Concealed Weapon Permits (CCW) in California

By John Spencer, Webmaster at
Contributory material by Anon.

This article was serialized in the CRPA newsletter, summer of 2007.

Note: the author is not a lawyer and this article contains no legal advice.

The System
Where to Apply
Good Cause
Communicating with Law Enforcement

The Application Process
Carry Weapons
Modified Firearms
Carry Ammunition

The Aftermath
Copyright Notice

The System

As most readers will know, California’s provision for issuing a Carry a Concealed Weapon (CCW) license (also known as a permit) is a discretionary system, whereby the Sheriff or Police Chief for an area determines whether or not an applicant meets the requirements they specify and then issues a permit to qualified candidates. The framework for this process is defined by California Penal Code 12050. Once issued, a CCW (unless restricted by the issuing authority) is valid throughout the state of California (and honored by some other states ), except for statutory exclusions (such as Federal buildings).

From questions asked on relevant websites, it is clear that many potential applicants are uncertain about how this system works, or to whom they should apply in order to obtain a permit. This article attempts to answer these questions, and give guidance to such applicants.

In California, whether you are likely to be granted a CCW depends upon where you live. Some counties, especially rural counties with low populations, are close to “Shall Issue,” granting permits to (almost) all qualified persons. Other areas, particularly urban areas with large populations, are close to “No Issue.” This situation arises from the way in which Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are allowed to use their discretion, and the political climate that governs the election or appointment of these officers.

A Sheriff has the authority to issue CCW permits to anyone[1] residing anywhere in his or her county. The Sheriff is also required to consider all applications in accordance with his/her department’s written policy (which must be made available to you on request).

Cities that have their own Police Departments fall into one of two categories. Unless the Police Department has “Declared G” (defined later), the Police Chief has the authority to grant CCW permits to residents of that city and must consider all such applicants in light of his or her written policy. However, the Police Chief may delegate this responsibility totally to the County Sheriff by producing a written “Memorandum of Understanding” or MOU. This is also known as “Declaring G” after the paragraph in California Penal Code 12050 that permits this. The theory is that having one issuing authority for the entire county guarantees uniformity and fairness in the issuance; unfortunately, this is not always the case. The Police Chief is not allowed to have a “two tier” system, considering applications from some classes of persons (such as city officials), but delegating applications from other classes (such as the general public) to the Sheriff.

If the City Police Department (hereinafter called the CPD) has not “Declared G,” the Sheriff may require applicants within that city to apply to the CPD before applying to the county sheriff’s department (hereinafter called the CSD).

Theoretically, neither Sheriffs nor Police Chiefs are allowed to have a system by which certain classes of people (such as elected officials, judges, prominent citizens, campaign contributors etc.) are likely to get CCW’s whilst ordinary citizens with similar good cause are rejected. However, this does happen all too often.

Where to apply

Therefore, where you should apply depends upon where you live. There are three possibilities:

  • If you live in an area policed by the CSD, or where the CPD has ‘Declared G,” then you must apply to the CSD.
  • If you live in an area policed by a CPD, and the CSD requires you to first apply to the CPD, then you must apply to the CPD.
  • Otherwise you may choose whether to apply to your CSD or your CPD. You have some homework to do to decide which one is more favorable than the other. Factors include likelihood of success and likelihood of the issuing authority imposing restrictions. For example, the author knows of one city where it is relatively easy to obtain a CCW from either the CSD or the CPD, but the CPD’s CCW usually states “Only valid within the city of XXX.”

There is also a provision in PC12050 for an issuing authority to issue a CCW to a person who resides outside the area, but who runs a business located within the area. These CCW’s are issued rarely, if ever, in practice and can be effectively ignored.

At this point, let me clear up one common misconception regarding your residence. It is usually understood that the address on your driving license is your official residence, and that then decides the authority to which you apply for a CCW. Sometimes, people who live in difficult areas think that they can circumvent this by renting an address in an easier area, getting a few utility bills at that address, and applying there. As an extreme example, a group of like-minded people might consider clubbing together to rent a weekend cabin in a remote area and then each applying to that sheriff. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS! The chances of being caught out are high and your record will be adversely affected. However, someone from a rural area attending college in an urban area, might be able to legitimately use his or her rural address, provided it can be demonstrated that the urban address is a temporary location, and the real home is the rural home, to which the student regularly (perhaps most weekends) returns. The same logic would apply to someone who maintains a family home in the country, while spending some time each week staying in the city to avoid too much commuting time. However, if you are dreaming up artificial schemes to deceive the authorities, you are considering behavior that cannot be recommended or condoned.

