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[How-To] Buy Ammo in California: Laws, Online Ordering, & COE

Before you head out to your next range day, you can’t forget the ammo!

(Assuming you still aren’t living in COVID times where ammo is…a little short right now.)

Popular 5.56 and .223 Ammo
Sweet, sweet ammo!

If you live in California, things become slightly more complicated when it comes to buying…well anything gun-related to include ammunition.

Those of us living in the state must jump through hoops that fellow gun owners in free states don’t really have to deal with. 

Specifically, when it comes to buying ammo, the options for a law-abiding pew enthusiast in the Golden State are limited.

Because of Proposition 63 — a.ka. “Gunmaggedon”– Californians are subject to a set of gun laws that most states wouldn’t dream of.

These include registration of self-assembled firearms (“ghost guns”), registration of the newly redefined “assault weapons,” and of course, ammo purchase regulations.  

No Right to Bear Arms
Wait, is this not the California state flag?

It can all seem a bit confusing, especially if you’re a newish gun owner. But, no worries. We have you covered. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through what you can and can’t buy as well as the process behind it all. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to go forth and scour for ammo.

More Popular Ammo Brands
We’ll take all this, please.

But before we dive in, we gotta do the legal mumbo jumbo.

Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only. 

Table of Contents

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What Is Proposition 63?

There were essentially no restrictions on the purchase of ammunition before Prop 63, and it was treated like any other item you can purchase, online or in person.  

Then voters passed Prop 63 in 2016 and stocking up on ammo became tougher.

Gone were the days of logging on to your favorite online retailer, placing an order, and waiting for the box of ammo to show up at your door.

Sad goodbye
RIP easy online ammo purchases. We miss you.

Once Prop 63 passed, the California Legislature was able to enact new laws to continue chipping away at our firearms-related freedoms.

The biggest change in the law is that all ammunition purchases now have to be completed at an authorized ammunition vendor, or an FFL. More on that in a minute…

Completing the purchase basically means you can only take possession of the ammo through face-to-face interaction. And before you ask, the UPS guy handing you the box of ammo does NOT count.

Ammo in the store
The good old days.

For those of you who normally stop by your local gun store or Wally World on the way to the range, you’ll notice ammo is no longer available on the shelf. Instead, it will most likely be behind the counter, or locked in a cage.

Access to the actual ammo is no longer permitted until the sales transaction.

I guess the good news is you no longer have to worry about being crushed by 1000-round boxes of ammo…in case that was a worry you had.

Simpsons Crushed Boxes

In April 2020, an injunction was issued against the CA background check and anti-importation law BUT an emergency stay was issued a couple of days later. For all you non-lawyer types, this means that, until the 9th Circuit hears the case, background checks et. all are still in place. 

So that leads us to the obvious question: how do you buy ammunition in California post-2016?

Keep reading….

How To Buy Ammo in California

Well, there are a few options when it comes to buying ammo in California. You can:

  • Buy in person at your local gun store
  • Order online and pick up in-person at your local gun store
  • Order online and have it shipped to your house if you have an FFL license

We’re going to take you through each of these, lay out the pros and cons, and help you figure out what’s the best option for you.

Buying Ammo In-Store

The easiest option is to buy ammo from your local gun store — though ordering online isn’t much more difficult…but more on that in a minute.

Grabbing ammo from your local gun store hasn’t changed all that much, but there are a few things you’ll need.

Just because someone works behind a gun store counter they’re not automatically experts. Do ask questions but take what is said with a grain of salt.
Stock up in-store if you can.

You now need to provide a valid ID and pay a fee for an ammo background check. 

Once you pass the background check and your ID is accepted, you can pay for your ammo and be on your way! 

