Open Carry Laws in the United States

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Several laws exist in the US regarding whether an individual can carry a firearm in public and in what way the weapon may be carried in public. Two common forms of firearm carrying exist, which include open carrying and concealed carrying. Open carry in the US is the practice of carrying a firearm in an exposed manner, normally on the hip, in view of the public. Concealed carrying, on the other hand, refers to the concealed carry of firearms away from the view of the public, usually beneath one’s clothes. Despite significant evidence showing that the open carrying of guns in public endangers the safety of the public, most states in the US lack laws to prohibit or regulate open carry. This paper reviews the open carry laws in the US and reviews the arguments for and against the open carry of firearms and


In US history, most states either had strong regulations regarding open carry of guns or prohibited the practice entirely. However, over the past thirty years, state laws regarding the carrying of firearms have been changing, with many weakening their regulations in order to allow more people to carry weapons in public places as well as reducing or eliminating the capacity of law enforcement to restrict potentially dangerous individuals from openly carrying firearms (Lott, 2013). Recently, a confrontational open carry movement has been generating controversy through the encouragement of American citizens to carry their weapons in public places openly.

US Constitution and Federal Law on Open Carry of Firearms

The ownership of firearms in the US is entrenched within the Second Amendment, which is an integral part of the Bill of Rights in the nation. Adopted in 1791, it safeguards the right of citizens to own firearms by explicitly stating, “A well-structured militia, being crucial to the security and protection of the nation, will not have the right to bear and keep firearms infringed (Ziff, 2014).

Similarly, the federal law does not explicitly restrict or prohibit the open carry of firearms. However, the law has several regulations that restrict the open carry of guns owned by the federal government, some of which oblige persons such as law enforcement officers and other agents of the government to conceal their weapons in public.

Open Carry of Firearms


A handgun refers to a small firearm designed for use with one hand. Handguns are common in the US, with the nation owning 40 percent of all guns worldwide. The laws on open carry of handguns differ with each state. For instance, six US states, including Florida, California, New York, Illinois, District of Columbia and South Carolina prohibit people from carrying handguns in public places in an open manner (Siegel, et al., 2017). In addition, fourteen states require persons carrying small firearms openly to have a permit or license. These include Texas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota, Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Rhode Island, Iowa, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Oklahoma (Siegel, et al., 2017). Six states allow the open carry of handguns but have restrictions relating to the carry of these weapons in public places. These states include Washington, North Dakota, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alabama. All the remaining states allow people to carry handguns openly without requiring a license or permit.

Long Guns                 

These refer to firearms that have longer barrels and are thus designed to be braced against the shoulder and held using both hands when firing (Ziff, 2014). The laws regarding carrying of long guns openly differ from state to state and are quite distinct from the laws relating to the open carry of small arms. For instance, in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Florida and Minnesota, carrying of shotguns and all forms rifles is against the law (Siegel, et al., 2017). In all other states, open carry of these weapons is legal and in fact, most of the states do not oblige citizens to obtain permits in order to carry long guns in public and it is permitted to carry a weapon that is loaded. However, it is notable that in Utah, Iowa and Tennessee, open carrying of long guns is legal only if the weapon is unloaded. Pennsylvania and Virginia allow open carry of rifles and shotguns (Siegel, et al., 2017).

Arguments for Open Carry Gun Laws

Proponents of the right to carry firearms openly cite several advantages associable with the gun carrying method.

Permission by the Constitution

As aforementioned, the Second Amendment explicitly states that Americans have a right to own and bear firearms. The law implies that people in the nation are permitted to carry firearms by the supreme law of the US and as such, they should be allowed to carry their weapons openly. In addition, federal law does not prohibit the open carry of firearms. The Supremacy Clause states that the Constitution and federal laws, as the supreme laws of the US, are higher than state laws and as such, all states are bound by these regulations (Cornell, 2017).

Crime Deterrence

By allowing people to carry their weapons in an open and indiscrete manner, it is possible to deter criminals from acting, since potential victims can show their capacity to defend themselves. Evidence exists that the open carry of firearms is an effective strategy of reducing crime in the US. A recent survey by the Department of Justice on incarcerated offenders showed that criminals are more afraid of facing armed victims than they are of engaging the police. A similar study showed that 90 percent of criminal attacks are deterred when the potential victims simply show that they are carrying a weapon (Fortunato, 2015).

