Guide to Open and Concealed Carry Laws Across the Nation

These are uncertain times, and Americans are buying guns like hotcakes. The top guns for protection, like Glocks, are flying off the shelves. A lot of first-time gun buyers are leaping into the 2nd Amendment community without a lot of foreknowledge. If you're getting a gun for protection, one of the most important things to learn about is your state's law on carrying a firearm. I want to say, 'don't worry, you don't need a law degree to figure this out,' but the more I look into carry laws, the less sure I am about that. So bear with me while we try to break this down. We are the experts, after all. 

The first thing to understand is the difference between:

  • Open carry
  • Concealed carry
  • Brandishing

As should be obvious, open carry means everyone can see your gun, and concealed carry means they can't, assuming you're doing it right. Brandishing means different things in different states, from holding it in your hand in public to revealing it to others. Brandishing can be a crime in many places.

The legal labyrinth

While Federal law covers your right to have a gun, it has very little to say about open or concealed carry. The exception is the 1990 federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, which prevents you from carrying within 1,000 feet of a school. 

It may seem strange, but concealed carry is legal in every state, but open carry isn't. In some states, the application procedure for a concealed carry permit is so demanding that carry might as well be illegal. However, such regulations are actually gradually going extinct as they get struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. 

The maze of state-level regs is where things start to get tricky. For example, if you're in a state that allows open carry, but only with a permit, and you have a concealed carry permit, you can open carry too. Some specific areas within a state, especially large cities, will have more restrictive laws than most areas. Going traveling with your gun? There are states that have agreements to recognize each other's concealed carry permits. Here's a guide on how that works.

Open carry laws by state

Here are the states that allow open carry with no permit:

AlabamaMissouriSouth Dakota
AlaskaMississippiNorth Dakota
ColoradoNevadaWashington State
DelawareNew HampshireWest Virginia
IdahoNew MexicoWisconsin
KansasNorth CarolinaWyoming

And here are the states that allow open carry with a permit:

ConnecticutMassachusettsRhode Island
IndianaNew JerseyUtah
IowaNorth Dakota

Some states issue a permit to any resident who applies, and others impose a vetting process.

That leaves the states that ban all open carry:

CaliforniaFloridaNew York
District of ColumbiaIllinoisSouth Carolina

Concealed carry laws by state

Like open carry, with concealed carry, each state's law follows one of three levels of restrictiveness. These are:

  • Unrestricted
  • Shall issue
  • May issue

'May issue' means banned in practice in:

  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • and much of California

'May issue' means you have a chance in:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Massachusetts
  • Parts of New York

States where concealed carry is legal without a permit include:

AlaskaMaineSouth Dakota
ArkansasMissouriWest Virginia
IdahoMontana (outside city limits)Wyoming
KansasNorth Dakota

All other states 'shall issue' a concealed carry permit to an eligible resident applicant. Seems simple right? Keep in mind that according to the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, felons, fugitives, illegal aliens, and persons of unsound mind cannot buy or possess firearms. 

You may have the right to concealed carry in a given state, but that doesn't cover any federal buildings. There may also be restrictions on carry in specific locations like hospitals, stadiums, and (no surprise) airports.

Do your homework

This is an overview to give you a general idea. Gun laws change all the time, and the details of your local regulations might be a lot more complicated than what we indicated here. Be sure to do your homework. Give the local PD a call. If you need a permit for concealed or open carry, keep it with you when carrying!

If you're a new gun owner, remember, a firearm is little to no protection if you are not well-trained and practiced in using it. Hit the range regularly, stay safe, and welcome to the world of guns!

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