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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.

How common is it?

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.

The right to bear arms, concealed or open

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

Open Carry state policies overview
Openly carrying rifles and shotguns

Before discussing the open carry states, it should be noted that not all states are as permissive as others when it comes to open carry. There are certain limitations commonly imposed on openly carrying a handgun, though the specific legal proscription depends on which state you're in.

What are those limitations?

There are 15 states that require a permit to open carry, just as they do with concealed carry. However, residents that have already acquired a concealed carry permit won't have to worry; they can now carry in public in any fashion they see fit.

Some states place restrictions on where and/or when you can open carry. Depending on the state, this may be no different than location restrictions on concealed carry or it may be more restrictive. Also, the nature of said restrictions can vary. Some states allow for preemption of state laws by certain jurisdictions (usually large cities) wherein a specific metro area may prohibit open carry but others in the same state may not. In other states, the restrictions are legislated at the state level. Again, it depends.

Some states only allow open carry of an unloaded handgun.

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.

Are Open Carry Holsters Different?

open carry holsters

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.

Any holster for open carry must-needs have certain attributes. It must securely hold the pistol, preventing any potential drops. Therefore, good passive retention must be there. Ideally, the holster will be custom-molded for the pistol that it carries, and should have adjustable passive retention.

Some people believe that an open carry holster should have active retention; others hold that it's not necessary with adequate awareness and tight passive retention. Since you are displaying the pistol for all to see, the theory goes that someone might try to grab it. There are instances of it happening, so it's not outside the realm of possibility.

If you're just open carrying around your home or the office and so on, then it's probably not a big deal. However, if you intend on open carrying beyond those confines, then active retention is certainly a good idea. You will need to train with your open carry holster, and make sure you select a model with an active retention device that you can operate and rely on.

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 license...no 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.