Open Carry vs Concealed Carry: What’s the Difference?

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Carrying a gun with you is one of the most effective ways to defend yourself.

It’s also one of the highest-responsibility self-defense methods, so you need to know everything about how and (arguably more importantly) when to use your pistol, often from a concealed carry class.

But concealed carry is not the only way to carry a gun.

Open carry is an alternative to concealed carry, though it’s not without its criticisms…

…and legal issues.

What is open carry?

And should you carry your gun openly?

What Does Open Carry Mean?

“Open carry” has a simple definition:Open carry hunting pistol VTAC Big Rig Chest Holster

It’s when you wear a firearm on your person in a way that makes it easily visible to other people.

Most commonly you’ll see this with a handgun in a holster.

Slung rifles and shotguns are sometimes carried openly as well.

Open carry refers to when you’re wearing the gun so it’s easily accessible but you’re not actively handling the firearm.

Holding the gun in your hands, particularly in a shooting stance, goes past “carry” into “brandishing” or even beyond.

Open carry also generally refers to firearms that are loaded. “Loaded” doesn’t just mean having a round in the chamber; it can mean having ammo on your person, depending on the state!

All states have laws limiting your open carry capabilities.

How visible does the gun have to be considered openly carried?

This depends on your state.

Some states define open carry to be when your firearm is fully visible while other states consider open carry to be when your firearm is partially visible.

Related: Centerfire vs Rimfire Cartridges: Which Bullet is Right for You?

Advantages of Open Carry

Openly carrying your firearm makes it rather easy to access.

You don’t have to dig through clothes to get to a concealed carry holster to draw your gun, cutting out precious moments.

What is open carry rifle sling hunting pistol exposed

This makes open carry an attractive method for people who might need to access their gun in a short period of time.

Most of the time, this means hunters, police, and armed guards.

You’ll have an awful time hunting rabbits if you have to dig through your jacket and under your shirt to get your hunting pistol out!

Some people also believe in open carry as a form of deterrence.

The idea is that you’ll show potential attackers that you’re equipped and ready to defend yourself and others if need be.

Open carry can also be a political statement.

Finally, open carry can normalize firearms in society if you’re not an idiot about it.

If you’re friendly, respectful, and are a good person who happens to carry a gun, people may associate your positivity with that gun, increasing goodwill toward firearms.

Seriously, don’t be a confrontational jerk if you’re going to carry openly.

Disadvantages of Open Carry

The biggest disadvantage of openly carrying a gun is that it marks you as a target.

Open carry advantages disadvantages makes you a target easy to see
Photo by Lars Plougmann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You have a gun on your hip or back which everyone around you can see.

Without good retention, somebody can grab that gun before you know it’s gone.

And if they have their own then you better have great observational skills and some excellent reflexes to avoid them shooting you first!

Also, open carry exposes your firearm to more of the environment (such as rain) and makes it more likely for your gun to catch on a door handle or other obstacle.

But drawing attention to yourself is the #1 reason why most people don’t like open carry.

What Does Concealed Carry Mean?

Concealed carry is the opposite of open carry.

When you’re carrying a weapon in a concealed manner, other people should remain unaware of your firearm.

Concealed carry can take multiple forms.

Why concealed carry when you can open carry pistol hide gun stay invisible

There’s the classic shoulder holster or ankle holster you’ll see in classic detective shows.

Belt holsters, positioned from the appendix to small-of-back, are more common nowadays.

There are also less usual forms of concealed carry such as a thigh holster or shirt with a pocket to conceal a pistol.

Some people also engage in off-body concealed carry with a backpack, purse, or another bag.

Oddly enough, I’ve noticed that concealed carry purses tend to have more security features than do concealed carry backpacks!

Advantages of Concealed Carry

Concealed carry conceals your gun.

This sounds obvious, but it is the biggest advantage!

Hiding your gun helps you to blend into the crowd, which lowers your chances of becoming a target and maintains your element of surprise.

