California generally prohibits a person from carrying a loaded, concealed firearm in public unless the person has been issued a concealed weapons license.1 A person may carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public without a permit if the person reasonably believes that he or she is in grave danger because of circumstances forming the basis of a current restraining order issued by a court, if the court that issued the restraining order found that the defendant poses a threat to the gun owner’s life or safety.2
California is a “may-issue” state, meaning that local law enforcement has discretion when issuing carrying concealed weapons (“CCW”) licenses. Licensing authorities may only issue CCW licenses after finding that: 1) the applicant is of good moral character and, after a background check, is not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing, receiving, owning, or purchasing a firearm; 2) good cause exists for the issuance of a license; 3) the applicant has completed a firearms safety course (see below); and 4) the applicant meets relevant residency requirements.3
If, on an initial application, the licensing authority requires psychological testing for the license applicant, the applicant must be referred to a licensed psychologist used by the licensing authority for the psychological testing of its own employees.4
A California CCW license may be granted to residents of a city by the local police department, or to residents of a county, or a city within the county, by the county sheriff.5 A local police department and the sheriff of the county in which the city is located may also enter into an agreement to delegate review of all CCW applications within the city to one of the two law enforcement agencies.6 Any person who spends “a substantial period of time” in his or her principal place of employment or business in the county also may apply to that county sheriff for a concealed weapons license.7 A CCW license generally lasts two years and is valid throughout the state, however, a license issued based on the applicant’s place of employment or business may be valid no longer than 90 days and only in the county where it was issued.8
In 2011, California enacted a law requiring the local licensing authority to provide written notice to an applicant upon making a determination of good cause. If good cause is found, the notice must inform the applicant to proceed with the safety training requirements (see below for details), and, if the licensing authority determines that good cause does not exist, the notice must state the reasons why that determination was made.9
The licensing authority must also give written notice to the applicant indicating that the application has been approved or denied. This notice must be given within 90 days of the initial application for a new license or a license renewal, or 30 days after receipt of the applicant’s criminal background check from DOJ, whichever is later. If the license is denied, the notice must state which requirement was not satisfied.10
A CCW license may include any reasonable restrictions or conditions which the issuing authority deems warranted, including restrictions as to the time, place, manner, and circumstances under which the person may carry a firearm. Any such restrictions must be indicated on the license itself.11 However, no licensing authority may require an applicant to obtain liability insurance or pay any additional fees not otherwise authorized by law as a condition of the application for a license.12 The license must specify the particular firearm the person is authorized to carry, giving the name of the manufacturer, the serial number, and the caliber, as well as the licensee’s name, occupation, residence and business address, age, height, weight, color of eyes and hair, and the reason for desiring a license to carry the weapon.13
The city or county that has issued a CCW license must revoke the license if, at any time, either the city or county is notified by the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) or otherwise determines that a licensee is prohibited from possessing firearms.14 If DOJ determines that a licensee is prohibited from possessing firearms, DOJ must immediately notify the city or county of the determination.15 The licensee must be immediately notified of the revocation in writing.16
CCW Safety Training
California passed legislation in 2018 to strengthen and standardize some safety training requirements for CCW applicants.17
New CCW applicants are now required to complete a training course approved by the local licensing authority, which must provide between 8 and 16 hours of instruction on firearm handling, shooting technique, and relevant gun laws; a demonstration by the applicant of shooting proficiency and safe handling of each firearm the applicant will be licensed to carry; and live-fire exercises conducted on a firing range.18 (Alternatively, the licensing authority may require a community college course certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, up to a maximum of 24 hours, but only if required uniformly of all license applicants without exception).19
CCW Duration and Renewal
Subject to certain limited exceptions, a California CCW license is valid for up to two years from the date of issuance or renewal.20 License renewal applicants must fulfill most of the same requirements for the original issuance of the license.21 However, license renewal applicants may fulfill the course requirements through any course of training approved by the city or county that is at least four hours long and that provides instruction on firearm handling, shooting technique, and relevant gun laws; a demonstration by the applicant of shooting proficiency and safe handling of each firearm the applicant will be licensed to carry; and live-fire exercises conducted on a firing range.22 The city or county issuing the license may require additional psychological testing of a renewal applicant only if there is compelling evidence to indicate that a test is necessary.23 The city or county may not require the applicant to provide additional information other than that necessary to complete the original application or to clarify information provided in the original application.24
