open carry states

Where Are The Open Carry States?

All states allow - to some degree - concealed carry of a pistol, but not all allow for open carry, though the open carry states can be a bit more permissive with it than concealed carry. Almost all states require a permit to concealed carry, but only a few of the open carry states require one to open carry.

But how common is it? Can I do it in my state? 

Open carry of handguns - to distinguish it from open carrying of ANY firearm - is currently permitted in 45 states...with some limitations, depending on the state.

We'll go over what those limitations are, how each state differs and what's generally permitted in the open carry states.

Bear in mind that this is not legal advice, and should not be taken as such. With that out of the way, however…

There's Open Carry And Then There's Open Carry

Bear in mind that every state differs on how they regulate open carry. 

Some states require a permit for open and concealed carry - you can carry however you want, as long as you have a permit - some require a permit for concealed carry but not for open carry, and some states don't require a permit at all. It all depends on what state you live in or are visiting. 

Some states place restrictions on where and/or when you can open carry. Restrictions likewise vary by state; you may not be able to open carry in certain cities depending on the jurisdiction you're in, and of course there may be some areas (schools, jails, courthouses, etc) where you are forbidden to possess a firearm at all. 

In some states, you may only be able to openly carry a handgun...

Open Carry state policies overview other states, you may also be allowed by statute to openly carry a long gun in public.  

Openly carrying rifles and shotguns

So, as you have no doubt gleaned so far, some states allow for full and free open carry by anyone legally possessing a handgun and others put a bit more of a crimp on it, so to speak. It all depends on exactly what state and city you are in. 

Are Open Carry Holsters Different?

open carry holster

Generally speaking open carry holsters will be different from many concealed carry holsters. As a general rule, people who open carry favor an outside the waistband or a drop leg holster.

If you're going to open carry a handgun, use a holster with active retention. Level II retention is a minimum, Level III is better. 

There's a reason police officers use these holsters. It keeps suspects from taking their weapons, and even today's Level III duty holsters aren't always 100 percent effective at preventing officers from being disarmed. 

One more time. 

In short, carrying a gun openly in public in an open-top holster without any active retention is silly. Don't do it. If you must open carry, get a holster with at least Level II active retention. 

What States Can You Open Carry Without A Permit?

There are no states that have open carry laws without restrictions of any kind; state and federal laws prohibit anyone besides law enforcement from carrying in certain locations such as federal buildings, prisons, schools and so on.

Right to bear arms, both concealed and open

Besides the obvious, however, here are the states with the most permissive open carry laws:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • North Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington state
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In these states, no permit is required to open carry. However, there may be restrictions on where a person may carry.

Alabama, for instance, requires a person to have a handgun permit to open carry on someone else's private property or the landowner's permission. In Virginia, the laws of the city you're in may prohibit open carry; Pennsylvania law allows for same. North Dakota doesn't allows open carry of a loaded firearm without a permit.

Rural Open Carry Only

There are some states which only allow for rural open carry. In other words, open carry is perfectly fine outside of city limits but concealment is required once within them.

States with rural carry only include the following:

  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia

Each of these states have restrictions on where you can open carry beyond the obvious (school zones, etc.) and thus could be considered "rural open carry" states. However, it isn't necessarily as simple as open carry without a permit being totally fine outside of city limits.

Colorado open carry is legal without a permit except in the city and county of Denver. Colorado is something of an anomaly, as Denver's handgun laws predate the state's preemption law and thus supersede it. In Denver, open carry is illegal. Besides, the last real firepower in that town was Peyton Manning.

In Iowa, open carry without a permit is legal outside city limits, but not inside them.

In Missouri, permitless carry in an open fashion is generally legal, though the state's laws permit cities and towns to prohibit open carry without a license. That said, if you have a need to worry.

Open carry is also restricted in certain jurisdictions within Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Generally, these will be larger cities such as Portland, OR or Philadelphia, PA. (Though the beer in Portland more than makes up for it.) That said, you can generally open carry outside city limits without issue In these states.

Carrying in a National Park, however, is another matter.

Open Carry States Requiring A Permit

Some open carry states require a permit to open carry. However, it isn't quite that simple, which will be discussed further down below. That said, the following states require a permit (to an extent - more on that later) for open carry:

  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennesee
  • Texas
  • Utah
Indiana open carry permit exmaple

These states all require a permit to an extent...but to what extent depends on the state.

North Dakota, for instance, requires a permit to open carry a loaded handgun, but not an unloaded one. The same is true for Utah; in both states you may carry ammunition and a gun, but if the latter is loaded, a permit is required.

Iowa allows for carrying a loaded handgun openly without a permit outside of city limits, but within them requires a permit.

It should also be noted that while Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey allow for open carry with a permit, the chances that normal citizens will be granted the permit are virtually nil.

States Prohibiting Open Carry

As of right now, a small number of states prohibit open carry, as does the District of Columbia. Those states are:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • South Carolina

In these states, open carry is not allowed for the most part. There are certain exceptions in some of the above states, such as if carrying during outdoor activities like fishing or hunting, or in one's home or fixed place of business though - again - it depends on the state. California, for instance, grants those exceptions while New York does not.

Open carry is subject of some debate. Whatever one's feelings are, these are the open carry states and a rough guideline to how the open carry laws work. Again, this isn't legal advice but rather a general discussion of open carry laws. Make sure you comply with any and all state or local laws when carrying.

Keep Calm And Carry A Gun

Keep calm and carry on.

Sam Hoober

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.