Historically, most states either prohibited or strongly regulated the carrying of firearms in public spaces. 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 firearms in plain view in public spaces. Though most states continue to require a permit in order to carry a concealed weapon in public, most states now place few to 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. Ironically, some jurisdictions have placed more stringent restrictions on open carrying of toy guns or air guns than on operable firearms.
In recent years, a confrontational open carry movement has generated controversy by encouraging groups of demonstrators to openly tote assault rifles and other weapons in coffee shops, fast food outlets, and other public places. These efforts understandably alarm and confuse other customers and create particular challenges for law enforcement officers who must respond to 911 calls from concerned citizens about people openly carrying firearms in public.1
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.2 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
States that Require a Permit or License to Openly Carry Handguns
States that Otherwise Restrict Open Carrying of Handguns in Public Places
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.29 In addition, Virginia and Pennsylvania limit the ability to openly carry long guns in certain cities.30 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 Restrict, But Do Not Prohibit, the Open Carrying of Long Guns
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).43
- A press release issued by the San Mateo County, California, Sheriff’s Office describes the significant challenges that open carrying creates:
Open carry advocates create a potentially very dangerous situation. When police are called to a “man with a gun” call they typically are responding to a situation about which they have few details other than that one or more people are present at a location and are armed. Officers may have no idea that these people are simply “exercising their rights.” Consequently, the law enforcement response is one of “hypervigilant urgency” in order to protect the public from an armed threat. Should the gun carrying person fail to comply with a law enforcement instruction or move in a way that could be construed as threatening, the police are forced to respond in kind for their own protection. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply “exercising their rights” but the result could be deadly. Simply put, it is not recommended to openly carry firearms.
San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Unloaded Open Carry (Jan. 14, 2010), http://www.calgunlaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/San-Mateo-County-Sheriffs-Office_Unloaded-Open-Carry.pdf. ⤴︎
- 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.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. ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 29-28(b), 29-35(a). ⤴︎
- 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). ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- Ind. Code Ann. § 35-47-2-1(a). ⤴︎
- Iowa Code § 724.4(1), (4)(i). ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(b); N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:58-4(a). ⤴︎
- Okla. Stat. tit. 21, §§ 1289.6, 1290.1 – 1290.26. See http://www.ok.gov/governor/OpenCarryFAQ.html. ⤴︎
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-18(a). ⤴︎
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(2). ⤴︎
- Tex. Penal Code § 46.15(b)(6). ⤴︎
- 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). ⤴︎
- 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, 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). ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- In Virginia, the 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 Iowa Code § 724.4(1), Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308(a)(1), and Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505(1)(b). ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- 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). ⤴︎
- New Jersey allows the open carrying of a long gun with a proper permit. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:39-5(c). ⤴︎
- Iowa prohibits the open carrying of loaded long guns. Iowa Code § 724.4(1). ⤴︎
- 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). ⤴︎
- 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). ⤴︎
- 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. ⤴︎
- See our summary on Concealed Weapons Permitting regarding restrictions on the locations where firearms may be carried. ⤴︎