It also keeps you from making people unfamiliar with guns nervous.

Some people who are unfamiliar with local laws and gun culture may call the cops on you if you’re openly carrying your gun.

The police (where I’ve lived) have to respond to a call about an armed person. You likely won’t get in trouble but it still takes time out of your day.

Disadvantages of Concealed Carry

The primary disadvantage of concealed carry is that it slows down your draw speed.

You’ll have to move clothes to get at a belt holster or reach into the hidden compartment in your bag to draw from an off-body holster.

Practice can minimize this penalty.Concealed carry belt holster advantages disadvantages slower draw

If you practice drawing and firing (at home, with snap caps and no ammunition around) then you’ll be able to get your on-target time down to a point where you’ll be faster than some people can draw from an open carry holster!

Another disadvantage is that concealing your gun brings it closer to your body, making it more likely that you’ll sweat on your gun.

Also, you may forget you’re wearing your pistol!

I’ve seen a man visiting a festival take off his shirt to enjoy the sun, forgetting that he chose to pack that day and showing off his Glock to the world!

This was in a place where open carry wasn’t allowed, too.

The situation was resolved peacefully.

But it’s best to avoid that situation entirely.

Product Recommendations

I’ve used several snap cap brands but I prefer Tiptons. A-Zooms deform more easily but are available in more cartridges[1], so I still use them for .357 Sig and 7.62 Tokarev.

States That Allow Open Carry

As mentioned before, every state regulates open carry in some way.

Some states allow anybody to carry openly, anywhere (except for places such as federal buildings).

Other states only allow concealed carry in rural areas.

Some states require a license open carry, often the same license as to carry concealed.

Open Carry US State Map Handgun Pistol Rifle Shotgun Unconcealed
Dark Green – Open Carry
Light Green – Limited Open Carry
Yellow – Open Carry w/ License
Red – No Open Carry
Orange – California
Image from Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Open Carry Without Permit

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona (Excepting some tribal land)
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico (Excepting some tribal land)
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Limited Open Carry Without Permit

  • Colorado (Open carry everywhere except for Denver[2])
  • Iowa (Permits required for openly carrying within city limits)
  • Missouri (Some cities and counties require a permit)
  • Nebraska (Openly carrying a loaded handgun in Omaha requires a permit)
  • Oregon (Some cities and counties require a permit)
  • Pennsylvania (Open carry in Philadelphia requires a permit)
  • Virginia (You cannot openly carry a so-called “Assault Weapon”, such as a pistol with a threaded barrel, without a concealed carry license[3])

Permit Required for Open Carry

  • Connecticut*
  • Florida (Except when hunting)
  • Georgia*
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana*
  • Maryland*
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota*
  • Rhode Island*
  • Tennessee (Openly carrying a long gun is prohibited, too)
  • Texas*
  • Utah*

* These states don’t require a permit for openly carrying a long gun

No Open Carry

  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois (Except for unincorporated rural areas. Unless the Attorney General is watching!)
  • New York (Unloaded long guns can be openly carried except in New York City)
  • South Carolina (Only applies to handguns; long guns can be openly carried)


  • California

What’d you expect? California has a bunch of weird laws.

Some California counties allow open carry, others require a permit, and most forbid open carry.

This list was accurate at the time of writing but state laws are ever-changing.

In other words, you need to know your local laws!

Also, some of the above states have different requirements for open carry within a vehicle, often more restrictive.


Open carry is a method of carrying a handgun or long gun which lets you use your weapon quickly.

However, it also lets everyone around you know that you’re carrying a gun!

I would advise you to conceal your gun rather than show it off…

…unless that’s your reason for carrying in the first place.

And, as always:

Double check your local firearm laws before putting on that holster!


  1. Personal experience collaborated by
  3. – Threaded barrels qualify pistols as “Assault Weapons” because they allow you to attach a suppressor to the pistol!

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