It’s important to keep in mind that if you are using your driver’s license, the ID needs to be a REAL ID driver’s license

California REAL ID
California REAL ID. (Photo: California DMV)

Otherwise, you’ll need to use another federally recognized type of ID, including:

  1. Valid, unexpired US passport or passport card;
  2. Certified copy of your US birth certificate;
  3. US Certificate or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a US Citizen;
  4. Valid, unexpired foreign passport with valid US immigrant visa and approved record of arrival/departure;
  5. Certified copy of your birth certificate from a US Territory;
  6. Certificate of Naturalization or US Citizenship; or
  7. Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card.

Basically, the gun store needs to see proof you are a legal resident — since legal residents are the only people permitted to purchase ammunition and firearms.

Legal
Staff checking your ID be like…

Why the REAL ID requirement?

Well, California began issuing driver licenses to everyone back in 2013 even those without proof of legal residency. So, it became pretty impossible to distinguish residency based on just a California driver’s license.  

Fortunately, a REAL ID driver’s license follows a different set of rules and requires proof of residency; therefore, it meets the requirements for ammo purchases.

Spongebob Driver's License

Eligibility Check

Starting in July 2019, in addition to the requirement of making ammo purchases in person, each time you buy ammo, you will have to go through an “eligibility check.” Hint: this is why you need an ID.

The “eligibility check” is essentially a mini-DROS (a.k.a. background check) that the ammo vendor or FFL has to do each time you buy ammo.

The check will compare your information with the information on file when you registered to purchase a firearm, run your background, and confirm that you are not prohibited from purchasing ammo.

Background Check
It do be like this.

If you are wondering whether you are prohibited from buying ammo, you probably are. Just to be sure though, you can always check our California Gun Laws article.

If you fall into any of the categories that prohibit you from owning a firearm, you’ll be prohibited from buying ammo too.

Because the check is like a mini-DROS, your information is checked against the California DOJ database.

Usually, the check should only take a minute or two, but you might occasionally hit the jackpot and get the added bonus of waiting up to 10 days for the check to finish.

Waiting for companies to provide the new Prop 65 warnings
Us waiting for background checks to go through.

Since the “eligibility check” confirms your information with that on your firearms registrations, those of you who do not have any firearms registered with the State, or lost all your firearms in a “boating accident,” will have to go through a special one-time eligibility check.

Boating Accident Meme Underwater

This type of check will cost a little more, and will definitely take up to 10 days to clear.

Look on the bright side though! You only need to go through the “eligibility check” for each transaction, not for each box of ammo.

If you buy in bulk, you can save on the number of checks you have to go through.

Bulk Ammo Storage
Good reason to stock up, just sayin’.

For now, the standard “eligibility check” will only cost $1. The price can technically be raised at any time by the State.

Ordering Ammo Online

There are probably some ammo websites that will sell to you anyway, right?

Wrong.

In addition to being super illegal (like, super illegal), some of you may have noticed, you are no longer able to order ammo online at some websites, even if you wanted to.  

CA Ammo Meme
That’s rough.

In the months leading up to 2019, when the ammo laws were about to go into effect, many online retailers stopped selling to California residents, regardless of whether the ammo would be sent to an FFL.  

For many of them, it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

Of the retailers that do still sell to California, most of the savings you get from their lower ammo prices will probably be eaten up by the fees the FFL will charge to accept the ammo.  Basically, you’re SOL.

Maine Gun Store
You’ll still have to brave the gun store.

If you still want to go the online route, it’s still an option but there still the extra step of going to an FFL for pickup. 

Just like with ordering a gun online, shipping your ammo to an FFL will usually result in the dealer charging you a transfer fee.

In addition to a transfer fee, you’ll still need to jump through the same hoops – eligibility check and all.

Buying Ammo Using a 03FFL & COE

If you absolutely love ordering ammo online and refuse to go to the gun store to pick it up…there is one more option.

You can apply for a 03FFL license and Certificate of Eligibility (COE).

This allows ammo to ship directly to you.

03FFL and COE

But to be clear, it isn’t a loophole.  The law is designed this way. So, it’s more of an exemption.

