Survey of State Open and Concealed Carry Laws

Open carry laws restrict a person's ability to visibly wear or carry a gun in public. Both open and concealed carry laws vary considerably from state to state. Some state open carry laws differentiate between handguns and long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. Seven states, including California and New York, forbid the open carry of handguns. Thirteen states, including Connecticut and Utah, require either a state-issued permit or license to openly carry a handgun. Nine states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, regulate a person's ability to openly carry a handgun, but do not go so far as to require a license or permit. The remaining 22 states do not restrict a person's right to openly carry a handgun.

Six states including California and Florida prohibit openly carrying a long gun. Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia restrict openly carrying a long gun, but do not completely prohibit such actions. For example, while open carry of a long gun is permitted in Pennsylvania, it is prohibited [PDF] within Philadelphia city limits. The remaining states do not restrict the open carry of long guns, however, Iowa, Tennessee and Utah require the firearm to be unloaded when carried in public.

State laws for issuing concealed carry permits or licenses are separated into three broad categories: shall-issue, may-issue and unrestricted states. Within those categories, individual state laws exist on a spectrum from more to less restrictive. Some states require a showing of good cause for an applicant to be approved for a concealed carry permit or license. For example, New York defines good cause as "a special need for self-protection." Other states require an applicant to be of good character to be approved for a concealed carry permit. Good character, in Nevada, is defined [PDF] as someone who has not been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, has not renounced US citizenship, and is not subject to a restraining order. Some states allow the licensing authority to deny a concealed carry permit if the applicant is deemed dangerous. For example, in Alabama, authorities may deny a permit if there is a documented reason to believe that the person is dangerous.

Shall-issue states require a person to obtain a permit or license to carry a concealed firearm; should the applicant meet all the parameters of licensure, the state is required to issue the applicant a concealed carry license or permit. Thirty-seven states use "shall-issue" concealed carry laws.

May-issue states require a person to obtain a permit or license to carry a concealed firearm. The licensing authority, however, has the discretion to deny a license or permit even if the applicant meets all of the parameters for licensure. Nine states are considered may-issue states, including California and Connecticut.

Unrestricted states do not require a person to obtain any permit or license in order to carry a concealed weapon. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming are all unrestricted concealed carry states.

Many states offer concealed carry permit reciprocity. Such reciprocity is authorized under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution. State reciprocity varies in permissibility. For example, Massachusetts (a may-issue state) does not honor any other states' concealed carry permit. Pennsylvania honors state concealed carry permits from 14 other states. On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona honors the concealed carry permit of every other state.

In addition to state laws that govern concealed carry permit applicants, some states restrict the locations where persons with concealed carry permits are allowed to take their weapons. Many states prohibit concealed weapons on government property, such as schools, prisons or courthouses. Thirteen states prohibit gun owners from carrying concealed weapons into places of worship. Sixteen states prohibit concealed weapons from any establishment which serves alcohol. Ten states prohibit concealed weapons from polling places. Six states prohibit concealed weapons from public sporting events, five states from hospitals, six states from facilities where gambling is permitted and four states from mental health facilities.

Most states that permit the concealed carry of firearms have "opt-out" statutes. These statutes allow a business owner to enforce his own policy regarding guns on premises. Business owners can post signs, issue oral warnings to persons carrying a concealed firearm or even eject them from the premises. Such opt-out laws allow a business owner to create a gun-free zone.

In the past few years, several states have suggested or enacted new concealed carry laws. In March 2013 Utah Governor Gary Herbert vetoed a law which would have allowed persons to carry an unloaded concealed firearm without a permit. In September 2013 the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a state law which allows gun owners to carry a holstered weapon without a permit, so long as the weapon is partially visible. Indiana passed a law in March 2014 permitting adults to carry concealed weapons onto school property, so long as the weapon remained locked in a vehicle. Most recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the "Safe Carry Protection Act," which permits licensed gun owners to carry weapons into formerly-forbidden public places, such as schools and bars.


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