sexy? No. What the M&P shield lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in durability, reliability, and just being a great shooter.

Concealed Carry Guns
Concealed Carry Guns (L to R: Gen 4. Glock G19, Smith & Wesson Shield, Sig Sauer P238)

Small modern CCW guns are hard to find on the CA roster and the M&P Shield is one of the best. 

We can’t get the newest and best, but the version we can get are solid and we at least have a few color options to choose from like Black, FDE, OD Green, or Robins Egg Blue.

With a 3-inch barrel and an 8+1 9mm round capacity, these are great for CCW.

Great Value (Sub-Compact)
350
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

10. Browning Buckmark

For .22 LR pistols, we don’t have many good options, the Buckmark is about the best we have and it’s…passable.

Buckmark with Stock Barrel
Buckmark with Stock Barrel

There is a good aftermarket though so if you want to trick it out you can.

Otherwise, it’s reliable, easy to use, and perfect for when ammo prices are insane.

Editor's Choice
449
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Future?

There are multiple lawsuits making their way through the courts but right now there isn’t anything promising coming down soon.

We can hope and fight for our rights, but the grim reality is that it is unlikely to change anytime soon.

On the bright side, think about all that money you save by not being able to buy all the cool things the rest of the nation gets to buy!

What is your favorite CA roster handgun? Is something off-roster worth 2x MSRP to you? Let us know in the comments! Ready to buy a gun? Check out How to Buy a Gun in California.

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6 Leave a Reply

  • LazrBeam

    I couldn’t live there. Period.

    May 6, 2021 7:40 pm
  • Jim Guigli

    Other Gen 3 GLOCKS available include the 36 and 30SF

    May 4, 2021 5:00 pm
  • kelly

    We have both the 226 and 19. both are really good guns. but we also have a fmk and that is almost as good as the glock for about $200 less.

    May 3, 2021 8:48 pm
  • matt

    "The only way around the roster is to find a California resident that owns the gun you want and make a private sale for it, or be exempt yourself from the roster — and that’s LEO only." --you failed to mention an interstate, intra-familial transfer (e.g. have a parent in another state gift you a non-CA roster handgun). Pretty close family ties are required - has to be parent or grandparent I think, I seem to remember aunts/uncles are excluded. Internet search will give you all the specifics.

    May 3, 2021 7:35 am
  • Eric Lew

    I’m going to add HK USPs. I know their design is a bit dated, but they great shooters!

    May 2, 2021 11:24 pm
  • Brett Pierotte

    You should also mention the Springfield XD Gen 1 series of handguns. They are usually less expensive than the Glock models, and if your like me and don't care for the finger grooves and grip angle on the Glock Gen 3's, they're a solid alternative. They are available in 3" compact, 4" service, and 5" tactical models.

    May 2, 2021 5:54 pm
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