It is technically the type of FFL you need to have if you want to buy and collect “curios and relics” a.k.a. antique guns. 

To apply, complete the FFL application, including the filing fee, and send it out to the ATF as well as your local chief law enforcement officer.

From there, wait for the thumbs up from the ATF. 

atf meme
How we imagine all ATF agents look.

There are some application requirements you need to meet, though.

An FFL applicant must:

  • Be 21 or older;
  • Not be prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition, nor in the case of a corporation, partnership, or association, is any individual possessing, directly or indirectly, the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of the corporation, partnership, or association prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition;
  • Not have willfully violated the Gun Control Act (GCA);
  • Not have willfully failed to disclose material information or has not made false statements concerning material facts in connection with his or her application;
  • Have established premises for conducting business or collecting (your house is fine, as long as no state or local laws prohibit it); and
  • Certify that the business to be conducted is not prohibited by State or local laws.

Since the 03FFL is technically a license for collectors of curios and relics, you could also get into the antique gun-collecting business. 

Antique Flintlock Pistols
Bonus to this method, you can also take up collecting antique firearms!

You’ll also actually be an FFL, so you’ll need to keep records of all firearms transactions for any potential audits by the ATF. 

However, if you only plan to use the FFL for purchasing ammo, you don’t need to worry about any of that.

With the FFL out of the way, California also requires a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the California DOJ. 

The COE application process is straightforward with an additional fingerprint requirement.

Fingerprinting

Right now, if you possess an 03FFL and California Certificate of Eligibility you are allowed you to buy ammo online and have it shipped to your door as long as the vendor you’re buying from will do it.

Since they (the seller) have to go through some extra steps versus a normal order, many vendors are just refusing to do so.

Once you get your 03FFL and CA COE, you normally just have to email or fax a copy to the ammo vendor and they’ll link the documents with your account. After that, you can order ammo and check-out as normal!

Ordered

Just be sure to send in your documents before a major sale since the approval process normally takes a day or two depending on how busy the vendor is since a real human has to look over the paperwork and approve it.

Before you go online and buy out all the ammo left, keep in mind that the COE needs to be renewed every year, and the 03FFL every three years

Nothing earth-shattering, but just slightly annoying if you want to keep having ammo shipped directly to you.  

Also, the 03FFL does not apply to any firearms that fall outside of the “Curio & Relic” category. 

So, buying a non-antique firearm still requires the standard dog and pony show at the local gun store.

Want to know how to buy guns in California? Check out our guide on the process and everything you need. 

CA Roster Handguns
You’re still bound by the regular rules on buying modern guns in the state, even if you have a 03FFL license and COE.

There are some great companies out there that are willing to go through the extra trouble to help out Californians with their ammo orders. And even better, our three favorites are on the list!

There are other vendors that will ship to CA, but these are the ones that we use the most.

Does California Have an Ammo Registration List?

While there is technically no “ammunition registration” list being kept by the State, every time you purchase ammo starting in July 2019, you will have to go through the “eligibility check.”

The check itself is a list of people buying ammo, so everyone who purchases ammo as of July 2019 will be on that list.

If it makes you feel any better, all firearms purchased in California (and even those transported from out of state) are already registered with the State, so this is just an additional list that firearms owners will be put on.  

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Frog Meme
I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

Conclusion

Buying ammo in California might seem intimidating, but it’s really not all that bad. Whether you buy in store, grab ammo online and pick up in your local gun shop, or spring for the 03FFL and COE to have ammo shipped directly to your home, the process only requires a few extra steps.

9mm Steel Cased Ammo
All this could be yours…eventually.

What’s your preferred buying method? Let us know in the comments below. Need more California content? Check out our guide on How-To Buy a Gun in California and our California Gun Laws page to stay up to date on all the gun laws you need to know.

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30 Leave a Reply

  • Charles Jonker

    So it seems that as a resident of Kalifornia, I can't order ammo online and have it shipped to Tennessee?

