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.

Background

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 and to reduce or eliminate local law enforcement’s ability to keep potentially dangerous people from carrying guns in public.

“Open carry” refers to the practice of carrying openly visible firearms in public. Though most states continue to require a permit in order to carry a concealed weapon, many states now place few or no restrictions on open carry. 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. Two states (New York and South Carolina) prohibit openly carrying handguns, but not long guns, and another three states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey) prohibit openly carrying long guns, but not handguns. In the remaining states, people are generally allowed to openly carry firearms, although some states require a permit or license to do so.

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.

Open Carrying of Handguns

Five states (California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina), as well as the District of Columbia, generally prohibit people from openly carrying handguns in public places. Thirty-one states allow the open carrying of a handgun without any license or permit, although in some cases the gun must be unloaded.12 Fifteen states 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

California13
District of Columbia14
Florida15
Illinois16
New York17
South Carolina18

States that Require a Permit or License to Openly Carry Handguns

Connecticut19
Georgia20
Hawaii21
Indiana22
Iowa23
Maryland24
Massachusetts25
Minnesota26
New Jersey27
Oklahoma28
Rhode Island29
Tennessee30
Texas31
Utah32

States that Otherwise Restrict Open Carrying of Handguns in Public Places

Alabama (some private property restrictions)33
Missouri34
North Dakota35
Pennsylvania36
Virginia37
Washington38

Open Carrying of Long Guns

Six states (California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey), as well as the District of Columbia, generally ban the open carrying of long guns (rifles and shotguns). In the 44 remaining states, openly carrying a long gun is legal, although in three of these states (Iowa, Tennessee and Utah) the long gun must be unloaded.39 In addition, Virginia and Pennsylvania limit the ability to openly carry long guns in certain cities.40 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

California41
District of Columbia42
Florida43
Illinois44
Massachusetts45
Minnesota46
New Jersey47

States that Restrict, But Do Not Prohibit, the Open Carrying of Long Guns

Iowa48
Pennsylvania49
Tennessee50
Utah51
Virginia52

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 prohibited, and no exception is made for permit-holders (California, Florida, Illinois)
  • If a comprehensive ban on open carrying is not possible:
    • Open carrying is limited to permit-holders (13 states require a permit to openly carry a handgun; Minnesota and New Jersey require a permit to openly carry a long gun).
    • Firearms that are openly carried must be unloaded (North Dakota requires openly carried handguns to be unloaded; Iowa, Tennessee, and Utah require openly carried long guns to be unloaded).
    • The open carrying of firearms is subject to certain location restrictions, including a prohibition against open carrying in specific densely populated cities (Pennsylvania, Virginia).53
Notes
  1. 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. ⤴︎
  2. 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. ⤴︎
  3. 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. ⤴︎
  4. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988). ⤴︎
  5. David Frum, “The Chilling Effect of Openly Displayed Firearms,” The Atlantic, August 16, 2017, https://bit.ly/2w2dZgK. ⤴︎
  6. ; Josh Meyer, “Antifa, White Supremacists Exploit Loose Gun Laws,” Politico, September 11, 2017, https://politi.co/2X0pmjr. ⤴︎
  7. “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. ⤴︎
  8. Emily Tate, “Armed Trump Supporters Protest In Front Of Democrat’s Campaign Office,” The Huffington Post, October 14, 2016, https://bit.ly/2LLxR0O. ⤴︎
  9. 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. ⤴︎
  10. 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. ⤴︎
  11. 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. ⤴︎
  12. See, e.g., N.D. Cent. Code, § 62.1-03-01(1). ⤴︎
  13. 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. ⤴︎
  14. See D.C. Code § 22-4504.01. ⤴︎
  15. 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. ⤴︎
  16. 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). ⤴︎
  17. 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. ⤴︎
  18. South Carolina’s statute criminalizing the carrying of handguns, whether openly or concealed, has no exception for a person carrying openly with a concealed weapons permit. See S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-20(12). See also S.C. Code Ann. § 23-31-217. ⤴︎
  19. Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 29-28(b), 29-35(a). ⤴︎
  20. Ga. Code Ann. §§ 16-11-125.1(5), 16-11-126(c), (h)(1). Per Ga. Code Ann. § 16-11-127(c), license holders may openly carry a handgun in public except in specifically-defined locations under Georgia Code Ann. § 16-11-127(b), (c). ⤴︎
  21. 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. ⤴︎
  22. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-47-2-1(a). ⤴︎
  23. Iowa Code § 724.4(1), (4)(i). ⤴︎
  24. 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). ⤴︎
  25. Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 140, § 131. ⤴︎
  26. Minn. Stat. § 624.714. ⤴︎
  27. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(b); N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:58-4(a). ⤴︎
  28. Okla. Stat. tit. 21, §§ 1289.6, 1290.1 – 1290.26. See http://www.ok.gov/governor/OpenCarryFAQ.html. ⤴︎
  29. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-18(a). ⤴︎
  30. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(2). ⤴︎
  31. Tex. Penal Code § 46.15(b)(6). ⤴︎
  32. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-523(2)(a). A person may carry an unloaded handgun in public without a permit. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505(1)(b). ⤴︎
  33. 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. ⤴︎
  34. 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. ⤴︎
  35. In North Dakota, a person may openly carry a handgun during daylight hours, as long as the gun is unloaded. N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-03-01(1). If the person has a concealed weapons permit, he or she may carry the handgun loaded at any time of day. N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-03-01(2)(a). ⤴︎
  36. 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. ⤴︎
  37. In Virginia, the open carrying of certain handguns is prohibited in specific populous cities and counties. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4. ⤴︎
  38. Open carrying in Washington is subject to certain location limits under Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.300. ⤴︎
  39. See Iowa Code § 724.4(1), Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(1), and Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505(1)(b). ⤴︎
  40. See 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108 (open carrying of long guns prohibited in Philadelphia); Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-287.4. ⤴︎
  41. Cal. Penal Code § 26400(a). ⤴︎
  42. See D.C. Code § 22-4504.01. ⤴︎
  43. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.053(1). ⤴︎
  44. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-1(a)(10). ⤴︎
  45. 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. ⤴︎
  46. Minnesota generally prohibits the open carrying of long guns. Minn. Stat. § 624.7181, subd. 2. Concealed weapons permit holders are exempt. Minn. Stat. § 624.7181, subd. 1(b)(3). ⤴︎
  47. New Jersey allows the open carrying of a long gun with a proper permit. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(c). ⤴︎
  48. Iowa prohibits the open carrying of loaded long guns. Iowa Code § 724.4(1). ⤴︎
  49. Open carrying is allowed throughout Pennsylvania except in Philadelphia. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108. ⤴︎
  50. In Tennessee, a person may openly carry a long gun if it is unloaded. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(1). ⤴︎
  51. Utah prohibits the open carrying of loaded long guns. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505(1)(b). This prohibition on carrying loaded long guns does not apply to concealed weapons permit holders. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-523(2)(a). ⤴︎
  52. 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. ⤴︎
  53. See our summary on Concealed Weapons Permitting regarding restrictions on the locations where firearms may be carried. ⤴︎