Carrying unloaded rifles in public would be prohibited under hotly contested legislation that passed the Assembly on Thursday.
Assembly Bill 1527 cleared the lower house, 44-28, with no Republican support.
Proposed by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, the bill stems from the "open carry" movement in which gun-brandishing people protest against gun-control laws.
The movement sparked headlines in 2009 for a rally outside an Arizona convention center where President Barack Obama was speaking.
California cracked down on carrying unloaded handguns with a new law that took effect Jan. 1. Portantino's bill would expand that prohibition by targeting rifles.
"Sooner or later, somebody's going to get hurt," Portantino said of open carry. "If you see somebody walking around a mall or main street with a shotgun, it's pretty intimidating. It's unnecessary, and it is just going to lead to trouble."
Opponents counter that AB 1527 would create a new obstacle to the constitutional right to bear arms and would do nothing to reduce violence because criminals do not honor such laws.
Members of the open carry movement are "law-abiding citizens who have no evil, nefarious purpose," said Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Gerber.
Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, asked colleagues to imagine themselves inside a restaurant when a gun-wielding person walked in. "How would you feel, not knowing the mental state of that person?" she asked. "I would be afraid."
Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, said he considers AB 1527 a pro-business bill because communities must be "free from intimidation" if the state hopes to boost tourism.
The bill allows dozens of exceptions, including carrying a rifle on private property with permission of the owner, carrying it in a gun show, or carrying it for use at a target-shooting range, a parade or while hunting.
Opposing the bill, the National Rifle Association of America told lawmakers its "extreme nature" is illustrated by its exceptions.
Numerous exceptions "reflect the fact that firearms are a normal and integral part of American culture and are handled or carried in a variety of perfectly innocent and legitimate contexts," the NRA said.
AB 1527 carries a penalty of up to six months in jail for displaying an unloaded rifle in public. It calls for a maximum penalty of one year in jail if the offender also carries ammunition for the weapon.
The bill now goes to the Senate.