Overall, it is legal to carry a sword in public in California, as long as it is worn sheathed on your waist. Concealing the sword or brandishing it is a crime. Additionally, it is illegal to carry a sword in some counties and cities as well as on any school or government properties.
California has some notoriously strict gun laws, which is perhaps why many people assume other weapons are illegal as well. But when it comes to knives and swords, which are covered by the state's dirk and dagger laws, California is pretty lenient when it comes to carrying these weapons on your person. That being said, it's important to check local laws as well, because many municipalities have stricter laws than the overall state rules on swords.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
For the most part, it is legal to carry a sheathed sword on your hip in California.
Carrying a Sword in California
Surprisingly, it's entirely legal to carry a sword in public in California, as long as you are the wearer is not brandishing it or concealing it. In other words, if the sword is carried in a sheath suspended from the wearer's waist, it is legal to have in public. This is an important distinction though, because carrying the sword out in the open without a sheath in a "rude, angry or threatening manner" is considered brandishing, which is against the law. This is a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to 30 days in jail.
On the other hand, swords carried in a bag or otherwise hidden, like swords hidden in canes, are illegal because they are considered concealed blades. Notably, swords that cannot be identified by metal detectors, such as ceramic swords, are also considered to be concealed blades even when carried in plain sight in a sheath. Carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, such as a cane sword, can be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 fine or as a felony, punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
County and City Laws
While it may be legal to open carry a sword in the state of California, individual cities often have more restrictive laws. In Oakland, for example, it is illegal to openly carry or have in your control (as in having one in a vehicle), any knife with a blade three inches or longer, which obviously includes swords. There is, however, an exception for knives carried for the purpose of a lawful occupation or recreation.
For example, a professional sword swallower or a renaissance faire employee may be legally allowed to carry a sword despite the city's ban on knives over three inches long. This is why it is always important to review local county or city laws before attempting to carry a sword in public.
Specific Location Exceptions
It is illegal to carry a sword on both public and private school grounds, including college and universities. Similarly, it is illegal to carry a sword in a government building that is operated by the state or a local government. Carrying a sword on school property or in a state or local government building can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, these crimes can result in up to a one-year jail sentence, but as a felony, they can result in a jail sentence lasting up to three years.
It is also illegal to bring a sword into a federal government building, other than a federal court facility. Doing so is a federal crime, punishable by incarceration for up to one year.
- Sacramento Press: Ask the County Law Librarian -Is it Legal to Carry a Wooden Sword in Public in California?
- William Weiss Law: California and Oakland Knife Law
- Vista Criminal Law: A Quick Primer on Knife Laws in California: Vista Weapons Lawyer
- Cornell: Possession of Firearms and Dangerous Weapons in Federal Facilities
- Shouse Law: California Knife Laws