Are Hollow Points Legal in California? A Comprehensive Guide

are hollow points legal in california

Are hollow point bullets legal for use in California? This is a common question among gun owners and a topic of ongoing debate. The legality of hollow point ammunition can vary across different states and even cities/counties. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the laws and regulations surrounding hollow points in California.

In short, hollow point bullets are generally legal for self-defense and law enforcement use in California, with some exceptions. However, there are specific rules and restrictions that gun owners need to be aware of. We’ll cover all the key details, from general legality to city/county ordinances, ammunition sales regulations, prohibited persons, and other restricted ammo types.

What are Hollow Point Bullets?

Before diving into the legal aspects, let’s first understand what hollow point bullets are and how they differ from regular ammunition.

Hollow point bullets have a hollow cavity or pit in the tip, which causes the bullet to expand upon impact. This expansion increases the bullet’s diameter, allowing it to transfer more energy to the target and reducing the risk of overpenetration.

This design makes hollow point ammunition particularly effective for self-defense situations. The expanded bullet is more likely to incapacitate an assailant quickly while minimizing the chance of the bullet exiting the target and potentially causing collateral damage.

Legality of Hollow Points in California

legality of hollow points in california

In California, the possession and use of hollow point bullets are generally permitted for lawful purposes such as self-defense and by law enforcement officers.

You can legally carry hollow point ammunition while licensed for concealed carry in California. As long as you have a valid concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit, you are allowed to carry hollow point ammunition along with your legal firearm for self-defense purposes.

However, it’s important to note that some cities and counties in California have implemented additional restrictions or bans on specific types of ammunition, including hollow points.

City/County Restrictions

Two notable examples are San Francisco and Oakland:

  • San Francisco: In 1994, the city banned the sale of hollow-point bullets within its jurisdiction. This ordinance prohibits the sale of ammunition “designed to expand on impact,” which includes most hollow point rounds.
  • Oakland: The city has defined certain types of ammunition as illegal to possess, including hollow point bullets.

Gun owners should familiarize themselves with any local ordinances in their area that may impact the legality of possessing or using hollow point ammunition.

Regulations on Ammunition Sales and Transfers in California

In addition to city/county-level restrictions, California has statewide regulations governing the sale and transfer of ammunition, including hollow points.

Ammunition Vendor Licensing

Since January 1, 2018, individuals who sell more than 500 rounds of ammunition per month are required to obtain an “ammunition vendor license” from the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Licensed firearms dealers are automatically considered licensed ammunition vendors.

Licensed vendors must follow specific requirements, such as reporting lost or stolen ammunition, conducting background checks on employees who handle ammunition, and maintaining records of ammunition sales.

Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases

As of July 1, 2019, licensed ammunition vendors in California are generally prohibited from selling or transferring ammunition until conducting a background check to verify the recipient’s eligibility.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as:

  • Selling ammunition in the same transaction as a firearm (only the firearm background check is required)
  • Transferring ammunition to immediate family members
  • Allowing individuals to use ammunition at a shooting range without a purchase

Prohibited Persons and Ammunition Possession

Certain categories of individuals are prohibited from owning, possessing, or having custody of ammunition in California, including:

  • Convicted felons
  • Individuals subject to certain court orders or injunctions related to criminal activity
  • Those with certain mental health restrictions or involuntary holds

It is illegal for a prohibited person to possess ammunition, including hollow points, and there are penalties for unlawful possession.

Other Restricted/Banned Ammunition Types

While hollow point bullets are generally legal in California (with some exceptions), there are other types of ammunition that are more strictly regulated or outright banned in the state.

Armor-Piercing Ammunition

The manufacture, importation, sale, offer for sale, or possession of handgun ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor is prohibited in California. This includes projectiles made from certain high-density materials like tungsten or depleted uranium.

Explosive/Incendiary Ammunition

California prohibits the possession, sale, or transportation of any “destructive device,” which includes projectiles containing explosive or incendiary materials, as well as tracer or incendiary ammunition (with some exceptions for shotgun tracers).

Large Caliber Ammunition

The state generally prohibits the sale, possession, or transportation of any fixed ammunition greater than .60 caliber.

Transporting Ammunition in California

When transporting firearms and ammunition together in California, specific rules apply to ensure safety and compliance with laws.

Ammunition must be kept separate from firearms during transport. While ammunition can be in the same locked container as a gun, it cannot be loaded into the firearm or magazine.

Failure to properly transport ammunition could result in legal issues, so it’s crucial to follow the regulations carefully.

Reasons Behind Hollow Point Legality

While the expansion of hollow point bullets may seem concerning to some, there are valid reasons why these rounds are generally allowed for self-defense purposes in California and other states.

One primary advantage of hollow points is their reduced risk of overpenetration. By expanding upon impact, the bullet is more likely to expend its energy within the intended target, minimizing the chance of the projectile exiting and potentially causing unintended harm.

This safety aspect is particularly important in self-defense situations, where bystanders or others in the vicinity could be endangered by an overpenetrating bullet.

Additionally, the enhanced stopping power of hollow point ammunition can be crucial for quickly incapacitating an assailant, potentially saving lives in a violent encounter.

While concerns about the potential for increased damage from hollow points exist, these rounds are designed for self-defense purposes and are not intended for unnecessary or excessive force.

Ongoing Legal Challenges and Developments

It’s important to note that the legal landscape surrounding ammunition regulations in California is not static, and there have been ongoing legal challenges and developments.

For example, the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA), the state’s affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has brought lawsuits challenging the implementation of Proposition 63’s requirements for ammunition sales through licensed vendors and background checks.

As of the time of writing, some of these legal challenges are still working their way through the court system, potentially impacting future regulations.

Additionally, new laws or ordinances could be introduced or amended, altering the rules surrounding hollow point ammunition and other types of ammunition in California.

Gun owners and enthusiasts should stay informed about any updates or changes to ensure they remain compliant with the latest laws and regulations.


In California, the legality of hollow point ammunition is a nuanced topic with various regulations and exceptions to consider. While hollow point bullets are generally permitted for lawful purposes such as self-defense and law enforcement use, there are specific rules governing their sale, transfer, possession, and use.

Key points to remember:

  • Hollow points can be carried concealed with a valid CCW permit in California
  • Some cities like San Francisco and Oakland have additional restrictions or bans on hollow point sales/possession
  • Ammunition sales and transfers in California are regulated, with vendor licensing and background check requirements
  • Certain categories of individuals are prohibited from possessing any ammunition, including hollow points
  • Other types of ammunition like armor-piercing, explosive, and large caliber rounds are more strictly regulated or banned
  • Proper transportation of ammunition with firearms is crucial to avoid legal issues
  • The legal landscape surrounding ammunition regulations is subject to ongoing challenges and potential changes

As a responsible gun owner in California, it’s essential to stay informed about the evolving laws and regulations surrounding hollow point ammunition and firearms. Consulting with legal professionals or contacting local law enforcement can also provide guidance on ensuring full compliance.

Remember, the primary purpose of allowing hollow point ammunition is for effective self-defense while minimizing the risk of overpenetration and unintended harm. Staying educated and following the rules is crucial for maintaining the legal rights of law-abiding gun owners in California.

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