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Open Carry vs Concealed Carry

Open Carry vs Concealed Carry

Today we're going to be going over Open Carry and Concealed Carry. These terms get tossed around the internet frequently but not everyone might understand what they mean or interpret them differently. So we're going to look at the definitions and related terms covering both. This is going to be a rather broad look at the subjects and should not be construed as legal advice. Check your local state laws for details on what is and is not legal in regards to firearms and firearms carry.

Open Carry

Open carry is when an individual carries a firearm openly in public. This applies to firearms in holsters and on slings, depending on the type of firearm. This is different than “brandishing” a firearm, which is when the firearm is in hand and held in a “combative” stance or a firing position.

Generally open carry is done during normal day to day activity. The underlying implication being that the weapon is for self-defense. Open carry is mostly done universally by police and other law enforcement officers but private citizens or armed security have been known to carry a firearm openly.

Numerous groups advocate for private citizens to be able to open carry. Some of the more well known groups being OpenCarry.org and The Modern American Revolution. Underlying reasons for promoting open carry is the concept that criminals will hide their weapons while normal citizens will carry their weapons openly.

Not everyone is an advocate of open carry. Its detractors fall on both sides of the political coin. On the gun advocate side it is frowned upon by the major self-defense trainers and their areas of influence. Detractors on the anti-gun side are such organizations as The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign.

Open carry is hotly debated throughout the United States and is combination of both legal terms and internal gun community jargon. Lets look at some of the terms.

A firearm is carried openly if it is easily in the plain sight of others. Plain sight is more nuanced. In general it is assumed to mean that the firearm is not hidden from common observation. Some states will specify that the firearm is considered out in the open if it is partially visible, while others specify that the firearm has to be fully visible.

Next comes the definition of a loaded weapon. This is another state by state decision but most of their definitions fall into one of three categories. The first category is rather logical. The firearm is considered loaded if there is a live round in the chamber.

The second category considers a firearm loaded if a magazine, with ammunition in it, is inserted in the firearm. There does not need to be a round in the chamber for it to be considered loaded, just a loaded magazine.

The third category considers a weapon to be loaded if the individual has ammunition on their person or within easy reach while in possession of a firearm. The firearm may be completely empty of rounds and magazine but is considered a loaded weapon if there is ammunition within easy reach of the user. The firearm may be within easy reach of the user and ammunition may also be present and the empty gun will be considered loaded. This is mostly used in states that are very anti-gun.

Some states will preemptively pass laws regarding open carry. This is referred to as preemption and leads to several definitions for what types of states allow or prohibit open carry by non-prohibited persons. A prohibited person being those prohibited from being in possession of a firearm. These are generally individuals with felonies, domestic dispute misdemeanors, individuals who were involuntarily entered into mental institutions, and finally those who were dishonorably discharged from the military.

A state that preemptively passes a law that allows for citizens to carry firearms openly, with a few exceptions, without a permit or license are referred to as permissive states. They also allow for open carry on foot and in motor vehicles. These states are the least restrictive in terms of open carry.

Next are states that have local restrictions. A state might allow individuals to open carry without a permit but local counties, towns, cities, etc. might have their own restrictions on open carry. This might result in the need for licensing to carry in those areas by those respective local governments or might require a state license that covers the entire state. This differs between states.

There are some states that require eligible citizens to be licensed in order to open carry. These allow for individuals to acquire a license to carry their firearm openly and generally apply to carrying while on foot and in a motor vehicle. However there are some states that have “May-issue” policies.

A “May-issue” state might reject an individual's application for licensing. This differs from a “Shall-issue” state where the state must provide a license to an applicant as long as they are not a prohibited individual and meet the specified requirements. “May-issue” states might not issue a normal individual a license because of oversight but instead issue licenses to special individuals.

Anomalous states are the next type. They will either allow for the issuance of special licenses or are less definite in the paperwork involved in open carrying. These states generally allow for open carry in areas that are out of urban areas and have extremely low populations densities. Additionally legislation may make these areas harder to legally navigate as they are always subject to change.

The final category is non-permissive states. These are some of the most simple states rules as they do not permit open carry. There are some where open carry is allowed but the parameters are so narrow that it might as well be prohibited. These situations general fall under open carrying when hunting (during and traveling to hunting areas), when on one's own private property, or for “lawful defense”.

