Open vs. concealed carry laws vary across the United States. Here’s what gun owners need to know.
- Open carry is when your firearm is completely or partially visible
- Concealed carry is when your firearm is concealed
- Different states have different laws, and they may also define these concepts differently
- Some states require anyone to open carry, while others require a permit for open carry
- Some states only allow you to open carry if you're hunting or defending yourself
- Some states require permits for concealed carry, but 19 states give residents and non-residents their constitutional right to carry
Open carry and concealed carry are buzz phrases that you hear frequently from both firearm enthusiasts and the media, but these phrases are sometimes conflated with each other or misused. They also have different meanings depending on state laws.
Open carry is when you openly carry a firearm that is completely visible or partially visible due to being in a holster. The exact definition of open carry varies based on state and local mandates, and in some places, the gun is required to be completely visible to be considered an open carry.
Concealed carry, in contrast, is when you carry a firearm that is concealed or hidden — for instance, it may be in a holster under your shirt or in your purse. If you are in an area that allows concealed carry but does not allow open carry, your firearm must not be visible to other people.
The right carrying option varies based on the situation and your personal preferences, but you also need to ensure you understand the laws in your area — they can vary drastically from state to state. This guide looks at the different types of concealed and open carry laws to help you decide which type of carry is allowed in your area.
Permissive open carry
In permissive open-carry states, including Alaska, New Mexico, and West Virginia, anyone who legally possesses a firearm can carry it openly. In Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, and Tennessee, the state laws allow gun owners to open carry, but local governments may ban the practice. Note that, while in most of these states the law applies to both residents and non-residents, in Michigan, the open carry law only applies to residents. Non-residents cannot open carry in this state.
Licensed open carry
Licensed open carry means that you must have a permit or a license to openly carry your firearm, and these laws apply in Connecticut, Indiana, and Utah. Additionally, in California, you can apply for a license to openly carry a loaded handgun from the sheriff of any county with less than 200,000 people or from the chief of police in a city in that county. In that state, you cannot get a license to open carry in more populated counties.
In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, open carry laws are not specifically addressed, but you always need a permit to carry a handgun in these states.
Non-permissive open carry states
In New York, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, open carry is typically against the law, but it may be allowed in very limited circumstances, such as when you're hunting or using a weapon for self-defense.
May-issue concealed carry permit states
May-issue states are states that can deny a gun owner from obtaining a concealed carry license even if the gun owner meets the state's criteria. These states are called "may issue" because they may issue a permit, or they may decide not to.
In California and Delaware, only residents may be issued a concealed carry permit, but they must apply and meet strict requirements. In Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, the state may issue concealed carry permits to both residents and non-residents.
Shall-issue concealed carry permit states
Shall-issue states don't have the ability to make judgment calls about applicants. They "shall issue" a concealed carry permit to anyone who applies and meets the requirements. The following states are shall-issue for both residents and non-residents:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, and Nebraska are also shall-issue states but only for residents. They have different laws for non-residents.
Constitutional concealed carry states
Only 19 states identify concealed carry as a constitutional right, and in these states, anyone can carry a concealed firearm without a permit. However, some of these states are also willing to issue permits. Even though these states have constitutional carry, they are also shall-issue states.
Here are the constitutional carry states along with whether or not they are shall-issue for residents and non-residents.
- Alaska — shall issue for residents only
- Arizona — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Arkansas — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Idaho— shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Kansas — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Kentucky — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Maine — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Mississippi, — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Missouri — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Montana — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- New Hampshire — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- North Dakota — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- Oklahoma— shall issue for residents only
- South Dakota — shall issue for residents only
- Tennessee — shall issue for residents only
- Texas — shall issue for residents only
- Utah — shall issue for residents and non-residents
- West Virginia — shall issue for residents only
- Wyoming — shall issue for residents only
Vermont is also a constitutional carry state, but this state does not offer any permits to either residents or non-residents. In Vermont, you just take advantage of your constitutional rights without worrying about a permit.
Note that gun laws change often, and the laws noted in this guide are subject to change at any time. Always, check the laws in your area before concealed carrying or open carrying a firearm, and also consider the culture in your area. For example, if you're in an area where open carry is legal but not common, you may get unwanted attention for an open carry.
Check out the inventory at Ammunition Depot
Whether you feel safest and most comfortable with open carry or concealed carry, we have the firearms and ammunition you need. We also offer a variety of holsters and accessories to help you carry your firearm. Check out our inventory online, or contact us directly to ask questions and learn more.