Concealed Carry vs. Open Carry: The Time and Place for Each
This entry was posted on September 20, 2018.
It's a long-debated question — what's better, concealed carry or open carry?
For every gun owner, how to carry your firearm is an important decision. The way you carry your weapon becomes a part of you — do you prefer the subtlety and security of a hidden holster, or do you take pride in a visible gun belt?
Each option has its advantages, as well as its drawbacks. Here we'll examine the pros and cons of both concealed and open carry, as well as situations that are appropriate for each type. We'll lay out a comprehensive list on which states allow open carry and which ones don't, and look at some special cases such as National Parks.
To open carry a firearm, it must be displayed obviously on your person. Typically, people open carry handguns, but the term also applies to rifles or shotguns.
Open carry puts your weapon on clear display, usually attached to a belt at your hip. Recently, the numbers of gun owners wearing their guns visibly has skyrocketed. Almost every state allows the open carry of firearms, and some don't require you to possess a license. Below are a few of the advantages and drawbacks associated with openly carrying your firearm.
Advantages of Open Carry
Open carry has several benefits including crime deterrence, fast access, and optimal comfort.
1. Deter Crime
One of the reasons people choose to open carry is to deter crime. A visible gun discourages crime against the gun carrier as well as in the general environment around them. Once a potential criminal sees that a citizen is armed, the argument goes, they will think twice before attacking.
Although so far there is little empirical evidence to support this claim, open carry can at least give an added feeling of confidence and security — you are armed to defend yourself, and criminals can see it.
2. Fast Access
When you carry a gun on your hip, you can draw it quickly in an emergency situation. A concealed weapon will take longer to access, but an openly carried firearm is designed to be within reach in a hurry.
For gun owners concerned about defending themselves, the fast access of a visible weapon makes open carry an attractive option.
Perhaps the most common reason people open carry is the comfort. If you can't invest in high-quality holsters and gun belts, a concealed weapon can be uncomfortable and even painful.
Concealing a firearm during sweltering summer months is even more awkward, and often the added heat and insulation of a gun is unbearably hot. For those who want to carry during warm summers, open carrying is an appealing alternative.
Drawbacks of Open Carry
But open carry has a few drawbacks. As you decide whether or not to open carry, consider these factors.
1. May Attract Crime
While some argue that displaying your gun deters crime, others suggest that it might actually make you a target.
When a criminal can see your gun, they have the advantage. The element of surprise has been lost, and this puts you at risk. If you are in an emergency situation such as a robbery, openly carrying your weapon makes you the first target for elimination. Also, carrying your gun on your hip increases the chance of someone taking away your gun before you have a chance to react, making you and the people around you vulnerable to attack.
2. Susceptible to the Elements
In environments that often see harsh weather, especially floods, snow or rain, an exposed firearm can experience a lot of wear and tear. Openly carrying a weapon requires a lot of detailed care and attention along with regular maintenance — if not properly handled, an exposed gun can quickly be damaged by weather, which negatively impacts its function.
3. Draws Attention
Wearing your firearm openly can raise a lot of alarm. Citizens may report you to the police, who will stop you to investigate. Although the vast majority of people who open carry don't pose a danger to society, citizens are unused to seeing a gun in public, and it typically creates nervousness and unease.
Most gun owners don't want or enjoy this type of attention and would be frustrated by the unintended hassle of concerned citizens and law enforcement.
Concealed carry refers to the practice of carrying a weapon hidden on your person while you're in public. Small handguns are preferred for hidden carry, and specially designed holsters can store them in a variety of locations. Currently, over 16.3 million United States citizens possess permits for concealed carry — 6.5 percent of American adults can legally wear a handgun hidden on their person.
To conceal carry your weapon, most states require you get a license. But the extra steps are worthwhile to those who appreciate the benefits. Below are some of the most commonly cited advantages and drawbacks associated with concealed carry.
Advantages of Concealed Carry
All of the benefits of concealed carry are connected — they revolve around the understated and subtle nature of wearing a hidden firearm. Here are three of the top advantages of concealed carry:
1. Maintain the Upper Hand
A concealed weapon gives you an element of surprise in an emergency. An attacker or mugger won't expect you to have a gun on your person, giving you an advantage.