    May 4, 2021 10:52 pm
  • Dwight Looi

    Why haven't anyone started an AMMO BUYING CLUB?
    Basically, it is a non-profit organization, which is an Authorized Ammo Vendor or 03 FFL.
    You join the CLUB just like you join a gun club, the boy scouts or your neighborhood knitting group.
    The CLUB operate out of a home or community center and accepts ammo deliveries from online stores and non-CA vendors, then provide Face-to-Face transactions to members picking ammo up just like your gun store or ammo dealer would. The difference being that employees of the CLUB are volunteer officer(s) of the club and the service is FREE (minus the $1 eligibility check fee paid to the DOJ). The CLUB also organizes periodic group buys in the tens of thousands of rounds to be shared by its members so they have access to cheap ammo.

    March 30, 2021 2:31 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      Doing so with an 03FFL would be illegal. Otherwise, that's basically just an ammo vendor but run not-for-profit. You wouldn't be able to get a 501(C)3 for it though, but you could run it like a co-op. Think of it as socialized ammunition.

      March 30, 2021 2:38 pm
  • Jeff Bessey

    I just tried to buy reloading bullets from DRT.....JUST BULLETS, not loaded ammo. They won't sell to me without fulfilling the loaded ammo requirements. I cancelled the order...100 bullets... that I can buy, and walk away with, here on The PRK.

    January 4, 2021 9:46 am
  • Tim Elliott

    What if I live out of state and want to ship some ammo to my brother in California, what process is necessary?

    January 1, 2021 10:57 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      Legally it needs to go to an FFL in CA. Call a local FFL to him and work out details, he should expect a fee of some kind on his end.

      January 2, 2021 1:12 am
      • Xj900

        Is that true if an out of state parent is shipping to a adult child in California?

        January 9, 2021 11:33 am
        • David, PPT Editor

          Yes, it still needs to go to an FFL.

          January 9, 2021 12:26 pm
  • ROGER FELLOWS

    So with an 03 FFl, is it legal to purchase ammo in person, out of state, and personally transport it in your vehicle into California, or would you still need a C. O. E. ?

    November 21, 2020 12:28 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      A COE is still required.

      November 21, 2020 2:05 pm
  • Derick Styles

    Bro im just tryn to buy some.22 ammo to plink and its such a hassle like no one is accepting out of state sales and obviously since the pandemic every shops sold out in 30min

    October 16, 2020 1:26 pm
  • Andrew LB

    Do these legislators have any concept of the U.S. Constitution? Article 1, section 9, clause 3 states that no ex-post-facto law may be passed by either the Federal Government or any state Government. This means that they cannot criminalize something after the fact which at the time of purchase was legal. This is why people in California who owned an AR-15 or high cap magazines prior to 1994 were allowed to keep them since they were "grandfathered" in. The purpose behind this was so Americans would not be put in the position of self incrimination which would violate their 5th amendment rights.

    In the past few years they've not only done all this, but they passed such laws which banned the bullet button, pre-ban high cap magazines, and mandatory registration on all previously legally manufactured 80% rifles.

    Where the hell is the NRA? Apparently if you are in California and paid for a life membership, all they give you is a damn hat, sticker, and a magazine?

    September 25, 2020 7:00 am
    • Dwight Looi

      (1) Actually, no, that is NOT TRUE. The constitution does not prohibit the banning and confiscation of legally purchased property of any kind. What it does prohibit is doing so WITHOUT DUE COMPENSATION. The enemies of freedom running California's argument is that owners of "Large Capacity" Magazines had a year to sell them out of state or to eligible owners (like cops and other government cronies) and that is compensation enough.
      (2) And, no, ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law and the constitution. If you bought that assault. If the government decides that you now must have seat belts and wear them to drive, having legally bought a car without seat belts and not knowing that the law has changed does not excuse you from compliance or whatever fine imposed.
      (3) I am not on the side of the enemy regime running the State of California, but it is important to know what is true and what is not as far as the law and the constitution goes.

