Penal Code 26350 is the California statute that prohibits a person from openly carrying an exposed and unloaded handgun in a public place or in a vehicle. A violation is charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail.
Note that there is some doubt about the constitutionality of this law. In June of 2016, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled en banc that there might be a Second Amendment right for people to openly carry guns in public, but the United States Supreme Court has not answered that question yet. This case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but it did not take the case. (Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego (9th Cir., 2016) 824 F.3d 919.)
- showing a friend an unloaded firearm in a public parking lot.
- walking into a shopping mall while carrying a gun in one’s hand.
- wearing an unloaded gun on a belt while driving a motor vehicle.
People accused of a crime under this law can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. Three common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they did not carry a handgun in a “public place,”
- they were exempt from the law, and/or
- peace officers found a gun during an unlawful search and seizure.
A violation of California Penal Code Section 26350 is a misdemeanor offense (as opposed to a felony or an infraction).
Most violations are punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. Is open carry of an unloaded gun a crime in California?
- 2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 26530 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. Is open carry of an unloaded gun a crime in California?
A prosecutor must prove the following successfully to secure a conviction under Penal Code 26350 PC:
- the defendant carried an exposed and unloaded handgun,
- the defendant carried the gun on his/her person or inside a vehicle, and
- the accused did the above while in a public place or on a public street.1
For purposes of this law, a “handgun” means any:
- revolver, or
- another firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.2
Further, the terms “public place” and “public street” are defined as:
- a public place or public street in an incorporated city or city and county,
- a public street in a prohibited area of an unincorporated area of a county or city and county, or
- a public place in a prohibited area of a county or city and county.3
Although the statute does not define “public place,” courts have held that it is not the same as public property. A “public place” is any place reasonably accessible to the public without a barrier.4
Note that there are several people exempt from this law, including:
- people with a valid permit to carry a firearm,5
- police officers (both active and honorably retired peace officers),
- military personnel,
- licensed firearms manufacturers and dealers,
- people practicing at target ranges,
- employees of common carriers (for example, airlines),
- people at gun shows,
- employees of gun repair shops and pawnshops, and
- people engaged in the rehearsal and production of movies and other forms of entertainment.6
2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 26530 PC?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. Three of these include showing that:
- the defendant was not in a public place.
- the accused fell into one of the exemptions under the law.
- law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
2.1. Not in a public place
Recall that this code section prohibits someone from openly carrying a handgun in a public place (or inside a vehicle). As to a “public place,” this term carries a precise legal definition. Therefore, an accused can always contest a charge by showing that they were not in a public location. Perhaps, for example, a defendant was on a private drive.
2.2. Exempt from the law
Recall, too, that several people are exempt under this law (for example, police officers and people at gun shows). This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she fell into one of the exemptions under the statute.
2.3. Unlawful search and seizure
Defendants are always free to assert that they were arrested under this law only after the police conducted an unlawful search and seizure. In the State of California, law enforcement can only search and seize something if they have a warrant or a legal excuse for not having one. If they find a gun via an unlawful search and seizure, then a judge can drop or reduce any criminal charges that get filed.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Penal Code 26350 is a misdemeanor.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to one year, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.7
Note that defendants can face both a jail sentence and a fine if:
- they are also carrying unexpended, dischargeable ammunition, and
- they are not the lawful owner of the gun.8
In addition, the above penalties are for each unloaded gun a person carries.9
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the open carry of a handgun. These are:
- carrying a concealed firearm – PC 25400,
- carrying a loaded firearm in public – PC 25850, and
- felon with a firearm – PC 29800.
4.1. Carrying a concealed firearm – PC 25400
Per Penal Code 25400, carrying a concealed firearm is the crime where people carry a concealed firearm or a concealed weapon on their person or in a vehicle.
Unlike with violations of PC 26350, a prosecutor can charge a violation of this law as a felony under some circumstances (for example, if a defendant was previously convicted of a felony or was a member of a street gang).
4.2. Carrying a loaded firearm in public – PC 25850
Per Penal Code 25850, carrying a loaded firearm in public is the crime where people carry a loaded firearm in a public place, on a public street, or in a motor vehicle.
Unlike with PC 26350, this statute applies to firearms as opposed to just handguns.
California law says that a “firearm” is:
- any device designed to be used as a weapon, and
- from which a projectile is discharged through a barrel by an explosion.10
4.3. Felon with a firearm – PC 29800
Under Penal Code 29800, felon with a firearm is the crime where a convicted felon owns, purchases, or possesses a firearm.
Unlike with a violation of the open carry law, a violation of this law is always charged as a felony. The crime can lead to a jail term of up to three years.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Orange County, Long Beach, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino, and San Francisco.
- California Penal Code 26350 PC. See also: People v. Hale (1974) 43 Cal.App.3d 353; Young v. Hawaii, (9th Cir., 2018) 896 F.3d 1044; Rhode v. Becerra (Southern Dist. Cal., 2020) 445 F. Supp. 3d 902.
- California Penal Code 16640a PC.
- California Penal Code 26350a2 PC.
- See People v. Yarbrough (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 303.
- People may be issued a California “concealed carry permit” under Penal Code 26150 or 26155 PC if: (1) they are of good moral character; (2) good cause exists for issuance of the license because they or a member of their family is in immediate danger; (3) they meet certain residency requirements; and, (4) they have completed an acceptable course of firearms training.
- See California Penal Code Sections 26361-26375 PC.
- California Penal Code 26350b2 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code Section 26350d PC.
- CALCRIM No. 2530.