A concealed weapon also prevents you from becoming the first target in a dangerous situation, allowing you valuable time to formulate a plan of action. In addition, a hidden gun is not likely to be taken from you unawares, keeping you and those around you safe from a criminal grabbing your weapon and using it against you.
2. Draw Less Attention
By wearing a concealed gun, you allow yourself to blend into your environment. Part of the appeal of a hidden weapon is the lack of attention — no one knows you have a firearm, so you don't attract attention, whether it's negative or just curiosity.
3. Avoid Encounters with Law Enforcement
Another advantage of the subtlety of a concealed weapon is avoiding run-ins with law enforcement. Especially in emergency situations, if your gun is not visible, there is less of a chance of officers mistaking you for the bad guy.
Also, it's less likely concerned citizens will report you to law enforcement officers, meaning fewer stops and searches.
Drawbacks of Concealed Carry
Like open carry, concealing your weapon comes with a few potential drawbacks. Below are three of the most common:
1. Slower Access
Depending on where you carry your weapon, you might not be able to access it from all positions. For example, if you conceal your gun in an appendix carry, you might not be able to draw when you're sitting down.
Regardless of where you stow your gun on your person, you will have to get around layers of clothing to draw your weapon. For an untrained gun owner, this may take longer than it has to, putting you at risk in dangerous situations.
2. Can Be Uncomfortable
If you have a cheap holster or gun belt, a concealed weapon may be uncomfortable. Especially if you plan on wearing your weapon for extended periods of time, a concealed rig can get irritating very quickly.
Depending on body shape and type of firearm, finding the right holster option can be frustrating and time-consuming. While comfortable holsters exist, it can be a trial-and-error process to find the perfect fit.
3. Blocked Gun
If you store your gun in a purse, backpack or satchel, the barrel could easily get blocked by pens and pencils, lipstick or any other cylindrical object.
Just like the elements can wear away an exposed gun, a concealed weapon is vulnerable to lint and sweat. While often less detrimental than weather conditions, these factors can still shorten the lifespan of your weapon.
When to Open Carry
Now that we've covered some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with both types of carry, let's examine some appropriate situations for each. Ultimately, the decision whether to conceal or open carry is up to the individual and their local and state laws. Every gun owner can take stock of a situation and decide what's the best way to carry — we've just gathered some general guidelines to help you make an informed decision.
First, here are some contexts where open carrying is almost always appropriate.
1. When You're Outside
When you're in nature either for hunting, fishing or hiking, open carrying your weapon is safe and practical. You're well removed from people, and the goal of wearing your gun in the great outdoors is fast access — whether for hunting or defending yourself against treacherous wildlife such as snakes.
2. When You're in a Rural Setting
Often, large urban environments have their own gun regulations distinct from state law. To avoid accidentally breaking a city ordinance, stick to open carrying in rural settings outside of city limits. This also reduces negative encounters, either with nervous citizens or concerned law enforcement.
3. When You Have Advanced Training
Most citizens haven't had defense training such as weapon retention. When you wear your gun openly, a criminal may attempt to disarm you and take your firearm. It is also vital to maintain a high environmental awareness when open carrying, so you will not be caught off guard in a dangerous situation. Before carrying your gun visibly on your person, consider taking a few basic training classes so you can carry safely and responsibly.
When to Conceal Carry
Concealed carry generally works better than open in a few contexts. Here are some of the most common settings where it might be best to conceal your weapon.
1. When You're Around People
To avoid unnecessary run-ins with alarmed citizens and law enforcement officers, conceal your firearm. In many cases, this will help you blend into an environment and prevent an atmosphere of nervousness from forming around you. This also lessens the chance of your weapon being spotted and taken from you unawares.
2. When You're Unsure About Local Laws
Gun laws vary between states, and even between cities and counties. For example, Colorado permits open carry without a license except in the city and county of Denver, where it's illegal altogether. When you visit or move to a new place, consider concealed carrying until you're sure about the local laws.
3. When You Don't Have Advanced Training
The majority of gun owners haven't gone through advanced weapons and defense training. Carrying concealed helps to ensure that your weapon won't be grabbed and used against you, and gives you time to choose whether or not to engage in an emergency situation. In some dangerous settings, you might decide that engaging a threat might do more harm than good or put innocent people at risk. If you open carry, you might not have a choice — the criminal will see your weapon and single you out. If you carry concealed, it gives you time to formulate the best plan based on your training and situation.
