As more laws are weakened to allow the carrying of openly visible firearms in public, the threat of violence to the public rises alarmingly.
Carrying openly visible guns in public can quickly turn arguments fatal, be used to intimidate and suppress the First Amendment rights of others, and create confusion for law enforcement responding to shootings. Despite the evidence that openly carrying firearms endangers public safety, most states lack laws to limit open carry—and some have even taken steps to weaken the regulation of visible guns in public.
Historically, most states either prohibited or strongly regulated the carrying of firearms in public. Over the past three decades, however, state laws have changed dramatically. In that time, many states have significantly weakened their laws to permit more and more people to carry guns in public places.
“Open carry” refers to the practice of carrying openly visible firearms in public. Though a majority of states generally require people to obtain a permit, pursuant to a background check, in order to carry concealed weapons in most public spaces, most states now place few or no restrictions on open carry of firearms in public. In fact, some states have imposed draconian requirements on private businesses that wish to keep deadly weapons off their property.
By promoting gun carrying in public places, often with few restrictions, open carry can increase the likelihood of conflict, severely endangering public safety.
- Researchers have suggested that the presence of visible firearms may alter behavior and increase aggressive and violent behaviors.1
- Multiple studies show that restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons can increase public safety. For example, recent analyses have shown that states with weak standards for concealed carry have higher rates of violent crime2 and gun homicides3 than would be expected if the states had stricter standards for public carry.
White supremacists have long used firearms—and permissive open carry laws—to threaten and intimidate others, with examples of such violence going back to the Reconstruction era.4
- In 2017, a group of white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, openly carrying military-style rifles as a means to intimidate and suppress the Constitutional rights of others.5
- White supremacists have also exploited weak open carry laws to threaten and intimidate at other rallies across the country,6 as well as in front of houses of worship7 and electoral campaign offices.8
Recent examples show that open carry can create substantial confusion for law enforcement officers, impeding their ability to protect public safety.
- 911 calls from concerned citizens about people openly carrying firearms can create confusion for responding officers and can endanger both officers and gun carriers.9
- Similarly, in states with open carry laws, law enforcement agencies can have difficulties distinguishing between credible threats to public safety and legal open carry. In October 2015, a Colorado woman reported a man with a long black rifle outside her home, but officers did not immediately respond to her call because open carry is legal in the state. Shortly after the 911 call, the gun carrier shot and killed three people.10
- Open carry can also complicate police response to shootings. In the July 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, law enforcement struggled to distinguish between people legally carrying guns openly and the gunman responsible for the attack.11
Summary of Federal Law
Federal law does not restrict the open carrying of firearms in public, although specific rules may apply to property owned or operated by the federal government.
Summary of State Law
Three states (California, Florida, and Illinois) and the District of Columbia generally prohibit people from openly carrying firearms in public. The rest of the states impose some limitations on carrying in public, e.g. requiring someone to have a license, or have no laws prohibiting open carry.
Please also note that open carry laws are usually subject to significant exceptions. Most states that allow open carrying still prohibit carrying firearms in some specific locations such as schools, state-owned businesses, places where alcohol is served, and on public transportation. The lists below are meant only to reflect whether open carry is generally allowed or prohibited. For further information about location-based restrictions on open carry, see our page on Location Restrictions.
Open Carrying of Handguns
Five states and the District of Columbia, generally prohibit people from openly carrying handguns in public places. More than 30 states allow the open carrying of a handgun without any license or permit, although in some cases the gun must be unloaded.12 Ten other states generally require some form of license or permit in order to openly carry a handgun. See our summary on Carrying Concealed Weapons for details about these licenses and permits.
