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About Real ID vs. "Federal Non-Compliant" California Driver's Licenses with regard to firearm purchases

Last checked 2020-10-19

When next you renew your California driver's license (CDL) you'll be getting either a "Real ID" or the type called "Federal Non-Compliant," which bears the words "Federal Limits Apply." Which you get is based on choices you make and actions you take. For at least the present, taking the default choice (including renewing by mail) will result in you getting a Federal Non-Compliant CDL.

PRGC suggests that you put in the time and effort required to obtain a Real ID. Here's why:

An ATF "Open Letter to California Federal Firearms Licensees" in June of 2016 stated that California FFLs could not transfer firearms to individuals using Federal Non-Compliant ID due to the likelihood such individuals were in the country illegally, and thus prohibited from receiving and possessing firearms.

According to a Special Alert from the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the ATF "recently" clarified and revised their position on this to say that California licensed firearm dealers:

[M]ay accept post-January 22, 2018 licenses/identification documents that meet the definition in 18 U.S.C. 1028(d) in fulfilling their requirements under 18 U.S.C. 922(t)(1)(C) and 27 CFR 478.124(c)(3)(i). However, licensees may consider asking for additional documentation (e.g., passport) so that the transfer is not further delayed.

(While the original open letter to CA FFLs was available on the Internet for a time, and we did have a link to it here in the previous version of this webpage, this document is no longer available online.)

We talked with a local FFL today to find out whether or not he had received a revised communication directly from the ATF. He had not, and so contacted his ATF Auditor during our visit. The answer from the ATF Auditor was that, yes, a customer now can use a Federal Non-Compliant ID to purchase a firearm. To confirm this the FFL then called a representative at the California DOJ, from whom he learned that, no, a customer cannot use a Federal Non-Compliant ID purchase a firearm.

This is, frankly, above our collective pay grade to figure out. There is an effective workaround in place, though: next time you renew your CA driver's license, go to the effort to obtain a Real ID. Having one eliminates this confusion.

If you plan to purchase a firearm soon, we suggest you contact the FFL from whom you will buy to request additional guidance on this issue.

How to Obtain a Real ID

Here are a couple of links describing the situation from the perspective of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, including the list of what to bring to your appointment to facilitate getting a Real ID. Use these links to explore your options and make your own decision:

More Background Info

There are of course many other sources of information on the Internet. (As with all things Internet, however, be choosy about what to trust.)

How this issue arose in Paradise

A member of PRGC first learned of this on 22-Feb-18 when a local FFL called a few people in the local gun-owning community to alert them that he'd had to start turning away some customers. The cause: the customers involved had recently renewed their CDLs, had unwittingly received the Federal Non-Compliant type rather than the Real ID type, and were attempting to use their CDLs as ID. In turning these customers away the FFL was following instructions in the now-rescinded open letter to California FFLs from the ATF.

At the PRGC General meeting on March 15 2018 a lively discussion among those present concluded with the general request to make this information available on the PRGC website.

We will update this page as we learn of changes.
    ---The PRGC Webmasters

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