There is an “Open Carry” movement in California. Members of the movement participated in a recent beach clean up in San Diego. During the clean up, open carry advocates wore handguns exposed on their belts. Some also carried exposed magazines or speed loaders. The purpose of this memorandum is to discuss relevant law and general tactical considerations when encountering a person carrying a concealable firearm exposed on their person.
It is NOT illegal in the State of California to carry a concealable firearm, generally meaning a handgun, exposed on your person in a public place, as long as the firearm is not loaded. A firearm is considered loaded when an unexpended “shell or cartridge” is seated in the breach, port, cylinder, magazine, or clip and is in a position to be chambered and/or fired. A firearm is NOT considered loaded if the magazine, clip, loader, shell or cartridge is carried on the belt or person. It is not illegal to have a loaded magazine or speed loader in close proximity to a holstered weapon.
PC 12031(e) provides police officers with statutory authority to inspect a firearm to determine if it is loaded (Reference PC 12031 (e) noted below.). Refusal to allow a police officer to inspect a firearm is, in and of itself, probable cause to arrest for a violation of PC 12031(e). That having been said, this is what you need to know about PC 12031(e). It gives you the right to inspect the firearm, it does not without additional factors give you the right to prolong the contact beyond inspection to run computer checks or complete an FI. To do this you must have consent or additional factors that justify a reasonable suspicion detention.
Remember, reasonable suspicious is less than probable cause but more than no evidence at all. Reasonable suspicion is defined as: information sufficient to cause a reasonable law enforcement officer, taking into account his or her training, to reasonably believe that the person to be detained is, was or is about to be, involved in criminal activity (The Forth Amendment and Search & Seizure, 9th edition, Phillips). ... [emphasis in original]
Read the full memo here. Note that the wussified California version of open carry -- the gun must be unloaded! -- is hardly what the rest of us in more free states would consider open carry, where the gun is, naturally, loaded. Perhaps we should refer to this emasculated form of carry as "open carry lite". :)