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California Open Carry Gun Laws: California Penal Code 26350 PC

In 2012, the California State Assembly decided to take a tougher stand against the carrying of firearms in public. Prior to then, it had been legal for anyone (aside from those prohibited by prior felony conviction) to carry an unloaded weapon in public, provided that the weapon was not concealed. However, as of January 1, 2012, according to California open carry laws under California Penal Code 26350 PC, it is a crime to openly carry any firearm in public, even if the gun is unloaded.

California Penal Code 26350 PC Explained

Under California Penal Code 26350 PC, you are guilty of violating California open carry laws when you:

  • Carry on your person an exposed and unloaded handgun outside a vehicle while in or on any of the following:
  • A public place or public street in an incorporated city or city and county;
  • A public street in a prohibited area of an unincorporated area of a county or city and county; or
  • A public place in a prohibited area of a county or city and county.
  • Carry an exposed and unloaded handgun inside or on a vehicle, whether or not on your person, while in or on any of the following:
  • A public place or public street in an incorporated city or city and county;
  • A public street in a prohibited area of an unincorporated area of a county or city and county; or
  • A public place in a prohibited area of a county or city and county.1

 

Prosecution of Violating California Open Carry Laws

prosecution - Califronia open carry laws
The prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of violating California open carry laws

In order for you to be convicted of violating California open carry laws under Penal Code 26350 PC, the prosecution must prove that you:

  • Carried an exposed and unloaded handgun on your person or carried an exposed and unloaded handgun on or in a vehicle;
  • Knew that you were carrying a handgun; AND
  • At that time, you were in a public place, on a public street, or in a prohibited area.

Firearm Law Terms Defined

It is important to understand some of the legal terms stated under California open carry laws. First, a handgun is considered “exposed” if it is not concealed in any way. A handgun that is partially concealed – even if it is readily identifiable as a weapon – can lead to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon under Penal Code 25400 PC.

“Unloaded” simply means that the weapon did not contain any ammunition – whether in the chamber, or in a magazine or cylinder – of the type that it was capable of expelling.

Under California open carry laws, a “handgun” is any pistol, or revolver; or any firearm capable of being concealed upon the person. The basic components of such a firearm are:

  • Any device that has a barrel less than 16 inches in length, or designed to be interchanged with a barrel less than 16 inches in length;
  • The device is designed to be used as a weapon by expelling any projectile;
  • Through means of any explosion or other form of combustion.2

 

Thus, under this set of elements, generally prohibited weapons such as sawed-off shotguns or short-barreled rifles would also fit the definition.3

California Penal Code 26350 PC prohibits the carrying of firearms in “public places.” The California Court of Appeals has held that a public place is defined as “any area reasonably accessible to the public without a barrier.”4

Finally, California open carry laws also prohibit openly carrying an unloaded firearm in a “prohibited area.” These types of areas are places where weapons are generally prohibited, such as schools, airports, post offices, courthouses, and other government buildings.

Punishment for Violating California Open Carry Laws

punishment for violating California open carry laws
If you are convicted of violating California open carry laws, you could be sentenced to up to 364 days in county jail.

A violation of California Penal Code 26350 PC is a misdemeanor, and each gun carried constitutes a separate count. If convicted, you face one or both of following penalties for each count:

  • A maximum of 364 days in county jail; or
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.

 

However, you can be subject to increased sentencing depending on the circumstances of your case. For example, if you were also carrying unexpended ammunition capable of being fired by the gun, or if you were not the lawful owner of the handgun, you could face additional punishment.

Possible Defenses to Violations of California Open Carry Laws

If you have been charged with violating California open carry laws under Penal Code 26350 PC, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to raise several defenses on your behalf. These may include:

You had a valid permit to carry the weapon.

Under California Penal Code 26150 PC and 26155 PC, qualified residents may carry a handgun with a valid permit. If you have a valid permit under California Penal Code 26150 PC and 26155 PC, you cannot be charged with violating Penal Code 26350 PC. However, the burden is on you to provide proof that you have the license to do so.

You are exempt under California law.

California law exempts certain individuals from facing criminal charges for this crime based on their profession. For example, law enforcement officers (on or off-duty), air marshals, military personnel, and licensed firearms manufacturers and retailers are exempt from California Penal Code 26350 PC.

You were transporting an unloaded firearm that was not capable of concealment.

Some firearms are too large to fall under California Penal Code 26350 PC. For example, a rifle or shotgun may have a barrel longer than 16 inches, and is not capable of being fitted with a smaller barrel. That would prevent the firearm being “capable of concealment,” and therefore you could not be charged for violating California open carry laws. However, you could be subject to one of California’s other prohibitions on carrying such a weapon in public. Thus, it is essential that you hire a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling these types of cases.

You were transporting the weapon in a locked container to or from a vehicle for a lawful purpose.

California Penal Code 25610 PC makes it lawful for persons to carry firearms when they are engaged in certain activities related to the transportation of a firearm. For example, it is lawful to transport a handgun in a vehicle if the gun is in a locked container, or within the trunk of the vehicle. It is also lawful to transport the handgun to and from the vehicle in a locked container.5

Frequently Asked Questions on California Open Carry Laws

  1. Is it legal for me to openly carry an unloaded handgun at a target shooting range?

Yes, carrying a handgun at a shooting range is an act that is exempt from California Penal Code 26350. This would include carrying the gun to and from a gun locker on the premises, or to and from a stall on the range itself. However, once you leave the range, you must transport the gun in a locked container to remain in compliance with California open carry laws.

  1. Can I qualify for permit to carry a firearm?

Potentially. Certain California residents are allowed to carry a firearm on their person, whether concealed or openly. To qualify for a permit, you must be able to provide evidence of good moral character and you have good cause to have the license because you or a member of your family is in immediate danger. You also must prove that you have met certain California residency requirements, and you must have completed a course of firearms training. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering the issue of good cause. Meanwhile, some counties in California have enacted their own policies on open carry permits. For example, Riverside and Orange County do not require you to provide evidence of good cause; however, Los Angeles County requires good cause in order to qualify for a permit.

  1. Is a gun in a holster considered an openly carried gun, or a concealed gun?

California courts consider a gun that is carried in a belt or shoulder holster that is not covered by other clothing to be an openly carried weapon.6 Thus, while you cannot be charged with carrying a concealed weapon for a holstered weapon, you can still be charged with violating California Penal Code 26350 PC if you wear your pistol or revolver in a holster.

Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich If You Are Facing Weapons Charges

partners 2015 - california open carry laws
Contact the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today if you have been charged with violating California open carry laws

Have you been arrested for violating California open carry laws? If so, you will need an experienced and aggressive attorney to defend you against these charges. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending those facing weapons charges. We can help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no obligation phone consultation.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in California’s gun laws near you, no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.


1. Cal. Pen. Code § 26350(a).

2. See Cal. Pen. Code § 16530(a).

3. See Cal. Pen. Code § 16590.

4. People v. Yarbrough (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 303, 86 Cal.Rptr.3d 674.

5. Cal. Pen. Code § 25610.

6. See CALCRIM 2520. Carrying Concealed Firearm on Person (Pen. Code § 25400(a)(2)); and CALCRIM 2521. Carrying Concealed Firearm Within Vehicle (Pen. Code § 25400(a)(1)).

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