Good Cause

In order to prepare an application, you will require a “Good Cause.” A strong Good Cause is the cornerstone of your application. There are a number of things to avoid in preparing your Good Cause statement:

  • Don’t lie.
  • Do not copy someone else’s statement. Your statement needs to be specific to yourself.
  • Do not post your proposed statement on the web and ask for comments; you should keep it relatively private. You may email it to selected people (such as Team Billy Jack) for critique, but select your critics carefully. (Also, don’t forget to tell your critics where you will be applying as this may affect the contents.)
  • Do not mention the 2nd Amendment, or your RKBA. Like it or not, the courts in California have ruled that this is not relevant.
  • Do not say anything resembling “Because the local police don’t respond fast enough in an emergency.” It may be true, but they don’t want to hear it as it criticizes them.
  • Do not mention your dozen non-resident permits from other states. It makes you look like a wannabe Rambo; it will only hurt your cause even though you think it demonstrates your qualifications to carry. If you have just one non-resident permit and you add that you visit that state frequently, it probably won’t hurt, but it won’t do you much good either, so it is best unsaid.
  • Let me say this again: Don’t lie. The truth has a way of making itself known.

So, what should you say?

The official California Attorney General view is expressed in the statement made by California Attorney General Evelle J. Younger, in August 23, 1977:

OPINION NO. CR. 77/30 I.L. ‘the issuing authority must determine whether the threat to the applicant (or other causal situation) is as real as the applicant asserts (e.g., is there a clear and present danger to the applicant, his spouse, his family or his employees)? Finally, if the danger is manifest, the authority should determine whether that danger cannot be significantly alleviated by alternative means of security and whether in fact can be lawfully mitigated by the applicant’s obtaining a concealed weapon license.’

There is considerable difference in the way in which this is interpreted in different counties/cities, but you do yourself a favor if you attempt to put forward your best possible good cause statement, even if it appears that your Sheriff might accept something less.

Have you been threatened? If you answer “yes”, you will need to document names, dates, times and restraining orders. A “yes” on this question is sure to be challenged and is probably the most problematic “good cause” for all concerned. Being attacked last week does not necessarily increase your risk of being attacked next week.

Are you a Judge or Attorney? Do you work in the criminal justice field, Private Investigator, Process Server, Prison Guard, or Executive Protection? You fear death or great bodily injury from someone you helped punish and/or incarcerate that might seek revenge.

Are you a Medical, Dental or Veterinary professional? You fear death or great bodily injury from addicts that want the drugs in your bag and/or the prescription pad on your person.

Do you carry valuables and/or large sums of money? A valid cause, but don’t imply you want to carry for the express purpose of preventing theft. It is a bad idea, and illegal, to exert deadly force to protect property. You fear pre-emptive death or great bodily injury from an armed thief even though you would surrender all in exchange for escaping harm. Even if you are not a jeweler or other merchant, you could probably articulate a good cause based on transporting valuable hobby collections to and from shows.

Do you travel in “rough” neighborhoods? If so, why? Perhaps you fear death or great bodily injury while in a really dangerous neighborhood to care for someone that cannot or will not leave said neighborhood. Sadly, living in a rough area is likely to disqualify you from getting a permit, as you will be judged by association with your neighbors – even though the courts have ruled that issue should not be based on geographical grounds.

Are you a Firearms Dealer? You fear death or great bodily injury by an armed thief that wants to obtain firearms for sale or criminal use. You might even be able to articulate good cause as a collector, with or without a Curio and Relic Federal Firearms License, (C&R FFL) who transports a firearms collection for firing, display, trade or sale.

Do you go camping or recreate in uninhabited areas? You, and your frail wife and small kids and/or grandkids, often travel through desolate areas to reach even more remote areas. You fear death or great bodily injury from those that might victimize you if you became stranded. Emphasize the dangers while traveling in remote areas, not your security while camping. California law already allows you to carry concealed at most campsites without a CCW.

