California Gun Laws and CCW Licenses

Learn about gun control laws, gun permit requirements, and penalties in California.

In California, you must obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon -- including a pistol, revolver, or other firearm. The permit is known as a CCW license, which stands for “Carry Concealed Weapon.” If you have a CCW license, you can purchase a handgun without an additional permit. (California Penal Code § 31700(9).) If you do not have a CCW license, you must obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate before purchasing a handgun. (California Penal Code § 31700.) You may, however, purchase a rifle or shotgun without a permit.

California has a new law on how residents may bring guns into the state.


The city of San Diego imposed restrictions on who may carry a concealed gun, requiring that an applicant provide "good cause" for the permit. This requirement was challenged as an impermissible limitation on the Second Amendment. In Peruta v. City of San Diego (742 F.3d 1144 (2014)), a three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February 2014 that this portion of the city's gun law is unconstitutional, as an impermissible restriction on the Second Amendment.

Even if you have a concealed weapon license, there are some places and situations where you are not allowed to carry a gun.

Read on to learn the details of how to obtain a California Handgun Safety Certificate or CCW license.

How to Obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate

To obtain a permit to purchase a handgun, you must be at least 18 years old and successfully pass a written test on firearms laws and safety. Any person receiving a passing grade (at least 75%) on the test shall be issued a Handgun Safety Certificate. (California Penal Code § 31645.) The tests are available from many gun dealers and firearms training facilities. The Handgun Safety Certificate is valid for five years. (California Penal Code § 31655.)

For more information, see the California Department of Justice Handgun Safety Certificate website.

Who Can Obtain a Concealed Weapons License in California

In California, you may be granted a concealed weapons license if you:

  • are of "good moral character" (a background check is required)
  • have a good reason for wanting the license
  • have completed a firearms safety course, and
  • are a resident of the county or a city within the county, or your principal place of employment or business is in the county or a city within the county and you spend a substantial period of time in that place of employment or business.

(California Penal Code § § 26150, 26155.)

Each applicant for a license (either new or a renewal) must pay a fee determined by the Department of Justice. In some cases, you may be required to undergo psychological testing by the licensed psychologist that the licensing authority uses for its own employees. You will be required to pay for the cost of this testing, not to exceed a fee of $150. (California Penal Code § § 26190.)

If the licensing authority denies your application, it must give you written notice stating the requirement(s) that you failed to satisfy. (California Penal Code § § 26202, 26205.)

Concealed Weapons License Exemptions

You may carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public if you reasonably believe that you are in grave danger because of the circumstances underlying a current, court-issued restraining order. When issuing the restraining order, the court must have found that your life or safety was threatened. (California Penal Code § 25600.)

You may have a firearm in a motor vehicle as long as it is locked in the trunk or in a locked container within the vehicle. You may also carry a concealed firearm in a locked container to or from a motor vehicle. (California Penal Code § 25610.)

How to Obtain a Concealed Weapons License in California

In California, CCW licenses are issued by city or county government offices -- the process is often overseen by the county sheriff’s office. To apply, you must:

  • complete and submit an application, including fingerprints
  • consent to and pass a background check
  • attend an approved firearms safety training, and
  • pay a fee, which cannot exceed $100.

(California Penal Code § 26190.)

The licensing authority may in its discretion issue either of the following types of license:

  • a license to carry a concealed pistol, revolver, or other firearm, or
  • if the county population is less than 200,000 people, a license to carry loaded and exposed (in only that county) a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.

(California Penal Code § 26150.)

In addition, the licensing authority may add reasonable restrictions or conditions to your CCW license, including restrictions on the time, place, manner, and circumstances under which you may carry a gun. (California Penal Code § 26200.)

Finally, the license must contain the applicant’s identifying information (including physical characteristics such as height and weight); state the reason for needing the license; and state the particular firearm you are licensed to carry, including the manufacturer’s name, serial number, and caliber. (California Penal Code § 26175.)

When to Renew Your California Concealed Weapons License

Most CCW licenses are valid for two years. (California Penal Code § 26220.) When you renew your license, you must satisfy the same requirements that you met when you applied for the original license. The licensing authority may not ask you to provide any information other than what was necessary to complete your original application. (California Penal Code § 26175.) You will not be subject to additional psychological testing unless the licensing authority determines that there is compelling evidence to indicate that you should be tested. (California Penal Code § 26190.)

States In Which Your California Concealed Weapons License Is Valid

While California does not recognize gun permits from other states, your CCW license may be recognized in states that issue permits for concealed weapons. Check with the licensing authority in the state where you intend to travel.

When Your Concealed Weapons License Can Be Suspended or Revoked

The licensing authority will revoke your license if is determines that you are for any reason under state or federal law prohibited from possessing a firearm. If the Department of Justice determines that you are prohibited from possessing a firearm, it must immediately notify the local licensing authority, which must immediately notify you in writing of the revocation. (California Penal Code § 26195.)

Getting Legal Help

Depending on the specific crime, violating a gun law in California could constitute anything from a misdemeanor to a serious felony offense. (Most gun crimes are set out in detail in Part 6 of the California Penal Code.) If you have any questions about whether you are allowed to carry a gun in California, or if you are facing charges for a gun permit or carry violation, consult a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

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