Open carry refers to carrying firearms openly so that they are visible, often in a holster. Open carry differs from brandishing a firearm; where open carry involves having a firearm visible but holstered, branding a firearm refers to having a gun in one's hands, especially in a combat or firing position. Brandishing a weapon is generally illegal, as the action typically carries a threat of violence.
In the United States, each state has its own laws regarding guns. While gun ownership is legal in every state, several states have restrictions on how those firearms are carried. Concealed carry, in which an individual carries a firearm so that others cannot see it, is less controversial and more widely regulated than open carry. While most states have historically prohibited or strongly regulated open carry, laws have changed swiftly in the past 30 years. Today, only thirteen states regulate or restrict open carry.
State laws regarding open carry fall into several categories: permissive, permissive with restrictions, licensed open carry states and those in which open carry is prohibited. Permissive states allow nonprohibited citizens to open carry without requiring a permit or license. Most states fall into this category. There are also slight variations in regulations for handguns versus long guns.
Open Carry of Handguns
Thirty-six states are permissive and allow the open carrying of a handgun without a permit or license. Seven of these states have some restrictions on the open carrying of handguns. North Dakota, for example, allows for open carry of a firearm without a permit, provided the gun is unloaded. The state requires an individual to obtain a license to open carry a loaded weapon.
It is important to note that, even in permissive open carry states, firearms may still be prohibited in specific locations, such as churches, schools, public transportation, places where alcohol is sold, and state-owned buildings. Open Carry of Long Guns
Open Carry of Long Guns
Forty-four states permit openly carrying a long gun without a special license. Iowa, Tennessee, and Utah require that the gun be unloaded. Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Mississippi require a permit to carry a long gun. Four states, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, and Illinois, prohibit the practice altogether.
The open carrying of long guns is commonly seen in acts of protest or demonstration. In recent years, many of these protests have been targeted at private companies. Private companies have the right to restrict firearms on their premises, but activists have attempted to push back against this practice by showing up while openly carrying.