Include ALL the good reasons that apply. Put it in writing. Get someone else, preferably someone with good English skills AND a good knowledge of the CCW application process, to review your written statement. You want it to look really clean and professional. If your authority is one that asks for your Good Cause verbally at an interview, and not in writing, still put it in writing and practice what you will say when asked.

And be aware, an impeccable Good Cause statement still won’t be enough in some areas where the Sheriff/Chief is determined not to issue.

Communicating with Law Enforcement

From your first request for information and/or an application packet, you are being judged by the people you meet and/or talk with. You should maintain a professional attitude and appearance. In the same way that (hopefully) you wouldn’t appear in court or church in torn, dirty jeans, you shouldn’t walk into the Sheriff Station in anything less than smart, clean, clothing. It needn’t be a suit; casual is fine, but look clean, well-groomed, responsible and professional. Talk respectfully to them; do not belligerently demand your rights under the RKBA. Don’t expect outlying sub-stations to be able to do much for you; CCW issue will be dealt with at the main station/headquarters only.

Many departments will tell you straight away that you do not stand a chance and that you will be wasting your fees going any further. This may be true, but you should have a good idea if this is really the case, or whether they just try to discourage people from applying. Indeed, this situation can be avoided somewhat by applying by post.

Communicating by post is an excellent plan anyway. Send your correspondence by certified, receipted, mail to the Sheriff (or Chief) in person, copies to anyone else that the Sheriff/Chief has appointed to deal with CCW issue. Again, be professional. Type your letters neatly on white paper, Times New Roman is the best font (don’t use any of the fancy fonts). Use spelling and grammar checkers and get someone else to proof read them. Keep copies, and the receipts to prove they’ve received them. Don’t state any of your Good Cause in introductory letters; save it for your application and/or interview. Your initial application should simply request an application form and any relevant accompanying documentation.

The Application Process

The process described here is based on the San Bernardino County process, (this may/will vary from county to county, city to city). You will receive a Department of Justice (DOJ) application form Download and be granted an interview. You will be expected to bring your completed application form to the interview. Prior to the interview, you will be fingerprinted, photographed and fill out an interview form. The interview form is designed to give the Investigator a feel for your background and emotional stability. It will question you on past convictions, how you get along with neighbors, history of traffic violations, etc. If you have moving violations in your past, make a list of them as far back as possible. The Department of Motor Vehicles offers a printout of your record for a nominal fee. Do not omit information from the interview form; it will reflect poorly on your character if the Investigator discovers a past that you have not disclosed.

During the interview, the Investigator needs to determine:

That you realize that any consequence of your actions while carrying is your responsibility and yours alone. When the CSD issues you a license to carry, it is only that. If you break any laws while carrying, CSD will pull your license, and will not take responsibility for your indiscretions. At the interview, you might be presented with a scenario that has a tragic outcome of your carrying, and asked who is responsible. Make sure you accept that all responsibility for your actions while carrying is yours and yours alone.

That you consider being granted a CCW license a privilege. The application process is not an opportune time to demand your Second Amendment Rights. There are many people that enjoy shouting “what part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?” It is doubtful if many of them have been granted a CCW license if they did that at a CCW interview.

During the interview, firearms to be listed on the license (frequently limited to three or less) will be recorded on the license. After the interview, the applicant will take a Safe Firearms Handling Course and be expected to qualify with each weapon (standards vary).

Some authorities require a psychiatric test with an approved psychiatrist. This is to determine whether you have problems, such as anger management issues, that might indicate that you would be unwise to carry a weapon.

Before a CCW license is issued, a thorough background investigation will be made and residency verified by a visit to your residence.

Carry Weapons

You will be directed to bring in up to three firearms (some counties may permit more) that you wish to have on your license at the time of the interview. You will be expected to qualify with each of these. You may not carry any firearm under your license unless it is listed on the license. If you have, say, two Glock 22’s, you must separately qualify with each of them and have them separately listed, even though they are effectively identical. If you have exchangeable barrels in, say, .40S&W and .357SIG, you will have to qualify/list both as separate weapons.