      March 30, 2021 5:48 pm
    • Ken

      NRA is not on our side. Sad to say, do not support them. They supported bump stock ban. Not sure I can trust them anymore

      April 9, 2021 10:01 pm
  • Chris

    Thanks for the informative update(s). I had to purchase a firearm (since I hadn't in 20+ years) just to be able to purchase ammo without hassle. The gun I got (to be legal to sell in the Republic of Ca.) has grip and trigger locks that have to be simultaneously operated, this gun is MORE dangerous than anything I own, but at least I can take my CCW class with it :-).

    September 6, 2020 10:23 am
  • Steve

    Is it really that big a deal to pass a background check and pay $1 to keep a lot of ammo out of the wrong hands? We need to stop worrying about regulations that keep guns and ammo out of bad guys hands and focus on restrictions that keep law abiding people from getting what they want. I want the ability to buy whatever I want, and I don't have a problem showing I'm not a felon or mentally incompetent to get it.

    August 26, 2020 7:55 pm
    • Jeremy

      Do you think having to pass a background check is going to keep ammo out of the hands of criminals? Or will they just find another way to get it? Meanwhile here in Cali we're expected to patiently wait like good little law abiding citizens... that doesn't bother you?

      August 28, 2020 3:59 am
      • ThatGuy

        Exactly!
        Criminals obtain their firearms illegally, and will do the same with their Ammo too
        No biggie
        Only law abiding citizens will go through this process.
        The prohibited will buy it out of the trunk of Lefty's Escalade

        October 20, 2020 4:28 pm
        • BAG

          You mean criminals don't obey the Law???!!

          October 31, 2020 2:21 pm
  • David Clark

    Hello, I’m Dave with Druid Hill Armory and I load for the modern sporting rifles and some Pistol ammunition. I cater to the customers and am happy to assist in jumping through loop holes to assist in getting Gun Lovers their ammo. I am constantly expanding my offerings and will custom load for most non antique calibers. If you could add me to the list that work to get ammunition into California, I’d be Grateful

    August 6, 2020 1:27 pm
  • Michael Hui

    Hello All,
    does anyone know of the outcome from the APPEALS COURT in California. Do the people of California still have the right to buy AMMO online.
    05/05/2020.
















    c

    May 6, 2020 1:35 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      The administrative stay is still in place for at least another few days, so there should be some kind of change soon -- but CA state did ask for a continuance, but it hasn't been granted yet. You can still order ammo online, but it needs to be sent to an FFL still.

      May 6, 2020 5:53 am
  • Paul

    As of a week ago (between July 4th and now July 15th, I got an apology email from Target Sports USA saying they misinterpreted Prop 63 and will now be selling to all the exempted groups in California. I haven't placed an order yet to test this out however.

    July 15, 2019 8:49 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      I have, they are good to go again!

      July 16, 2019 12:34 am
  • steve

    Lucky Gunner no longer ships to the socialist republic of CA

    June 4, 2019 9:16 pm
    • Brandon

      I Know I just found this out as well.......

      June 10, 2019 10:24 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      Updated the article, sad times we live in.

      June 10, 2019 10:40 am
  • Ken

    So if I read this correctly, if one has a 03-FFL - COE... after July 1, 2019... they will be exempt from having to go through the “eligibility check” and processing fee each time they buy ammo, and can still order ammo online from out-of-state vendors and have that ammo shipped to their home?

    May 16, 2019 10:33 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      If you buy ammo in a store, like the LGS or Walmart, the 03FFL + COE will not exempt you from the eligibility check - but if you order online then you can have it shipped directly to you without doing the check (assuming your city allows this, right now SF, LA, and Sunnyvale? doesn't allow it).

      May 17, 2019 7:34 am
  • barry

    sigh...

    March 7, 2019 3:40 pm
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