Understand how these 3 core definitions can be imposed to be sure you’re carrying legally wherever you are
- Carrying laws fall under three main categories
- Constitutional carry isn’t a universal right
- Open carry definitions can differ based on your location and cause to carry
- Concealed carry is allowed in all states, but with restrictions and specific responsibilities
It is vital for responsible gun owners to be aware of the key legal terms related to firearms possession, particularly on the three carrying law categories: constitutional, open, and concealed. Every state agrees on what the terms mean, but they are divided on how they translate into everyday gun rights at the national, state, and municipal levels. Knowing how these differences impact you in every location is crucial to carrying on the right side of the law.
What is constitutional carry?
This term is also commonly referred to as “permitless carry” and derives from the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which grants citizens the right to bear arms. Generally speaking, individuals in a constitutional carry state may carry a handgun (typically the only type of firearm this law covers) in a public place without a permit or license.
This is not a universal right as some restrictions still apply. Anyone deemed unfit for firearm ownership under state or federal law may not exercise constitutional carry, nor may individuals who are under the minimum required age, which varies between states. Residency status is a further qualifying criterion: Some states only allow constitutional carry for full-time residents or impose limited rights on non-residents.
At the time of writing this blog, 20 states observe constitutional carrying laws. Texas is set to join that list on September 1, 2021, when House Bill 1927 becomes law. You can find out more about the history of constitutional carry law in participating states and their respective restrictions to discover how your individual firearms rights may be affected.
What is open carry?
The second type of carrying law is open carry, which applies to carrying a firearm in public that is visible to those around you. In this instance, “carrying” refers to having a firearm readily accessible on your person in a holster or other support. It can also refer to transportation in a vehicle. Legal definitions vary across states on how much of a weapon must be seen to constitute open carry. An even partially visible gun qualifies in some jurisdictions.
Acceptable open carry scenarios differ based on your location and reason to carry. Some states are permissive open carry states. These allow open carry without a permit or license provided the proper ownership requirements are met and the gun owner is not in a prohibited location. This is the opposite of a licensed open carry state which requires a permit or license to do so.
Permissive open carry states may have local restrictions where certain towns or municipalities can prohibit open carry, making it essential to know the local laws of any location you plan to visit while carrying.
Non-permissive open carry states do not allow open carry, although they often have exceptions for certain activities, such as hunting or fishing, going to and from a firing range or competition, or for self-defense.
Lastly, there are anomalous open carry states. This means that open carry is generally prohibited in the state, however, localities within that state may have different laws that allow for it. It is recommended to contact your local law enforcement office if you’re in any doubt about how, when, and where laws governing the open carry of handguns or other firearms apply to you.
What is concealed carry?
The third type of carrying law is concealed carry, applying to the possession of a firearm that’s readily accessible on your person or nearby but is hidden from public view. All 50 states allow concealed carry, and the law typically requires an individual to achieve three standards to be allowed to concealed carry:
- To meet state eligibility requirements of legal history, age, and mental state
- To obtain a license or permit for concealed carry, the name of which varies between jurisdictions
- To have participated in some form of state-approved firearms training to prove their competency
Concealed carry laws may apply in different ways depending on residency status. They often impose Duty to Inform on carriers, meaning that they must disclose their firearms status whenever they come into contact with a law enforcement officer, such as during a traffic stop. There also may be specific situations that call for the gun to be unloaded, such as on a school campus.
Concealed carry laws in every state impose location restrictions that vary depending on the jurisdiction, however, these universally include any area prohibited by state or federal law and often incorporate educational facilities, airports, law enforcement and judicial premises, and polling places.
Concealed carriers are subject to the rule of private property where owners can make it known that they do not wish firearms, concealed or otherwise, on their premises. Even in states where it is legal to concealed carry in that location, it is illegal to refuse a request to leave as this would constitute criminal trespass.
Stay aware of changing gun laws and legislation
This overview is a primer on carrying laws, but it must be repeated that this is a dynamic legal area that’s subject to change. Always take the time to stay informed on new developments in your home state and wider afield. A good way to do this is to join a gun club or a national organization, such as the NRA, Second Amendment Foundation, Gun Owners of America, or the USCCA.
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