California carry licenses are issued by local licensing authorities (a “sheriff of a county” or a “chief or other head of a municipal police department of any city or city and county”) under the authority found in Cal. Penal Code section 26150, et seq. CCW license are, effectively, the means by which one may be exempt from California’s (and some federal) laws prohibiting various firearm-related conduct.
California generally prohibits the open or concealed carriage of a handgun, whether loaded or unloaded, in public locations. See, e.g., Cal. Penal Code sections:
- 171b (prohibiting possession of a firearm at public buildings and public meetings)
- Exemption at 171b(b)(3)
- 171c (prohibiting possession of a firearm in/at the State Capitol, legislative offices, hearing rooms, and offices of constitutional officers)
- Exemption at 171c(b)(2)
- 171d(a)-(b) (prohibiting possession of a firearm at any residence of state constitutional officers and legislative members)
- Exemption at 171d
626.9 (prohibiting possession of firearms in school zones)
- Exemption at 616.9(l)
- 25400 (prohibiting concealed carry of a firearm)
- Exemption at section 25655
- 25850 (prohibiting carry of a loaded firearm)
- Exemption at 26010
- 26350 (prohibiting open carry of an unloaded firearm)
- Limited exemption at 26381
See also, 18 U.S. Code section 922(q)(2)-(3) (federal gun free school zone laws)
- Exemption to the federal crime of firearm possession in school zones under (q)(2)(A) for state resident firearm carry licensees found at (q)(2)(B)(ii)
California law requires that applicants for a California carry license:
- Have good moral character;
- Have good cause for issuance of the license (under Peruta v. Gore, the fundamental, individual right of armed self-defense protected under the Second Amendment constitutes “good cause” for the issuance of a license); and,
- Be a resident of the county (or a city within the county) if applying to a county sheriff, or a resident of the city if the applying to a chief of police. (Under certain circumstances, one may apply to a county sheriff for a limited 90-day license if that person’s “principal place of employment or business” is located in that county; however, research shows that such licenses are virtually never issued.)
To begin the process, applicants must complete a state-standard application form and submit it to the licensing authority. The licensing authority has a duty to collect the applicants’ fingerprints (if required; see, section 26185) and the CA DOJ background check fee ($95), and, if there is a local application fee, not more than 20% of the local fee, plus any local fee for fingerprint rolling. The balance of the local application fee can only be required if the license is issued.
The licensing authority may not issue a license until they have received the CA DOJ background check report stating that the applicant is not prohibited from possessing firearms. (See, Cal. Penal Code sections 26185(a)(3) and 26195(a).)
Psychological evaluations may be required of initial applicants, but the cost may not exceed $150 and the applicant must only be referred to a licensed psychologist used by the licensing authority for the psychological testing of its own employees. (See, Cal. Penal Code section 26190(f)(1).)
In order to receive a license after the application has been approved, the applicant must also fulfill a statutory training requirement (with the specific course of training as approved by the licensing authority) and pay the balance of the local fees (if any). (See, Cal. Penal Code sections 26150(a)(4), 26155(a)(4), 26165, 26202.)
For a much more detailed analysis of the California carry license application process, including significant legal analysis and additional FAQs, please download our Carry License Application Guide.
We’re working hard to make carry licenses (and applications therefore) timely and accessible to all law-abiding Californians. Fixing problems like long waiting lists will, in many (or even most) cases, require expensive litigation. Please help speed up the process by funding CGF’s Carry License Compliance Initiative lawsuits by making a donation to CGF at calgunsfoundation.org/donate.
My local licensing authority makes all applicants complete forms beyond the CA DOJ state-standard application form. Is that legal?
No. Cal. Penal Code section 26175(a)(1) states that “[a]pplications for licenses, applications for amendments to licenses, amendments to licenses, and licenses under this article shall be uniform throughout the state, upon forms to be prescribed by the Attorney General.”
Moreover, Cal. Penal Code section 26175(d) states that “[a]n applicant shall not be required to complete any additional application or form for a license, or to provide any information other than that necessary to complete the standard application form described in subdivision (a), except to clarify or interpret information provided by the applicant on the standard application form.”
Cal. Penal Code section 26205 states:
“The licensing authority shall give written notice to the applicant indicating if the license under this article is approved or denied. The licensing authority shall give this notice 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 the Department of Justice, whichever is later. If the license is denied, the notice shall state which requirement was not satisfied.”
It is important to note that some licensing authorities employ a delaying tactic by not taking fingerprints (which initiates the CA DOJ background check process), therefore allowing them to “sit” on an application indefinitely due to the second deadline test in 26205. However, such delaying tactics are unlawful.