State Regulations About Open Carrying
Regulations about weapons carrying vary between states. While all states permit concealed carry to some degree, not all permit open carry. Some require you to have a license, some don't, and a few prohibit visible guns completely. Here is a broad list of the open carry laws in each state, so you can make an informed and legal decision based on your location.
1. States That Don't Require a License to Open Carry
Although almost all states permit the open carrying of handguns, specific limitations vary between jurisdictions. A quick note — while some states allow you to visibly carry your weapon, none have unrestricted gun laws. According to federal law, you are prohibited from openly carrying a weapon into several settings such as federal prisons, federal buildings, and schools. Excluding federal lands, below is a list of the most permissive states concerning open carry laws.
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
In these states, you don't need a permit to openly carry your gun. However, some states have a few restrictions on their no-license policy. The following states allow free open carry outside of city limits but not inside them, earning them the title of rural open carry states:
- Alabama: To openly carry a gun on someone else's private property, Alabama requires you to either have a handgun permit or the landowner's express permission.
- Colorado: Although open carry is legal without a permit throughout most of the state, this law doesn't apply to Denver. Because Denver's handgun laws predate the state's regulations, they're given precedence — according to Denver city law, open carry is illegal in both the city and county limits.
- Iowa: In Iowa, open carry is permitted outside city limits, but not inside them.
- Missouri: Although in general Missouri permits open carry without a license, this state allows individual towns and cities to prohibit open carry without a license — so check your city's ordinances before visibly wearing your gun.
- Nebraska: Certain jurisdictions restrict open carry, so research the laws of your city.
- North Dakota: In North Dakota, you aren't permitted to open carry a loaded gun without a license.
- Oregon: Like Nebraska, a few Oregon jurisdictions have limits on open carrying.
- Pennsylvania: Depending on where you are, the laws of your city may restrict or even prohibit open carry.
- Utah: In Utah, you need a license to open carry a loaded handgun.
- Virginia: The laws of your city may limit or prohibit open carry.
To be safe, always research your city's regulations before open carrying your weapon.
2. States That Require a License to Open Carry
In these states, you must have a permit to legally open carry a firearm.
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
For all of these states, you need a license to open carry, although specific requirements for a permit vary depending on the state.
3. States That Prohibit Open Carry
A few states don't allow you to openly carry your weapon, regardless of whether or not you have a permit.
- District of Columbia
- New York
- South Carolina
While open carry is generally prohibited in these states, there are a few exceptions. For example, visibly carrying your weapon during outdoor activities such as hunting or fishing is often allowed, as is carrying a weapon in your home. However, check your state to be sure — each state has different exceptions.
Open Carry of Long Guns
While most gun owners possess a handgun, some prefer long guns — rifles or shotguns. Different regulations apply to the open carrying of these long guns, and, as with handguns, laws vary by state.
Most states allow an individual to openly carry a loaded long gun without a permit, but some states have restrictions:
- Iowa: The gun must be unloaded.
- Pennsylvania: In some cities, you are not permitted to openly carry a long gun.
- Tennessee: In Tennessee, your long gun can't be loaded.
- Utah: Like Iowa and Tennessee, in Utah, it is illegal to openly carry a loaded long gun.
- Virginia: Certain cities don't allow you to openly carry a long gun.
Six states, plus the District of Columbia, generally ban visibly carrying a long gun.
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
As with handguns, check with your individual state's laws before openly carrying your gun. This is especially important with long guns since visibly wearing a rifle or shotgun can cause more public concern and attention than a handgun.
Carrying in a National Park?
Laws concerning guns in national parks have changed drastically in the past decade. Beginning in the 1960s, weapons in National Parks were confined to vehicles or to select hunting settings. However, in 2009 the policy was revisited, and now state laws have primacy within National Parks even though they are federal land.
If a National Park covers two states, the policy gets a little tricky — carry laws can change between states. For example, Yosemite National Park possesses land in both Nevada and California. If you are in the California portion of the park, you have to abide by California state laws, and the same goes for Nevada policies. There is one exception to this rule — when you're entering a federal building on National Park land, open or concealed carry is not allowed unless you are a federal agent or park ranger.
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