Disclosure and Use of CCW Information
Cities and counties in California must maintain certain records regarding CCW applications and licenses and forward this information to the DOJ.25 The application and record of a CCW license are public documents unless they contain information by which the county sheriff or municipal police chief can demonstrate that the public interest served by not making such records public clearly outweighs the public interest in their disclosure.26 Nevertheless, certain information contained in the applications for CCW licenses and the records of CCW applicants may not be disclosed to the public. Such information includes:
- Records of state summary criminal information contained in CCW license records of a sheriff or municipal police department;
- Records of the sheriff’s investigation of the qualification and fitness of a CCW applicant;27
- Information contained in CCW applications by the sheriff of a county or a municipal police chief indicating when or where the applicant is vulnerable to attack, or concerning the applicant’s medical or psychological history or that of members of his or her family;28 and
- The home address and telephone number of prosecutors, public defenders, peace officers, judges, court commissioners, and magistrates.29
The California Department of Justice used to produce an annual report disclosing the number of CCW licenses in each California county. The most recent report lists the number of CCW licenses that existed in each county each year from 1987 through 2007. At the end of 2007, there were a total of 40,296 CCW licenses in all of California. A report released by the United States Government Accountability Office in 2012, estimated a total of 35,000 CCW license holders in California as of September 1, 2011.30
Reciprocity of Other States’ CCW Licenses
Concealed weapons license holders from other states may not carry concealed firearms in California.
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- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25400(a), 25655. Firearms carried openly in belt holsters are not considered “concealed” within the meaning of this section. Cal. Penal Code § 25400(b).
- Cal. Penal Code § 25600(a). A person may also carry a concealed firearm in a locked container to or from a motor vehicle. Cal. Penal Code § 25610(a)(2). For additional exceptions, see Cal. Penal Code §§ 25505-25655. Restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms in public also do not apply to peace officers, whether active or honorably retired. Cal. Penal Code § 25450.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150, 26155. Additional concealed weapons license application and background check requirements, as well as license denial, suspension or disqualification standards, are detailed under Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150-26225.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26190(f). The applicant may be charged for the actual cost of the testing, not to exceed $150, and, if additional psychological testing is required, that cost to the applicant cannot exceed $150. Id.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150, 26155.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26155(c).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26150(a)(3). A city or county may be considered an applicant’s “principal place of employment or business” only if the applicant is physically present in the jurisdiction during a substantial part of his or her working hours for purposes of that employment or business. Cal. Penal Code § 17020.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26220.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26202.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26205.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26200.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26190(g).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26175(i). Licensees may apply to amend their licenses to include authority to carry additional specified firearms or to alter the conditions or restrictions of the license. Cal. Penal Code § 26215(a).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(1).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(2).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26195(b)(3).
- See 2018 CA AB 2103.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26165(a), (b).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26165(c). Pursuant to a law California enacted in 2011, an applicant must not be required to pay for any training courses prior to a determination of good cause. Cal. Penal Code § 26165(e).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26220(a). An amendment to a license does not extend the original expiration date of the license, and an application to amend a license does not constitute an application for renewal. Cal. Penal Code § 26215(c), (d).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26175.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26165(d).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26190(f).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26175(g).
- Cal. Penal Code § 26225.
- Cal. Govt. Code § 6255.
- Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(f).
- Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(u)(1). For additional explanation on the disclosure and use of concealed weapons permit information, see the California Attorney General’s opinion concerning public disclosure of records, 62 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 595 (1979).
- Cal. Govt. Code § 6254(u)(2)-(3).
- See United States Government Accountability Office, States’ Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary across the Nation, 36, July, 2012, available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592552.pdf.