States that Prohibit Open Carrying of Handguns
States that Require a Permit or License to Openly Carry Handguns
States that Otherwise Restrict Open Carrying of Handguns in Public Places
- Alabama (some private property restrictions)26
- North Dakota28
- Texas (people may generally carry openly visible handguns if the handguns are carried in a holster)30
Open Carrying of Long Guns
Three states and the District of Columbia, generally ban the open carrying of long guns (rifles and shotguns) and six states impose some types of regulations on the open carrying of long guns. In the 41 remaining states, openly carrying a long gun is legal, although in Tennessee, the long gun must be unloaded.33 In addition, Virginia and Pennsylvania limit the ability to openly carry long guns in certain cities.34 In a majority of states, it is legal for an individual to openly carry a loaded firearm in public without a permit.
States that Generally Prohibit Open Carrying of Long Guns
States that Impose Regulations on, But Do Not Prohibit, Open Carrying of Long Guns
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Key Legislative Elements
The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.
- The open carrying of any kind of firearm is generally prohibited in public spaces
- If a comprehensive ban on open carrying is not possible:
- Open carrying is limited to permit-holders who pass a background check and safety training standards
- Firearms that are openly carried must be unloaded
- Open carrying of firearms is subject to strong location restrictions, including a prohibition against open carrying in specific densely populated cities and sensitive locations
Guns carried in public pose a danger to public safety, and lax concealed carry laws increase the risk of violent confrontations.
States that allow firearms in sensitive or dangerous places are needlessly endangering the lives of their residents.
Guns in schools are an unnecessary and significant threat to the safety of children and college students.
- Arlin J. Benjamin Jr., Sven Kepes, and Brad J. Bushman, “Effects of Weapons on Aggressive Thoughts, Angry Feelings, Hostile Appraisals, and Aggressive Behavior: A Meta-analytic Review of the Weapons Effect Literature,” Personality and Social Psychology Review (2017); Arlin James Benjamin Jr. and Brad J. Bushman, “The Weapons Priming Effect,” Current Opinion in Psychology 12 (2016): 45-48; David Hemenway, Mary Vriniotis, and Matthew Miller, “Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? Guns and Road Rage,” Accident Analysis & Prevention 38, no. 4 (2006): 687-695.
- John J. Donohue, Abhay Aneja, and Kyle D. Weber, “Right‐to‐Carry Laws and Violent Crime: A Comprehensive Assessment Using Panel Data and a State‐Level Synthetic Control Analysis.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 16, no. 2 (2019): 198–247.
- Michael Siegel, et al., “Easiness of Legal Access to Concealed Firearm Permits and Homicide Rates in the United States,” American Journal of Public Health 107, no. 12 (2017): 1923–1929.
- Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).
- David Frum, “The Chilling Effect of Openly Displayed Firearms,” The Atlantic, August 16, 2017, https://bit.ly/2w2dZgK.
- Josh Meyer, “Antifa, White Supremacists Exploit Loose Gun Laws,” Politico, September 11, 2017, https://politi.co/2X0pmjr.
- “Anti-Sharia Law Protesters Show Up with Guns to Richardson Mosque,” WFAA, June 10, 2017, https://bit.ly/2LHKw52; Lydia O’Connor, “Gun-Toting Islamophobic Group Protests Outside Texas Mosque,” The Huffington Post, November 22, 2015, https://bit.ly/2Hobn0u.
- Emily Tate, “Armed Trump Supporters Protest In Front Of Democrat’s Campaign Office,” The Huffington Post, October 14, 2016, https://bit.ly/2LLxR0O.
- See, e.g., “Unloaded Open Carry,” San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, January 14, 2010, http://www.calgunlaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/San-Mateo-County-Sheriffs-Office_Unloaded-Open-Carry.pdf.
- Corey Hutchins, “In Colorado Springs, Dispatcher Brushed off Reports of a Man with a Gun, Witness Says,” The Washington Post, November 3, 2015, https://wapo.st/2YPVOG7.
- Molly Hennessey–Fiske, “Dallas Police Chief: Open Carry Makes Things Confusing During Mass Shootings,” The Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2016, https://lat.ms/2GpxGUw.
- See, e.g., N.D. Cent. Code, § 62.1-03-01(1).
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26350, 25850.A narrow exception exists for those with open carry licenses: “Where the population of the county is less than 200,000 persons according to the most recent federal decennial census, [the sheriff may issue] a license to carry loaded and exposed in only that county a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person. Cal. Penal Code § 26150.