Cal. Penal Code section 26190(a)(3) establishes that applications are to be made in person, and that the licensing authority has specific statutory duties with respect to the acceptance and processing of applications. (“The officer receiving the application and the fee shall transmit the fee, with the fingerprints if required, to the Department of Justice.” (Emphasis added.).)
That same duty to collect fingerprints and the CA DOJ background check fee is found in section 26185(a)(1). (“The fingerprints of each applicant shall be taken and two copies on forms prescribed by the Department of Justice shall be forwarded to the department.” (Emphasis added.) Note that while the statutes refer to the old-style ink fingerprint cards, the CA DOJ has in practice mandated that their LiveScan service be used for this purpose.)
Yes, but only “reasonable restrictions or conditions that the issuing authority deems warranted, including restrictions as to the time, place, manner, and circumstances [of carry].” (Cal. Penal Code section 26200(a).) However, any restrictions “shall be indicated on any license issued.” (Cal. Penal Code section 26200(b).)
Cal. Penal Code section 26185(b) is instructive here:
“Notwithstanding subdivision (a), if the license applicant has previously applied to the same licensing authority for a license to carry firearms pursuant to this article and the applicant’s fingerprints and fee have been previously forwarded to the Department of Justice, as provided by this section, the licensing authority shall note the previous identification numbers and other data that would provide positive identification in the files of the Department of Justice on the copy of any subsequent license submitted to the department in conformance with Section 26225 and no additional application form or fingerprints shall be required.”
What if I already have a license to carry in the same jurisdiction in which I currently live? Do I need to start from scratch for renewal?
Penal Code section 26185(c) is instructive here:
“If the license applicant has a license issued pursuant to this article and the applicant’s fingerprints have been previously forwarded to the Department of Justice, as provided in this section, the licensing authority shall note the previous identification numbers and other data that would provide positive identification in the files of the Department of Justice on the copy of any subsequent license submitted to the department in conformance with Section 26225 and no additional fingerprints shall be required.”
Notably, the application form exemption in (b) is not found in (c); as such, you should complete the state-standard initial application form but only pay the reduced amount for renewal fees. See, Cal. Penal Code section 26190(c)-(d):
“(c) The licensing authority may charge an additional fee, not to exceed twenty-five dollars ($25), for processing the application for a license renewal, and shall transmit an additional fee, if any, to the city, city and county, or county treasury.
(d) These local fees may be increased at a rate not to exceed any increase in the California Consumer Price Index as compiled and reported by the Department of Industrial Relations.”
The following is a very brief summary of this history of California carry license statutes and the efforts underway to make licenses available to all law-abiding people:
1923: California enacts laws restricting the concealed carry of firearms.
1967: California enacts a ban on the open carry of firearms (the “Mulford Act”).
June, 2008: D.C. v. Heller decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, holds the Second Amendment secures an individual right unconnected with militia service.
April, 2009: Ninth Circuit incorporates Second Amendment rights through due process analysis in Nordyke v. King.
May 5, 2009: Sykes v. McGinness (now Richards v. Prieto) filed by The Calguns Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, and a number of individual plaintiffs. (Richards v. Prieto Wiki.)
Oct 10, 2009: Peruta v. San Diego filed by Edward Peruta. (Peruta v. San Diego Wiki.)
Apr 21, 2010: NRA, CRPA join Peruta case.
June, 2010: McDonald v. Chicago decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, incorporating fundamental, individual Second Amendment rights against all U.S. states and local governments.
Dec 12, 2010: Trial court finds against Peruta plaintiffs.
May 16, 2011: Trial court finds against Richards plaintiffs.
Oct. 2011: California enacts a ban on the open carry of unloaded handguns.
Sept. 2012: California enacts a ban on the open carry of all unloaded firearms.
Dec 6, 2012: Richards, Peruta, Baker cases argued before Ninth Circuit panel; cases submitted for decision.
Jan. 14, 2014: The Calguns Foundation wins lawsuit against Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca to force LASD to accept CCW applications and reduce applicant hurdles post-“bear”.
Feb 13, 2014: Ninth Circuit decision holds San Diego County’s “good cause” requirement unconstitutional.
March 5, 2014: Ninth Circuit decision holds Yolo County’s carry license policies unconstitutional.
November 10, 2014: Ninth Circuit rejects intervenor requests by Attorney General Kamala Harris, Brady Campaign, and others.
March 27, 2015: Ninth Circuit vacates the 3-judge panel decisions in Peruta v. San Diego and Richards v. Prieto, consolidates cases for oral arguments, and ordered en banc rehearing.
June 16, 2015: Oral arguments scheduled for 3:30 p.m.