Beginning October 1, 2020, federally compliant identification will be required to board any airplane or enter military bases and other federal facilities. With the implementation of these new federally compliant IDs, also known as REAL IDs, questions have been raised if non-REAL IDs issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) will satisfy federal requirements for purchasing a firearm. Thanks to the efforts of NRA and CRPA attorneys, we now have clarification from federal authorities that CA citizens and lawful residents may continue to use their non-REAL IDs when purchasing firearms.

To obtain a REAL ID from the DMV, individuals must personally visit their local DMV office, pay the required fee, and provide proof of their identity, CA residency, and Social Security number. Otherwise, an individual will be issued a license that states “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” in small print on the front of the license.

In 2012, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) issued a newsletter stating that non-REAL IDs may continue to be used to purchase firearms so long as the provided ID satisfied the requirements under the Gun Control Act.[1] But this all changed when California enacted the Safe and Responsible Driver Act (more commonly known as “AB 60”).

AB 60 requires the DMV to issue driver’s licenses and IDs to individuals who are unable to provide proof of their lawful presence in the United States. Because such individuals are generally prohibited from owning or possessing firearms, ATF clarified its position on non-REAL IDs in an open letter to all California firearm dealers, stating that AB 60 licenses cannot be used to purchase a firearm.

At the time, this didn’t present a problem for lawful U.S. residents, as their IDs issued by the CA DMV did not have the same “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” language on their license. But now that the CA DMV has started issuing REAL IDs, all other types of licenses will have the same “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” language printed on the front of the license, including licenses issued to citizens and lawful residents. Naturally, firearm dealers and law-abiding gun owners have expressed concern that their licenses will no longer be valid for the purposes of purchasing or transferring firearms.

NRA and CRPA attorneys immediately reached out to ATF for clarification. ATF responded, following confirmation from the DMV, that despite non-REAL IDs and AB 60 IDs both having the same “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” language on the front, AB 60 IDs will have additional language on the back which states “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.” IDs issued to citizens and lawful residents will not have this language.

As a result, citizens and lawful residents may use non-REAL IDs issued by the DMV when purchasing or transferring firearms. But California firearm dealers must ensure that the provided ID is not an AB 60 license by looking on the back of the license to confirm the AB 60 language is not there.

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[1] As stated on the required 4473, the FFL “must establish the identity, place of residence, and age of the transferee/buyer. The transferee/buyer must provide a valid government-issued photo identification document to the transferor/seller that contains the transferee’s/buyer’s name, residence address, and date of birth.” See ATF E-Form 4473 (5300.9), https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/4473-part-1-firearms-transaction-record-over-counter-atf-form-53009/download (Oct. 2016).