As with all things related to firearms there has been numerous different legislative battles for and against open carry. Many of the most notable examples being from the 1960s and 2000s. These mostly cropped up around armed protests of various leanings.

Despite many legal set backs there are still 45 US states (as of 2018) that allow for open carry. This does not mean each has the same stance and laws on the subject but it is legal. As always check your local laws.

Concealed Carry

The other prevalent type of carry is concealed carry. Concealed carry is the carrying of weapons in public where the weapon is not visible. This can be on the individual's person or in very close proximity. The items covered by the rules governing them are not always lethal weapons like firearms and knives but also include less lethal options like pepper spray.

Concealed carry is much more amorphous in its contents than Open Carry. Many items can be carried concealed with the appropriate licensing and range across a very wide spectrum. Some restrict entire item sets while others restrict the size of items carried, pepper spray being one of those items restricted to size or amount.

Concealed carry in some form exists in all 50 states but varies throughout the states. Concealed carry for the most part has not been a very clear cut practice. Concealed carry used to be consider only the practice of criminals but this mentality came from a time when the open carry of weapons was considered very normal. As time went on and societies changed, the carrying of weapons openly became less acceptable. However the banning of concealed carry was rare, generally the banning of the carry of weapons was employed.

The earliest banning of concealed carry is found in Louisiana and Kentucky in 1813. By the end of the 1800s roughly 9 states had passed similar laws. And before the mid-1900s most states had passed laws concerning concealed carry.

Most of the gun laws regarding carry, concealed or otherwise, came out of post Civil War sentiments and political reaction-ism in addition to safety concerns. Most arguments for gun control still pivot on safety concerns and political leanings. All of this created four different policies in regards to concealed carry.

The easiest of these policies is unrestricted jurisdiction. This is sometimes referred to as constitutional carry and just means that there are no licenses or permits required to carry a concealed firearm. Although some locations will restrict concealed carry under certain circumstances. Locations with the latter practice are referred to as partially unrestricted locations as opposed to fully unrestricted locations.

Shall-issue locations are the next type of category. These states have a list of requirements for an individual to meet in order to acquire a license. As long as those requirements are met the individual will be provided with a license. There is no discretionary actions required by the issuing agency or department. This means that as long as the requirements are met there does not need to be a “good cause” required to explain why or a need to prove why one would want/need to carry a concealed firearm.

May-issue locations have an extra layer of oversight added to them. These areas have a list of requirements that must be met but the issuing authority reserves the right to deny an application. This leads to potentially arbitrary decisions on the issuing agency, which may be appealed depending on the location. Additionally sometimes justification or “good cause” requirements are incorporated which can result in the denial of application.

The final category is no-issue locations. These locations do not allow private citizens to be licensed to carry concealed. This is often a state or similar area that is a May-issue state but does not issue any licenses except for rare occasions. There are currently no official no-issue states only states that effectively act as no-issue states.

Concealed carry with a permit is still limited in scope. Certain areas are prohibited in regards to concealed carry. These are usually locations such as schools, post offices, military bases, and federal buildings.

Additionally capacity, caliber, and even use can be restricted depending on the location. Similarly some locations require training of some form to be undertaken in order to be eligible to receive a concealed carry license.

As more states adopted concealed carry laws in the 2000s, a new question came up. This question was of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the concept of which concealed carry permits are honored by other states. Some locations have full reciprocity, honoring those licenses as if they were issued in the same state. Others have partial reciprocity where certain parameters have to be met or special licenses have to be obtained in order for them to be honored. Other locations will only accept state issued licenses for those out of state.


The easiest way to get into carrying a firearm tends to be open carry. Depending on location, this can be done easily with minimal hassle. Other times the effort that goes in to getting the proper licensing is similar to that of getting a concealed permit.

The real determining factor between open carry and concealed carry is the state you are in. Additionally the training you receive, the goal you're trying to achieve, and the situations you are likely to find yourself in will determine which type of carry you select.

If your goal is to be able to defend yourself, you should legally carry when and where you can with whatever methods are available to you. After you get to the initial stage of carrying a gun, you should get training for carrying a gun, which is generally why some locations require concealed carry applicants to receive training as part of the process. Once you receive initial training you should continue to get more training until you discover the needs you have for self defense.

However this is not as easy as it sounds. Certain locations have different requirements in regards to training. Each state is different and can even vary from county to county. Check your local laws and the training available in your are and select accordingly.