Keeping up with what you can and can’t legally own with regard to firearms can be confusing. The situation we’re tackling today is magazines in California — can you buy them online or not? The history is a bit more complicated than you might know.
While it’s true that a magazine does not constitute a firearm, a magazine is necessary for the operation of automatic and semi-automatic firearms because it serves as a reservoir for the storage of ammunition.
Over the years, regulating the capacity, sale, and possession of magazines has become a popular tactic among gun control advocates in some U.S. states. Since magazines are not specifically mentioned in the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, it’s a bit easier to restrict their ownership.
It’s no secret that California has a ton of gun laws, many of them different from other states. Can you buy magazines online and have them shipped to your California home? The answer is a bit more complicated than “yes” or “no.” In order to understand the laws surrounding gun magazines in California, we first need to understand a bit about how magazines are designed and how those designs are perceived by certain sectors of the public.
What Is A Gun Magazine?
According to Merriam-Webster, a "box magazine" is "a magazine for a repeating firearm which consists of a detachable metal box that fits into the receiver and from which the cartridges are fed into the chamber by the action of the piece.” In other words, you might say that a firearm magazine is a fixed or detachable reservoir incorporated into all automatic and semi-automatic firearms. It’s designed to contain and dispense ammunition into the barrel's chamber when the firearm’s action is cycled either manually or by firing a round.
There are many different types of firearms magazines. For instance, magazines can be either fixed or detachable. There are tubular, integral box, and hinged floor plate magazines as well as horizontal, casket, pan, and drum magazines. This is in addition to the common detachable box and STANAG magazines. You might find magazines with capacities as low as 6 rounds or up to 100 rounds (or more!).
But what about California? How does state law define different types of magazines? Here’s where it gets interesting.
Standard Capacity vs. High Capacity Magazines
In the early days of firearm design, most vertical gun magazines incorporated a single stack of ammunition (where each round is positioned directly on top of the one below it). Similarly, horizontal magazines positioned each round side by side. This is known as a “single stack” magazine. With this design, most early magazines had relatively low capacity. In the case of semi-automatic handguns, this also created a relatively narrow grip frame that most shooters find to be very comfortable. You can see this featured on the famous Browning model M1911 adopted by the U.S. Military, which has a 7 round magazine designed for .45 ACP.
However, as firearm designs continued to evolve, manufacturers discovered that they could drastically increase the capacity of a magazine (without increasing its length or diameter) by widening the magazine. This way, each round would be positioned at an offset angle to the one below or beside it. This is called a "double stack" magazine. This design creates a significantly wider grip frame in semiautomatic pistols. Examples include the U.S. Military’s Beretta model M9 (which has a magazine capacity of 15 rounds) and the famous Glock 17 with a magazine capacity of 17 rounds. Both are designed for 9mm Luger ammo.
Consequently, single stack magazines are sometimes referred to as "standard capacity" magazines due to the relatively low number of rounds they contain while double stack magazines are commonly referred to as "high capacity" magazines due to the relatively high number of rounds they contain.
The California High Capacity Magazine Ban
In California (and several other places in the United States), there is an ongoing controversy regarding standard capacity magazines versus high capacity magazines for rifles and handguns. Since most mass shootings are perpetrated using high capacity magazines, the right for civilians to own and carry such magazines has been the subject of much debate. Some U.S. states have chosen to limit the number of rounds a gun magazine can legally contain. The thinking is that, should an attack happen, less ammo in a magazine will limit the number of casualties a mass shooter can inflict.
Historically, California legislators have shared this belief. However, there has still been much debate over the legality of restricting these magazines because of the 2nd Amendment — the right for citizens to keep and bear arms.
Nonetheless, after 5 years of controversy, debate, and failed votes, the majority California voters approved "Proposition 63" in 2016 which outlawed the sale and/or possession of any firearms magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds (essentially deeming anything larger than that a “high capacity” magazine). This eventually became known as the "California Magazine Ban.” However, this isn’t the end of the story.
In 2017, the National Rifle Association (NRA) filed a suit in California to challenge the ban on gun magazines containing more than 10 rounds. In 2019, the case (later captioned "Duncan vs. Bonta”) was decided in the NRA's favor by a federal judge who ruled that the law was unconstitutional. In 2020, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court agreed with the initial decision.
However, in 2021, an 11-judge panel of the same court reversed the decision and upheld the high capacity magazine ban. They stated that the ban was “a reasonable way to prevent mass shootings and did not outlaw the possession of any firearm.”
Finally, on June 30, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that called California's high capacity magazine ban into question, indicating that it did indeed violate the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. This vacated the Ninth Circuit Court's second ruling and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court for reconsideration. Thus, in light of this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that residents of California may soon be able to legally purchase and possess gun magazines containing more than 10 rounds.
Is it Legal to Purchase Gun Magazines Online in California?
Despite the controversy surrounding the sale and possession of “high capacity” magazines in California, the right of California residents to purchase gun magazines has never been restricted. Purchasing gun magazines online in California is perfectly legal.
According to California law in 2023, legal residents of the state of California are allowed to purchase both rifle and pistol magazines from online dealers located both in and out of state. However, they are presently limited to only purchasing magazines that contain 10 rounds or less.
So yes, if you purchase a 10-round (or less) magazine online for your rifle or handgun, you can have it shipped to your home in California. There is no law against that. That said, in most cases, if you try to ship a magazine with a capacity higher than 10 rounds to a California address, responsible firearms/accessory dealers will automatically deny that sale.
However, in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Duncan vs. Bonta, California legislation may soon change. In the near future, California residents may be able to purchase gun magazines that contain more than 10 rounds from online dealers of their choice. As of March 2023, the final verdict remains to be seen.
For now, buying magazines online and shipping them to California is perfectly legal as long as they have a 10-round capacity or less. While Supreme Court decisions may change things, this is the law for now.
With that in mind, there’s no reason to restrict yourself. If you’re looking for a good quality magazine for your handgun or rifle, you can buy one online from Pro Armory today. Our team of veterans and 2nd amendment enthusiasts are here to help you choose the best ammo and accessories for your shooting goals. No matter what kind of state you live in, we’ve got something to suit your needs.
You can trust that your payment information is always safe with us — every transaction on our site is 100% secure. All you need to do is buy your stuff and wait for it to show up on your doorstep.
At Pro Armory, we’ve got your back. Check out our selection of rifle and handgun magazines today to find the perfect capacity for your needs.