Local Variation in Concealed Carry of Weapons in California

I am soon heading from my adopted home in North Carolina to my childhood homeland, California. While I am there, I am going to be exploring gun culture as much as possible, of course, and it will be interesting to see the difference between a state the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence graded “F” for its gun laws and one it graded “A-“.

stateranking_FINALCalifornia was also #1 in the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s ranking of state gun laws (i.e., it’s laws are the most restrictive).

As someone interested in the varieties of concealed carry laws from state to state, I was interested to learn how much variation there is within the Golden State in the ability of ordinary citizens to get concealed weapon permits.

CalCCW Issuance MapThe overall law in California is “may issue,” as reflected in the California Penal Code (until 2012 known as Section 12050):

26150.  (a) When a person applies for a license to carry a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person, the sheriff of a county may issue a license to that person upon proof of all of the following:

(1) The applicant is of good moral character.
(2) Good cause exists for issuance of the license.
(3) The applicant is a resident of the county or a city within the county, or the applicant’s principal place of employment or business is in the county or a city within the county and the applicant spends a substantial period of time in that place of employment or business.
(4) The applicant has completed a course of training as described in Section 26165.

Of course, both “good moral character” and “good cause” are highly subjective. Some issuing authorities interpret good cause very liberally, such that anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon for personal protection can get one. These jurisdictions, especially in the less populated areas of northern and central California, are de facto “shall issue.” An example is the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, which declares on its web page: “Sheriff-Coroner Dave Hencratt supports the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. In this regard, all qualified residents of Tehama County are eligible to apply for a permit to carry concealed weapons.”

Others are more conservative, requiring a higher standard of good cause (sometimes called “heightened” good cause) to be established by the applicant. This could be having been a victim of a crime, having a demonstrable credible threat of violence against you, carrying large amounts of money or valuables for work, or working late hours in a high crime rate area. My home county of San Mateo seems to be an example of this.

As the map shows, many counties in California are de facto “no issue.” In fact, there is effectively no issue in the most populous areas of the state, along the coast from wine country to the Mexico border. This includes most of the San Francisco Bay Area (including Silicon Valley), Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and San Diego.

A report produced by the Calguns Foundation analyzing data reported to the California Department of Justice as of September 2011 highlights the vast discrepancies in the number of licenses to carry (LTC) issued to civilians produced by these different local interpretations of California Penal Code Section 26150:

  • Tehama County Sheriff’s Office: 634 licenses, 1 license for every 75 adult residents
  • Placer County Sheriff’s Office: 1,170 licenses, 1 license for every 225 adult residents
  • Napa County Sheriff’s Office: 237 licenses, 1 license for every 443 adult residents
  • San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office: 120 licenses, 1 license for every 4,656 adult residents
  • San Francisco County Sheriff’s Office: 0 licenses for 697,711 adult residents

(Note: For the sake of simplicity, these figures only include LTC issued by the county sheriffs. Many city police departments also issue licenses, though many fewer than the number issued by county sheriffs.)


  1. […] During this time, laws banning concealed carry spread from the Southern states studied by Cramer throughout the country. A highly influential model for the restriction of concealed carry in the Northern states in the early 20th century was New York’s 1911 Sullivan Act, which required a license to possess and carry a pistol. In effect, where concealed weapon carry was allowed at all, it was typically permitted under a discretionary system. In contemporary parlance, these are called “may issue” laws, like that currently in place and being challenge in California: […]


  2. If I get a CCW for Placer county and travel for work in a county that does not issue permits, will I be breaking the law?


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