Ease of Access

Open carry increases the efficiency of accessing one’s firearm since the weapon is strategically placed on an accessible part of the body. This increases the efficiency of protecting oneself in the cases of a firefight, in contrast with concealed carry, where one may be inhibited from accessing the weapon by clothing (Fortunato, 2015). Open carry also improves the comfort of carrying weapons, especially for large and heavy firearms. In fact, studies of law enforcement officers that carry concealed weapons show that this method of carrying firearms has negative implications on health such as influencing a person’s gait and weight distribution (Lott, 2013). Open carry is, therefore, safer and more comfortable.

Arguments against Open Carry Laws

Despite the aforementioned advantages of open carry regulations in the US, several disadvantages of the law exist.

Implications on the Fight against Terrorism

In recent years, the US has been the target of several terrorist attacks. Most of these have involved lone wolf gunmen with terrorist links or political motives as well as individuals acting alone, who have targeted innocent civilians. Lone gunmen are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the United States through mass shootings. In addition, 175 of the weapons used by mass shooters were obtained in accordance with state law and in fact, the shooters had valid licenses and permits for the weapons (Hamm & Spaaij, 2015). The US government, at the federal and state level, has been taking measures to reduce the rate of mass shootings such as identification and investigation of persons deemed to be potential threats. Nevertheless, the open carry laws inhibit the efficiency of law enforcement in the management of this form of terrorism, especially in the states where open carry of weapons is prevalent (Hamm & Spaaij, 2015).


One of the main negative impact of open carry laws is that they instill fear in other people. Given the recent increase in mass shootings in the nation, most of which have taken place in public places including schools, churches, restaurants and transport terminals, the presence of a person with a weapon carried openly in a public places usually agitates citizens (Ziff, 2014). It is evident that in spite of open carry laws being supported by various federal and state laws, they also infringe on other rights and freedoms such as the right of religious freedom, the freedom of speech as well as the right of assembly.

Open Carriers as Targets

In spite of the capacity of open carry to deter crimes in the nation, it also places the carrier at risk of being a target in case of events taking place that involve shootings. Many law enforcement agencies and officers are against open carry gun laws since they make it difficult to distinguish between attackers and responsible, non-provocative individuals in case of an incident (Lott, 2013). In addition, the risk of an attacker getting retrieving a firearm from a carrier is high. According to Lott (2013), most open carriers lack the skills required to combat potential attackers in close combat situations. This means that open carriers place the public at risk or injury or death resulting from their firearms being confiscated and used by potential terrorists.

Risk of Self-Injury or Accidental Injury of Others

In spite of the growing popularity of open carry of firearms, most open carriers are not properly trained on the methods of handling and using the weapons. As a result, the risk of accidental firing of weapons is high for open carriers and in fact, there have been numerous cases in the last decade of the misfiring of weapons by open carriers (Weinberger, et al., 2015). These misfires usually occur due to weapons falling from their holsters, when carriers drop their weapons by accident or when open carriers fail to ensure that the gun safety in on. As most states in the US permit persons to carry their weapons while loaded with ammunition, the risk and incidents of fatal injury to oneself or injury to others is extremely high in these states (Weinberger, et al., 2015).


Most states in the US permit the open carrying of firearms by American citizens. As illustrated above, the Constitution and federal law do not prohibit this practice and the individual states permit open carry or have certain minor limitations on carrying firearms openly in public places. In review of the above arguments for and against open carry regulations in the nation, the arguments against the practice outweigh the arguments that allow open carry by far. It is therefore recommendable for both the federal government and individual state governments to review existing rules relating to open carry of weapons. The review should orient towards restricting the rate at which this phenomenon is growing as well as manage the negative impacts of open carry on communities in the nation.


Cornell, S. (2017). The right to keep and carry arms in Anglo-American law: preserving liberty and keeping the peace. Law & Contemp. Probs., 80, 11.

Fortunato, D. (2015). Can easing concealed carry deter crime?. Social Science Quarterly, 96(4), 1071-1085.

Hamm, M., & Spaaij, R. (2015). Lone wolf terrorism in America: Using knowledge of radicalization pathways to forge prevention strategies. Retrieved June, 26, 2015.

Lott, J. R. (2013). More guns, less crime: Understanding crime and gun control laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Siegel, M., Pahn, M., Xuan, Z., Ross, C. S., Galea, S., Kalesan, B., & Goss, K. A. (2017). Firearm-related laws in all 50 US states, 1991–2016. American journal of public health, 107(7), 1122-1129.

Weinberger, S. E., Lawrence, H. C., Levin, S., Henley, D. E., Alden, E. R., & Hubbard, W. C. (2015). Firearm-related injury and death in the United States: a call to action from 8 health professional organizations and the American Bar Association. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(7), 513-516.

Ziff, J. (2014). Gun Laws: responsible Gun Ownership. Pittsburgh: Eldorado Ink.

December 12, 2023

Crime Law

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