Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380: How to legally obtain one in California

Much of my blog traffic is the result of this post. The crux of the issue that that you can own one of these in California, you can even buy one from a private party sale legally, but common wisdom around here is that you cannot buy one from an FFL as this gun is not on the California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale (commonly referred to as the Safe Handgun Roster). This is not exactly true.

Before I get into this any further, please understand that I am not a lawyer, and this should not be construed as legal advice. You should consult a licensed attorney to answer any questions you have about this topic.

In 2005 California Senate Bill 269 was passed into law effective January 1, 2006. SB 269 amended the California Penal Code Section 12133 to read as follows:

(a) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to a
single-action revolver that has at least a 5-cartridge capacity with
a barrel length of not less than three inches, and meets any of the
following specifications:
   (1) Was originally manufactured prior to 1900 and is a curio or
relic, as defined in Section 478.11 of Title 27 of the Code of
Federal Regulations.
   (2) Has an overall length measured parallel to the barrel of at
least 7 1/2 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are
assembled.
   (3) Has an overall length measured parallel to the barrel of at
least 7 1/2 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are
assembled and that is currently approved for importation into the
United States pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (3) of
subsection (d) of Section 925 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
   (b) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to a
single-shot pistol with a barrel length of not less than six inches
and that has an overall length of at least 10 1/2 inches when the
handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are assembled.

Here is a link to the Information Bulletin (PDF warning) on this from the California DoJ.

So what this means is that you can legally have an FFL alter any pistol not on the California Roster to be a “single shot” pistol before you initiate the transfer. It is also perfectly legal for you (or a gunsmith) to convert the firearm back to its factory configuration once you have taken possession of it. Not all FFL’s will do these kinds of transfers.

This leads to a kind of WTF? moment when you realize that the California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale is a complete sham, and does nothing but overcomplicate the process of purchasing your desired handgun. In my opinion, firearms manufacturers should file a class action lawsuit against California over this. Seems like racketeering to me.

So how does this actually work? Let’s say you want to buy a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 in California. The process will go something like this:

  • You locate a dealer willing to do an SSE (Single Shot Exemption) Transfer.
  • The dealer will alter the firearm to be single shot compliant under California PC 12133 (they install a 9-10″ barrel and a “zero shot magazine”, which is basically a magazine altered to prevent any ammunition from being loaded into it).
  • You purchase the Single Shot Compliant pistol, as you would purchase any other firearm in California.
  • Once you take possession of the Single Shot Compliant pistol, you can legally reinstall the factory barrel and use a standard magazine.

Most dealers that will do SSE Transfers have trade in packages where you can trade them the parts of the gun that you purchased in the Single Shot Compliant pistol for the OEM equipment, but not all do. You should discuss the specifics of how this works with your FFL before initiating the purchase.

In practice this means that you can buy pretty much any pistol that you could buy anywhere else in the country (with rare exception), you’ll just probably have to pay a little bit more for it than someone who lives in a State without retarded gun laws.

Thus the answer to the question “Is the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 California legal?” is most assuredly yes.

As is pretty much any other pistol.

One often wonders if the people that pass these laws have any idea of what they actually do.

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13 Responses to Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380: How to legally obtain one in California

  1. Drew says:

    What about getting it added to my CCW in Norcal? I’m Placer County?

    • Joe G. says:

      If your issuing agency does not have any strange requirements it shouldn’t be an issue. I only mention this because an acquaintance of mine recently told me that his local PD will not add pistols with lasers to his CCW, and requires that all firearms be inspected prior to being added to a CCW (I have no idea how accurate this is, but is is Southern California so I can believe it).

      Once you have legally transferred the pistol through an FFL there is no reason you should not be able to have it added to your CCW, as it is a lawfully owned and possessed firearm. I would contact the issuing agency and tell them that you have the opportunity to purchase one through a private party transfer, and want to know if there will be any issues having it added to your CCW.

  2. Big John says:

    So you never said anything about if it has passed the drop test, if not then it is not legal in california.

    • Joe G. says:

      Actually that’s not true (but it is a common mistake). California PC12131 is the section of the penal code that defines the California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale. And passing a drop test is part of that. However California PC 12132(a) explicitly exempts Private Party Transfers of firearms from this list. Here is a quote from the very top of the DOJ Roster webpage:

      Effective January 1, 2001, no handgun may be manufactured within California, imported into California for sale, lent, given, kept for sale, or offered/exposed for sale unless that handgun model has passed firing, safety, and drop tests and is certified for sale in California by the Department of Justice. Private party transfers, curio/relic handguns, certain single-action revolvers, and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement.

      So essentially the “safe handgun list” only governs sale to private citizens directly from an FFL. There are plenty of ways that you can legally purchase any pistol not on the list, as long as you don’t buy it from an FFL dealer.

      EDIT:
      Sorry, I didn’t pick up that you may have meant that you couldn’t buy one from a FFL on a single shot exemption if it hadn’t passed the drop test. California PC12133(b) covers this:

      The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to a single-shot pistol with a barrel length of not less than six inches and that has an overall length of at least 10 1/2 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are assembled.

      So as the pistol in question is being sold as a single shot pistol using the SSE, the drop test does not apply.

  3. Ryan says:

    So this is a current question- 02Mar2014… If I do your great conversion, and somehow legally obtain the 380, can it be added to my (will have in 2 weeks) CCW? Even though its not on current list?

    • Ryan says:

      Lol, my bad, durrrrrr, somebody asked my question first… And he’s on my neighboring county… Sorry guys…

  4. macmic6 says:

    Thanks for the info. I am wondering if I can give a Bodyguard to my son. He lives in California but is visiting us in Illinois and I would like to give him this gun. Can he legally take it into California when he returns? He flies out Sunday so I would appreciate and answer.

    • Sandman says:

      Sorry, been away from the computer. Yes you can give it to him, but all interstate firearm transfers must go through an FFL. You’ll need to have an FFL local to you send it to an FFL local to him, and then his local FFL can process the transfer. Contact the FFLs beforehand and ask them about specific requirements. Gifts from parent to child are not covered by the CA handgun roster.

      • macmic6 says:

        Thank you for the info. So I can’t just hand him the gun and he takes it home in his checked luggage? Legally packed of course.

      • Sandman says:

        Unfortunately no. California requires all transfers from out of state go through an FFL. I believe that all handgun transfers period must go through an FFL.

      • macmic6 says:

        You are correct. thanks!

  5. Jayme says:

    I own a bodyguard 380 pistol bought in Florida under my Florida ccw and second home. My primary residence is in California (El Dorado County) and I’d like to use this gun as my carry when I obtain the permit. Since I am the original owner, kept in FL, can I just bring it back next visit and have it added to my CA ccw???

    • Sandman says:

      If your primary state of residence is and always has been CA, I don’t believe that you can legally bring it into CA from FL.

      You’ll definitely want to contact an attorney that specializes in CA gun law. I’d start at Calguns.org and ask around for recommendations.

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