Please see our Open Carrying policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Although the open carrying of loaded firearms (both handguns and long guns) in public is generally prohibited in California,1 the sheriff of any county with a population under 200,000 people, or the chief of police of a city within that county, may issue licenses to carry a loaded, exposed handgun.2 Those licenses are only valid in the county where they are issued, but are otherwise identical to California concealed weapons license.3 For more information about these licenses, and about the carrying of concealed firearms in California generally, see the Concealed Weapons Permitting in California section.
Prior to 2012, it was legal for a gun owner in California to carry a handgun in public, as long as it was both unloaded and carried in plain sight. However, a 2011 California law, which took effect January 1, 2012, generally prohibits any person from carrying an exposed and unloaded handgun upon his or her person outside of a vehicle in a public place.4 This prohibition is subject to a number of exceptions, including for peace officers, military personnel, licensed hunters, and the carrying of an unloaded handgun in a locked container.5 The violation of this law is a misdemeanor in most cases.6
California law also prohibits the carrying in public, outside of a vehicle and on or about one’s person, of an unloaded long gun in any incorporated city or county.7 This is subject to several exceptions similar to those that apply to the open carrying of handguns in public, including exceptions for peace officers, licensed hunters, and military personnel.8 The violation of this law is a misdemeanor in most cases.9
For more information about carrying firearms in vehicles, see our Guns in Vehicles in California section.