- See D.C. Code § 22-4504.01.
- Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.053(1). Florida allows a person who is licensed to carry a concealed firearm to “briefly and openly display the firearm to the ordinary sight of another person, unless the firearm is intentionally displayed in an angry or threatening manner, not in necessary self-defense.” Id.
- 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-1(a)(10). The Firearm Concealed Carry Act, adopted in 2013, provides that an individual with a license to carry a concealed firearm may carry a loaded or unloaded concealed firearm, fully concealed or partially concealed, on or about his or her person. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 66/10(c)(1).
- N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(a).
- N.Y. Penal Law § 265.01(1). New York has a permitting system under N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(2), but does not have a category that allows for a permit to openly carry a handgun.
- Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 29-28(b), 29-35(a).
- Under Hawaii Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-9(a), in an “exceptional case” a chief of police may issue a permit to carry an unconcealed handgun for possession only in that county. This requirement is the subject of litigation in federal appellate court; for more information, see Open Carrying in Hawaii.
- Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 4-203(a), (b)(2). However, the Secretary of State Police may limit the geographic area, circumstances, or times in which a handgun carry permit is effective in Maryland. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-307(b).
- Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 140, § 131.
- Minn. Stat. § 624.714.
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-18(a).
- S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-23-20(12); 23-31-210(5).
- Alabama Code § 13A-11-52 generally prohibits people from carrying a pistol onto another person’s private property without either a CCW permit or the consent of the property’s owner.
- Mo. Rev. Stat. § 21.750. Open carry is generally legal in Missouri without a permit, however more open carry restrictions can be placed on people without CCW permits.
- In North Dakota, people are generally authorized to openly carry loaded handguns in public spaces, if they have a concealed weapons permit or have possessed a North Dakota driver’s license or other ID card issued by the state Dept. of Transportation for at least 30 days and otherwise meet the eligibility requirements for a concealed weapons permit. N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-03-01(1), (2)(a).
Other individuals may generally openly carry an unloaded handgun in plain view, or may carry a loaded handgun that is carried in a belt holster. See N.D. Cent. Code §§ 62.1-03-01(1); 62.1-04-02; 62.1-04-01 (Definition of “concealed”).
- Open carrying of handguns is allowed everywhere in the state except Philadelphia. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6108. A person must be licensed to carry a firearm in order to openly carry in Philadelphia. Id.
- Tex. Penal Code § 46.02(a-5); 46.035(a); 46.15(b)(6). In 2015, Texas enacted a law authorizing valid handgun license holders to carry visible handguns in a shoulder or belt holster on their person, provided that they also carried a valid handgun license with them while doing so. However, in 2021, Texas again amended this law to remove any permit requirement for carrying concealed or holstered handguns in most public spaces, and also removed language that previously required holstered weapons to be carried in a shoulder or belt holster only. As a result, current law generally authorizes people to carry partially or wholly visible handguns in a holster of any type without a license to carry a handgun.
- In Virginia, open carrying of certain handguns is prohibited in specific populous cities and counties. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4.
- Open carrying in Washington is subject to certain location limits under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.300.
- See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(1).
- See 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108 (open carrying of long guns prohibited in Philadelphia); Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4.
- Cal. Penal Code § 26400(a).
- See D.C. Code § 22-4504.01.
- Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.053(1).
- 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-1(a)(10).
- Massachusetts generally bans the open carrying of long guns. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129C. Massachusetts permits the open carrying of long guns with the proper permit(s) or license(s). Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131.
- Only individuals with concealed carry licenses may openly carry long guns. Minn. Stat. § 624.7181, subd. 1(b).
- New Jersey allows the open carrying of a long gun with a proper permit. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(c).
- Open carrying is allowed throughout Pennsylvania except in Philadelphia. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108.
- In Tennessee, a person may openly carry a long gun if it is unloaded. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(1).
- Virginia prohibits the open carrying of certain types of loaded rifles and shotguns in specific populous cities and counties. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4.