In the United States, carrying a firearm is legal. However, how it is carried is dictated by the laws of the state. In some states, concealed carry is legal, which means that the gun can be carried on a licensed person but must not be visible to other people. In several concealed carry states, there is a duty to inform, meaning that the individual carrying the firearm is required to disclose the firearm's presence upon making contact with law enforcement.
On the other hand, some states have what is known as open carry, which means that a person can legally carry their firearm in a holster or attached to a sling so that it is easily accessible. It does not need to be concealed from other people.
In recent years, more states are making open carry legal. The argument in favor of open carry is that criminals usually hide their weapons, while law-abiding citizens should not be forced to conceal their weapons.
On the other side, gun control groups have voiced their opposition to the practice of open carry. Even so, many states allow open carry, at least in some situations. When discussing open carry, there are several different categories of the law.
Open Carrying of Handguns by State
The first type of open carry is permissive open carry. This means that it is legal to carry a firearm on foot and in a vehicle openly. A license or permit is not required to open carry in these states. Thirty-one states allow the open carrying of a handgun without a permit or license. Fifteen states require a permit to carry a handgun. Five states prohibit people from openly carrying handguns in public. These fives states are:
- District of Columbia
- New York
- South Carolina
The following states otherwise restrict openly carrying handguns in public:
- North Dakota
Other states are licensed open carry states. This means that a permit is required to carry a handgun openly. In Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey, it is prohibited to openly carry long guns. States with these laws include:
- American Samoa
- Iowa (for carrying in city limits)
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
The remaining 31 states generally allow open carry in public places without a permit or license. It is important to note that, even in permissive open carry states, firearms are still prohibited in specific locations, such as churches, schools, public transportation, places where alcohol is sold, and state-owned buildings.
Open Carry of Long Guns
In 44 states, openly carrying a long gun is legal. Of these states, Iowa, Tennessee, and Utah require that the long gun is unloaded. Virginia and Pennsylvania limit openly carrying long guns in certain cities. Seven states generally prohibit openly carrying long guns:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry
Open carry and concealed carry both allow licensed gun owners to carry a firearm with them. Open carry allows gun owners to carry their firearm visible to other people, such as strapped to their belts. Concealed carry requires gun owners to conceal or hide their weapon well enough so that no one can see it, such as completely tucked into an article of clothing or kept in a backpack or purse. Whether the gun owner needs a permit to open carry or conceal carry depends on the state.
Both types of carrying have their pros and cons. Open carry allows one's weapon to be easily accessible and can serve as a deterrent for criminals. Open carry, however, is subject to negative public perception and might make a person open carrying the first target of a criminal. Concealed carry is legal, with or without a permit (depending on your jurisdiction), in all 50 states. It can help the gun owner avoid harassment from law enforcement or unwanted conversation about their decision to carry. On the other hand, concealed carry can lead to a slower draw time if the firearm is needed and will not deter potential criminals because it is not visible. Additionally, one might need to adjust his/her everyday attire to conceal the weapon.