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Penal Code 26350 PC | Openly Carrying a Firearm

Penal Code 26350 PC: Openly Carrying a Firearm in California

So you want to openly carry a gun in California? Well my friend, you better read this first. California has some strict laws about openly carrying firearms that you need to know about. Don’t worry, I’ll break it down nice and simple here so you understand what’s legal and what’s not. Just remember – I’m not a lawyer so don’t take this as solid legal advice. But hopefully it gives you a good starting point on understanding these laws.

First off, let’s talk about what California Penal Code 26350 actually says. This law makes it illegal to openly carry an unloaded handgun in public in California. Let’s break that down:

  • Openly carry – this means the gun is visible to others, not concealed
  • Unloaded – there’s no ammunition in the gun
  • Handgun – this includes pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed
  • Public place – basically anywhere reasonably accessible to the public

So if you’ve got an unloaded handgun clearly visible in public, you’re likely breaking PC 26350. This applies whether you’ve got it holstered on your hip, slung over your shoulder, or just holding it in your hand as you walk down the street. Now you might think open carrying an unloaded gun isn’t a big deal. But in California, it’s a misdemeanor crime that can land you in jail for up to a year!

When did this law take effect?

Up until 2012, it was actually legal to openly carry unloaded guns in California (except in certain sensitive places like schools and government buildings). But then the state legislature decided to tighten up the laws by passing PC 26350 to ban open carrying of handguns altogether. This took effect on January 1, 2012. So open carrying an unloaded handgun has been illegal in California for over a decade now.

Are there any exceptions?

As with most laws, there are some exceptions here. PC 26350 doesn’t apply to the following folks:

  • Active and retired peace officers
  • CCW permit holders – but your gun still can’t be loaded!
  • People who are transporting handguns in locked containers
  • People practicing shooting at target ranges
  • Licensed firearms dealers and manufacturers

There are a few other narrow exceptions as well, mostly related to using handguns for hunting, entertainment, or employment. But unless you fall into one of these special categories, you can’t openly carry an unloaded handgun in public spaces in California.

What about open carrying rifles and shotguns?

While PC 26350 only applies to handguns, California also has restrictions on openly carrying rifles, shotguns, and other long guns in public. Unlike handguns, it’s not a flat-out ban – but you still can’t walk around with a rifle slung over your shoulder without a good reason. I’ll summarize a few key laws here:

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  • PC 26355 – Generally prohibits open carrying of an unloaded rifle or shotgun in public incorporated cities and prohibited areas of unincorporated counties. Hunting, target practice, etc. are exceptions.
  • PC 26400 – Restricts open carrying of loaded rifles and shotguns in public incorporated areas. There are exceptions like if you reasonably believe you’re in grave danger.
  • PC 25850 – Prohibits carrying a loaded firearm (including rifles and shotguns) in public places statewide. Applies even to people with CCW permits.

Bottom line – you can’t just walk around the streets of Los Angeles with your AR-15 on display. Even if it’s unloaded, there’s a good chance you’ll get arrested if the police see you. The laws are more relaxed in unincorporated rural areas, but open carrying long guns is still very limited in California.

Can you get a concealed carry permit in California?

If you want to carry a handgun for self-defense legally in California, your only option is to get a CCW (Carry a Concealed Weapon) permit. The requirements to get a CCW in California are much stricter than most other states. You have to prove that you’re in serious danger and need to carry a handgun for protection. Even then, some counties rarely issue permits at all. The process varies by county so you’ll need to check your local laws.

Let’s say you do get a CCW permit in California. You still can’t carry a loaded gun openly! Your handgun must remain concealed at all times when you’re out in public. Otherwise you could face charges for violating PC 25850 which bans loaded open carry statewide.

What are the penalties for illegally open carrying a firearm?

As mentioned earlier, violating PC 26350 by openly carrying an unloaded handgun is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you face:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

Other firearms violations like open carrying a loaded rifle are also misdemeanors with similar punishments. Now some of you may be thinking a misdemeanor doesn’t sound so bad. But don’t underestimate how much a criminal conviction can screw up your life even if you don’t do jail time! You’ll have a permanent criminal record that can make things like getting a job much harder. Plus certain misdemeanors can prohibit you from owning guns for 10 years.

What are some defenses if you get charged?

Let’s say you get arrested for openly carrying a firearm in public. Don’t panic! There are several legal defenses that a good lawyer may be able to argue on your behalf, such as:

  • You had a valid CCW permit
  • You fall under an exception (like transporting to a shooting range)
  • The search or seizure that found your gun was illegal
  • You didn’t actually have the gun in a “public place”

A skilled attorney can review the details of your case and decide if any of these defenses apply. Just whatever you do, don’t try to represent yourself in court against gun charges. That’s a recipe for disaster!

Can you open carry in other states?

If you’re frustrated by California’s strict laws on openly carrying guns, you’ll be happy to know many other states are much more permissive. Roughly half the states allow open carrying of handguns without any special permit. And even more states permit open carry of rifles and shotguns without major restrictions.

For example, states like Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and others have very relaxed open carry laws. You can walk into a Starbucks with a pistol on your hip and it’s completely legal! Now some major cities like Los Angeles still restrict open carry, but statewide it’s allowed.

So if open carrying firearms is important to you, there are plenty of options outside California. Just be sure to research the specific laws in that state before strapping on a revolver and strolling down Main Street!

Should California relax its open carry laws?

This is a hot debate with good arguments on both sides. Supporters of open carry say it’s our “God-given constitutional right” as Americans to openly carry firearms for self-defense and to deter crime. They argue criminals target gun-free zones, so open carry makes society safer. They also say the right to bear arms doesn’t end just because you step outside your home.

On the other hand, opponents argue open carrying of guns intimidates the public and ties the hands of law enforcement. For example, it’s hard for cops to discern a legal open carrier from an active shooter. There’s also research showing open carry leads to increased violent crime. And some say easy open carry undermines the permitting process for concealed carry.

As with most political issues, there are good faith arguments on both sides here. Reasonable people can disagree on whether open carry laws should be loosened or not. But what do you think? Should everyday citizens be able to openly carry firearms for protection? Or does open carry do more harm than good for society? Let me know in the comments!

The Bottom Line on Open Carry in California

Okay, let’s recap the key points so you know what’s legal and what’s not here in California when it comes to openly carrying firearms:

  • Openly carrying an unloaded handgun is illegal under PC 26350
  • Open carry of rifles and shotguns is also very restricted
  • Getting a CCW permit allows concealed carry only – no open carry!
  • Penalties for illegal open carry are severe – over a year in jail possible
  • There are legal defenses if you get charged
  • Many other states permit open carry with few restrictions

I know that’s a lot of info to digest! The moral of the story is that California has some of the strictest laws on openly carrying guns in the public. Don’t try it without understanding the serious legal risks involved. But if it’s important to you, look at moving to an open carry friendly state.

Let me know if you have any other questions about open carrying firearms in California. I’m happy to chat more in the comments. And stay safe out there my friends!


[1] California Penal Code Section 26350 PC: Openly Carrying An Unloaded Handgun

[2] Openly Carrying an Unloaded Handgun | Penal Code 26350 PC – Eisner Gorin LLP

[3] Penal Code § 26350 PC – Open Carry of Unloaded Firearm – Shouse Law

[4] California Open Carry Gun Laws – Penal Code 26350 PC – Wallin & Klarich

[5] California Penal Code Section 26350: Openly Carrying An Unloaded Handgun

[6] California Code, Penal Code – PEN § 26350 – Codes – FindLaw

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