America is truly a unique governmental experiment in the history of human civilization.
We’re the only country in the world where the citizens are guaranteed the RIGHT to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In fact, our founding fathers went so far as to list our rights using ten separate amendments, which are known as The Bill of Rights. These Rights are viewed as inalienable, which means they are unable to be taken or surrendered.
Why are we bringing all this up?
Because a particular amendment within The Bill of Rights has caused the most controversy and debate within America, you probably already know what we’re talking about, right?
Correct. The Second Amendment.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the text for the Second Amendment: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
So, our founding fathers gave us the right to defend ourselves using firearms. However, does this mean we get to carry around firearms at all times? Are we allowed to brandish (which means carry a firearm openly in your hands) weapons openly? Also, do the states have the right to determine open carry laws or the federal government?
These are all questions many legal scholars have tried to figure out.
With this article, we’re going to dive into understanding open carry and how it affects U.S. citizens.
Let’s get going!
What Is Open Carry & What Does Open Carry Mean?
Open Carry: the practice of visibly carrying a firearm openly in plain sight in the public domain.
This is the most accepted version of open carry, but it should be noted that each state has a different interpretation of what “open carry” means. For example, some states consider any portion of a weapon visible in a public domain to be considered open carry, while other states believe the entire weapon must be shown to be considered open carry.
You should also be aware of what “Carrying” means too. Carrying is defined as having your firearm in an easily accessible place on your body, and within a holding material like a holster or sling.
Open carry is NOT having your weapon openly in your hand. That would be considered “brandishing” which has a different legal meaning. Brandishing has the meaning of using a weapon with the intent to do harm. Brandishing is considered, in nearly every state, a very serious crime.
Carrying your firearm in a holster on your side, openly (where legal), is different because there’s no intent behind the action. You’re just openly carrying a firearm.
Open Carry Categories
Generally, open carry is broken down into 5 different categories, based on the state’s interpretation of the law.
Permissive Open Carry
All federally legal gun owners are allowed to open carry, without a license or permit, within the state’s jurisdiction, with very few exceptions. Open carry is also allowed via motor transportation.
Permissive Open Carry With Local Restrictions
All federally legal gun owners are allowed to open carry, without a license or permit, within the state’s jurisdiction, EXCEPT for any local municipality where restrictions are in place.
States with laws like this allow for local areas to dictate their own restrictions for open carry.
Licensed Open Carry
All federally legal gun owners are allowed to open carry with a state-approved and issued license or permit. With these permits, state citizens are allowed to have the weapon on their person or in a vehicle openly.
Anomalous Open Carry
Open carry is generally prohibited and the law varies between lawful and illegal, depending on the local jurisdiction. Generally, this means the local municipality has a different law concerning open carry compared to the state law.
Non-Permissive Open Carry
Open carry is against state law or is legal in specific instances (hunting or self-defense for example) that it’s effectively prohibited.
Generally, non-permissive states don’t have permits for open carry as the state has recognized the act as completely unlawful.
IMPORTANT: each state considers handguns and long guns to be separate issues in concern to open carry laws. For example, Texas is a licensed open carry state for handguns, but a permissive open carry for long guns. Always be sure to double-check your local jurisdiction for more information. Here is a breakdown of the open carry laws by state...
History Of Open Carry
The United States has an incredibly interesting relationship with firearms. Many would consider firearms in the states to be a sort of religion.
And to be frank, they’re probably right.
Is this a bad thing? In our opinion, absolutely not.
As we mentioned earlier, the citizens of the United States are granted the right to keep and bear arms. We’re the only country in the world where a right like this is written in our constitution, and part of the very fabric of our daily life.
Our founding fathers saw firsthand how the British tried to limit firearms, right before the Declaration of Independence was published, and wanted to give future citizens (us) a protection mechanism so a government can never limit our self-defense.
In case you’re unfamiliar, in 1775, the British went from Boston to southern cities like Lexington and Concord on a mission to take firearms from the population to prevent any further uprising.
This is why the founding fathers put the Second Amendment as part of our constitution. They saw firsthand how a government would suppress the will of the people.
From this point on, citizens of America acted as if owning firearms was a normal part of daily life. Actually, it is only recently that laws have been made discussing the issue of open carry (or even concealed carry for that matter).
For much of the history of the United States, people would openly carry firearms for self-defense (from both wild animals and humans alike) and it was considered a cultural norm at the time. There were no laws pertaining to allowing open carry because it was just assumed as such due to the Second Amendment.
In fact, open carry has never been addressed by the Supreme Court either. The logical thought process is that precedence is set from the Second Amendment.
The closest opinion the U.S. has on the matter happened in 2008 by Antonin Scalia who said:
“[Concerning the Second Amendment] We find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. However, like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Only recently have there been laws passed to specifically allow for open carry (or what’s now considered “Constitutional Carry”) within the United States. There have been more proceedings related to concealed carry.
Open Carry Policies By State
As we mentioned earlier, each state has a different opinion on the permissions of open carry for their citizens.
For more details on your state’s specific laws regarding open carry, go to the individual states’ open carry laws further below.
Here is the current status of open carry with the U.S.
Permissive Open Carry By State
There are currently 29 states with permissive open carry laws for their citizens. Within these states, the law currently allows for open carry without a permit. You must still check your individual state laws to know if you’re allowed to have the weapon loaded, or unloaded, and what the transportation rules are.
The states are:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Permissive Open Carry With Local Restrictions By State
There are currently 5 states with permissive open carry, but with respect to local restrictions imposed by local municipalities. A good example is Colorado, where open carry is permitted except for the city and country of Denver where open carry is completely prohibited.
Be sure to double-check which local regulations exist and the fine print of the rules.
The states include:
Licensed Open Carry By State
Currently, there are 11 states where you must be licensed to open carry within their jurisdiction. Each state has different rules for when a permit is needed to open carry, or if their state is a Shall-Issue or May-Issue state.
For example, in Texas open carry is allowed with a permit so long as the firearm is in a holster. However, in North Dakota, open carry of an unloaded handgun is allowed during daytime online, and if the weapon is loaded you must have a permit to open carry.
As always, double-check with local law enforcement.
The states include:
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
Anomalous Open Carry By State
There’s only 1 state with Anomalous open carry laws. As a resident of California, you have to check with your county to see they allow for open carry with or without a permit. Generally, in the more rural areas, you’re allowed to open carry. However, in urban areas, you can expect severe questioning by law enforcement for openly carrying.
The state with anomalous open carry:
Non-Permissive Open Carry By State
There are currently 4 states where open carry is prohibited. These states do not allow for open carry, even with a permit.
The states include:
- New York
- South Carolina