By Janet Gilger-VanderZanden
California does not specifically protect the right to bear arms in its state constitution, the way many other states do. And while the right to bear arms is nonetheless protected by the federal constitution, this does not mean that everyone may carry a gun, or that you may always carry a gun wherever you like.
A citizen or legal resident over the age of 18 may possess a handgun anywhere within his or her place of residence, business or other private property. (California Penal Code § 25605.) However, outside of these places, it is against the law to openly carry rifles, shotguns, or handguns in California (loaded or unloaded, except under certain circumstances). You may however carry a concealed weapon if you first obtain a concealed carry license. (California Penal Code § 25850, 26155.) For more information on permitting laws, see California Gun Laws.
The following sections explain who may not have a gun, and the circumstances or situations when carrying a gun is illegal.
People Who May Not Carry a Gun in California
In order to legally carry a concealed weapon in California, you must first obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon (CCW). The following individuals are prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon in California and will be denied the necessary license:
- those lacking “good moral character,” and
- people who cannot demonstrate “good cause” to carry a weapon.
(Cal. Penal Code § 26150.)
Situations or Circumstances Where Carrying a Gun is Illegal
The following rules govern when you may not carry a gun in California. Even if you have a concealed carry license, you may not carry your weapon:
- in a school zone (except in specified circumstances) (California Penal Code § 626.9(b).)
- in the State Capitol, legislative office, Governor’s office, or legislative hearing room. (California Penal Code § 171c.)
- at a polling place (California Election Code § 18544(a).)
- while picketing (California Penal Code § 17510(a).)
- in the “Cal Expo” center in Sacramento (14 California Code Regs. § 4955.), or
- in a public transit facility (California Penal Code 171.7.).
Your concealed carry license does permit you to carry your handgun into the following places:
- in a public or governmental building, property, or meeting (California Penal Code § 171b.)
- on land that is part of the California State Parks system (some exceptions exist for hunting) (14 California Code Regs. § 4313(a).)
Penalties for Gun Carry Violations
It is illegal to openly carry a handgun in California. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both. (Cal. Penal Code § 26350.)
It is also illegal to carry a concealed handgun without a concealed carry license. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. (Cal. Penal Code § 25400(c)(7).)
Getting Legal Help
The penalties for violating gun carry laws are serious, and often include extensive fines and long prison sentences. If you have any questions about whether you are allowed to carry a gun in California, or if you are facing charges for a gun violation, consult a qualified criminal defense lawyer.