All but four states (and Washington D.C.) allow the open carrying of a firearm either with or without a permit. Open carry means to carry a firearm in public in circumstances where the firearm is fully or partially (e.g., holstered) visible to others. Some states specify that open carry occurs when the weapon is “partially visible,” while others may require the weapon to be “fully visible” to be considered carried openly. States may impose various restrictions including age limits, criminal history conditions, geographic limits, etc.
Four Categories of Open Carry Laws
Open carry laws generally fall into four categories:
- Permissive Open Carry States — Allow gun owners who can legally possess a firearm, to openly carry a gun without a permit or license.
- Licensed Open Carry/Not Addressed States — Allow gun owners to carry firearms openly only after they are issued a permit or license, or open carry is not specifically addressed in state statutes, but a permit or license is required to carry a handgun.
- Anomalous Open Carry States — Carrying a gun openly may be either generally lawful or legal under state law, but local governments may have gun laws that differ from the state’s laws or may be extremely limited. Certain criteria may differ for residents v. non-residents.
- Non-Permissive Open Carry States — Carrying a gun openly is against state law or is legal only in limited circumstances (e.g., while hunting) or when legally used for self-defense.
States that Allow Open Carry Without a Permit
Alabama – At least 18 years old
Alaska – At least 21 years old
Arizona – At least 18 years old
Arkansas – At least 18 years old
Delaware – At least 18 years old
Idaho – At least 18 years old
Indiana – At least 18 years old
Iowa – At least 21 years old
Kansas – At least 18 years old
Kentucky – At least 18 years old
Louisiana – At least 18 years old
Maine – At least 21 years old
Mississippi – At least 18 years old
Montana – At least 18 years old
Nevada – At least 18 years old
New Hampshire – At least 18 years old
New Mexico – At least 19 years old
North Carolina – At least 18 years old
Some localities can restrict where you are legally allowed to open carry that may differ from other localities.
Ohio – At least 18 years old
Oklahoma – At least 21 years old (18 for veterans or members of the military)
Pennsylvania – At least 18 years old.
Legal, except in vehicles. Not permitted in Philadelphia.
South Dakota – At least 18 years old
Tennessee – At least 21 years old (18 for military)
Texas – At least 21 years old, and it must be holstered
Utah – At least 21 years old
Vermont – At least 18 years old
Virginia – At least 18 years old
Some localities can restrict where you are legally allowed to open carry (i.e., public gatherings).
Washington – At least 21 years old
Legal, except in a vehicle.
West Virginia – At least 18 years old
Wisconsin – At least 18 years old
Wyoming – At least 18 years old
States that are Anomalous Open Carry
Colorado – At least 18 years old
Michigan – At least 18 years old
The gun must be registered in your name. Non-residents must have a valid permit from a state that Michigan recognizes.
Missouri – At least 19 years old (18 for military)
Nebraska – At least 18 years old
Oregon – At least 18 years old
States that Allow Open Carry with a Permit or Not Addressed
Connecticut – At least 21 years old
However, an appellate court has recognized that “[d]epending on the specific circumstances, a person who openly carries a pistol conceivably may be subject to arrest for violating several statutes, . . . even if § 29–35 does not prohibit a permit holder from carrying a pistol openly.” (Peruta v. Commissioner of Public Safety)
Georgia – At least 21 years old (18 for military)
Open carry is not addressed in the new Constitutional Carry Bill.
Hawaii – At least 21 years old
Only valid in the county for which the permit was issued
Maryland – At least 21 years old (18 for employment purposes)
Massachusetts – Only if you have a current, valid Class B permit/license. No new class B licenses are being issued.
Minnesota – At least 21 years old
New Jersey – At least 21 years old
Open carry is not explicitly prohibited in New Jersey law.
North Dakota – At least 18 years old
Rhode Island – At least 21 years old
Only with a permit issued by the Attorney General
South Carolina – At least 21 years old
States Where Open Carry is not Allowed
California – It is generally prohibited to carry a firearm openly in California. However, the sheriff of any county with a population under 200,000 people or the chief of police of a city within that county, may issue licenses to carry a loaded, exposed handgun. Those licenses are only valid in the county where they are issued.
Florida – Only able to open carry when engaged in fishing, camping, lawful hunting or target practice at an indoor range.
Should You Open Carry Just Because You Can?
Just because a state allows open carry does not necessarily mean you should do it. If it is your only choice (i.e., not old enough or unable to apply for a permit in that state), it may be the only way you can carry your firearm for self-defense. While it is always best practice to be situationally aware, it is especially true if you are openly carrying. Otherwise, it may be best to conceal your firearms. According to Kevin Michalowski, open carrying a firearm “provides a tactical advantage to your adversary.” The bad guy can take time to formulate a plan because they can see that you are armed.
Also, in some states, open carry can prohibit you from carrying in places that would otherwise allow you if it was concealed. For example, in North Carolina, some localities prohibit the display of firearms on public roads, sidewalks, alleys, or other public property regardless of if you have a permit or not. In Virginia, places such as Alexandria and Newport News may ban the open carry of firearms in public buildings, parks, and at special events.
And finally, although open carry may not be expressly prohibited in most states, individuals may want to proceed with caution as open carry may be uncommon and may cause alarm in public.