You may not wave a handgun just because you feel someone across the parking lot might get aggressive or a panhandler won’t go away. That is called Brandishment, and will get you charged and your license pulled every time. You may only draw your firearm to respond to an immediate threat that you and a jury would reasonably conclude would result in your death or great bodily harm.

When the CSD grants you a CCW, they are authorizing you to carry a concealed weapon that might be used to stop someone that you fear will kill you or cause you great bodily harm, anywhere, anytime, usually considered to be when your assailant is less than seven paces or two seconds from harming you. The CSD expects that you will shoot to stop (i.e. body center mass) and continue to shoot until the threat is stopped or has retreated. You must not shoot at anyone who is running away, unless they are firing at you as they run. Hit them in the back and you will be facing a murder charge.

Under these guidelines, it is suggested that you list on your license only firearms that will stop. Not eventually kill after you are dead or seriously injured, but stop your assailant, and right now. Bring nothing less powerful than .38 Special and 9MM firearms capable of firing +P loads if you wish to be considered serious about defending yourself. .357 Magnum, .40S&W and .45 ACP level firearms will be more eagerly received. Bring quality weapons, such as S&W, Ruger, Glock, Colt, etc, etc. Do not bring the El Cheapo that your grandfather liberated from the Korean War.

Modified Firearms.

Even after you have been cleared of criminal intent after a justifiable defense, you may face a civil suit from the assailant or their family. Most modifications to your carry weapon that are not factory options, made after removing it from the shipping box and before stopping the assailant, will be presented by their lawyer as having malicious intent. Lightened trigger pulls (less than 4lbs), whiz-bang night sights, laser sights and other tune-ups may be neat, but they may carry a price later on.

Carry Ammunition.

During the CCW Safe Firearms Handling class and subsequent CCW renewal classes, it will be stressed that while under the authority of your CCW license you should carry only hollow point personal defense ammunition loaded by recommended ammunition manufacturers. Recommended hollow point expanding ammunition is best for stopping a threat and minimizing bystander injuries. Reloads are fine for practice, but carry only factory ammunition. The reason given for using factory ammunition, as opposed to hand-loads, is to preclude your being accused of maliciously loading up special rounds to inflict extra harm on the person you were forced to defend against in the almost certain civil suit that follows a justifiable defense.

It has been suggested by lethal force experts that you always set aside 5 rounds in each box, and the box itself, of any ammunition you are carrying. That way, if you have to defend, you can present a box stamped with manufacturer’s lot numbers and some rounds to verify ballistics. As such, it would not be a good idea to mix manufacture lots and/or types and brands of ammunition when loading your carry firearms.

The Aftermath.

If you are forced to use a firearm to stop someone, you will most likely be arrested, cuffed, booked and detained until bail can be arranged. If bail is not authorized or raised, you will stay in jail until everything is sorted out. It will not matter that you have untold numbers of witnesses attesting to how justified the defense was, the Law Enforcement Officer that has you in cuffs is not authorized to establish guilt or innocence. That will be determined by a District Attorney, or, if required, a Jury. You are going to take the ride, no ifs, ands or buts. While you are being separated from your family, your firearm will be taken from you and impounded for the duration of all criminal proceedings. If you are charged, it will be destroyed. During the course of the investigation, your firearm will be handled, rusted, dropped, disassembled, inspected, fired, deep markings identified and otherwise made not all that serviceable and/or attractive when, and if, you get it back. Do not carry any firearm you are not prepared to, or cannot, lose.

You are strongly advised to determine, in advance, the name and phone number of an attorney specializing in Firearms law in your area and have it readily available. Most attorneys will gladly give you their card, which you can carry in your wallet with your CCW.


In this article, we have discussed the system by which CCW permits are issued in California, and how to go about getting one. In future articles, we will discuss how to obtain relevant information from the authorities and what you can do if your CCW permit is unfairly denied.

Copyright Notice

This article is copyright of John Spencer,[email protected] It may freely be reproduced in full, with full credits and this notice. Short excerpts (not exceeding one paragraph) may be reproduced (with credits) for scholarly or illustrative purposes. Longer excerpts and edited versions may only be reproduced with permission of John Spencer.

[1] There are some restrictions, such as the ability to pass a background check, take the appropriate training, qualify with the chosen carry weapon(s) etc..

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