Open carry means to 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.
Open carry laws generally fall into one of 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 (includes Alaska, New Mexico and West Virginia)
- Licensed Open Carry/Not Addressed States — Allow gun owners to carry firearms openly only after they are issued a permit or license (includes Connecticut, Indiana and Utah) or open carry is not specifically addressed in state statutes, but a permit or license is required to carry a handgun (Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York). Although open carry may not be expressly prohibited in these states, individuals may want to proceed with caution as open carry may be uncommon and may cause alarm in public.
- 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 (Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee), may be extremely limited (in California, 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) or criteria may differ for residents v. non-residents (in Michigan open carry is allowed without a permit for residents that are at least 18 years old and who can legally possess a firearm, provided the gun is registered in their name. However, non-residents must have a permit from their home state).
- 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 (includes the District of Columbia, New York and South Carolina)