California generally prohibits people from openly carrying loaded firearms (both handguns and long guns) in public,1 with a narrow exception for residents of smaller counties: under California law, 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 to qualified residents.2 Those licenses are only valid in the county where they are issued, but are otherwise identical to California concealed weapons licenses.3 For more information about these licenses, and about laws governing the carrying of concealed firearms in California, see the Concealed Carry in California section.
California law also generally prohibits people 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
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, or within any prohibited areas in unincorporated regions of a county.6 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.7
For more information about carrying firearms in vehicles, see our Guns in Vehicles in California page.
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