With more states enacting legislation allowing permitless concealed carry and open carry of firearms, there are a lot of questions regarding open carry versus concealed carry and which is right for you. It’s a controversial topic, and the ultimate decision will be up to each individual, and multiple factors, personal preferences, and local laws will inform that choice.
Let's review some key points, along with the pros and cons of concealed and open carry, and help you make the right choice.
What is open carry?
Open carry is the term for carrying a firearm (typically a handgun, but the law and the term apply to rifles and shotguns as well) in plain sight in public. Generally, the term used today refers to carrying firearms openly within city limits or in other places where firearms may not be expected to be openly displayed.
Today approximately 30 states allow open carry without a permit, and a further nine or ten allow open carry with a permit (or it’s not specifically addressed in the law). Five states technically permit open carry but allow local governments to enact more restrictive regulations that prohibit it, and five states specifically prohibit it.
What is concealed carry?
Concealed carry, often abbreviated to CCW (concealed carry of a weapon), refers to carrying a firearm (almost always a handgun) concealed on your person beneath your clothing or in a backpack or purse. For many years, most states required a special permit for their citizens to carry concealed firearm.
Still, today there are 26 states that, per their constitutions, specifically allow permitless carry of a concealed firearm and several more that shall issue or may issue CCW permits to lawful, non-prohibited persons.
List of Permitless Carry States
Arguments for open carry (pros)
You may be thinking that carrying a handgun in plain sight on your hip while shopping at Walmart is crazy, or you might be thinking it’s a good idea and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Regardless of your feelings about practicing open carry, here are some philosophical, theoretical, and practical advantages of openly carrying a firearm where permitted.
Quicker and more ready access to your firearm
An exposed firearm is obviously easier for you to get your hands on than one that’s stuffed down inside your belt and covered up by a shirt or jacket. Competition shooters wear their holsters on the outsides of their belts, close to their dominant hand, because it allows the fastest draw and the quickest first shot on target.
It reminds the general public that firearms are part of American culture and history
Some people choose to open carry specifically to help more people remember that America is a country built on gun ownership and the armed protection of our freedoms, and firearms are part of our culture. For some people, open carry is a way to keep their gun rights visible and inoculate people toward becoming more comfortable around firearms' safe and legal use.
Some people enjoy talking about guns and gun rights, and open-carrying a gun often gets that conversation started. People may ask you why you need to carry a gun, or they may ask you what kind of gun you have, or they might be confrontational. If this is something you enjoy, this can be one reason for open carrying.
Potentially sends a message of deterrence to criminals
It can be argued that most criminals will think twice if they notice someone in the area open carrying a firearm. Even if only one person in a group is carrying openly, it may make a bad guy wonder how many other people in the area may be carrying concealed firearms. Some people open carry because they feel it sends a message of deterrence to criminals, similar to how an armed guard posted at the entry of a school or government building engenders feelings of security and encourages lawful entry and behavior.
It’s more comfortable
For some people, open carrying is purely an issue of comfort. Carrying a handgun on your hip or thigh rig is generally easier, more comfortable, and more convenient than IWB (inside the waistband) or appendix carry concealed. You don’t have to worry about a cover garment or buy special clothes of a larger size to allow for an IWB or appendix holster. When you need to remove your carry rig for whatever reason, it’s generally easier if you’re carrying openly in an OWB (outside the waistband/belt) holster.
You can carry a larger gun
If you don’t have to worry about how your gun/holster fits inside your pants, pocket, or purse, you can carry a larger and potentially more powerful firearm. Some people even openly carry rifles, carbines, or shotguns on slings, though this is somewhat more rare.
Arguments against open carry (cons)
There are several good arguments against open carry of a firearm. Here are just a few.
Attracts negative attention and causes social discomfort
Ask yourself honestly how you feel when you see someone with a gun on their hip in the grocery store or walking down a crowded street: Do you wonder why that person is carrying a gun in the open? How about someone walking around the mall with an AR-15 rifle dangling from a single-point sling? Even so-called gun people often don’t expect or advocate for people to openly carry handguns, much less rifles, around town.
Today, most people, even in gun-friendly states, aren’t used to seeing others walking around with exposed guns and are typically very uncomfortable when they see someone openly carrying. This discomfort can range from simple curiosity to a confused stare to genuine panic. If you open carry in a town where it’s not common, you can expect to have the cops called on you fairly frequently, so be sure you’re aware of the laws and keep your cool.
Furthermore, police officers who receive a 10-32 Person With a Gun call from dispatch may arrive on the scene full of adrenaline and expect an active shooter situation, so take that under advisement as well. Good cops know the law and how to defuse potentially volatile public situations created by someone openly carrying. Still, it may not be worth your trouble and the extra attention it attracts.
Video: Off-duty cop pulls gun on man buying candy at California convenience store
It’s tactically unsound and can make you a target
If you consider yourself a sheepdog protecting the herd from predators, carrying your gun openly is objectively not wise. It limits your options for behavior and attracts a lot of unwanted attention. You can’t simply be a nobody in the crowd if you’re openly carrying a gun… you’ll definitely be noticed, and it might make you a priority target.
If a bad guy notices you open carrying, he may not reconsider his plans to rob the store or shoot people inside, but rather, he may just decide to eliminate you first. Furthermore, political extremists or loud-mouthed do-gooders who feel like it’s their job to socially shame or attack anyone with a differing political view may make you a target, accuse you of doing things you haven’t done, call the police on you, or even try to take your gun away (this has happened), creating a volatile and dangerous situation.
Makes it easier for someone to take your gun
Additionally, carrying your handgun in an external holster makes it much easier for someone to steal or otherwise gain access. Many guns have been stolen from people who are open-carrying their handguns in a pocket, waistband, or simple OWB holster. Some low-level criminals are creatures of opportunity, and seeing your Glock hanging out of your pocket might incite them to want to steal it.
Video: Why I Don't Open Carry (Criminal Steals Gun From Open Carry Holster)
Police officers are trained in retention techniques for keeping their own handguns out of the hands of criminals. They are usually issued level 2 or level 3 retention holsters, and yet this still happens several times every year.
Open carry can limit your social circles and conversations
If you open carry a firearm, it has the potential to become your defining characteristic. Socially, you may be limiting yourself. Some people simply will not be able to move beyond the fact that you carry a gun openly. They perpetually bother you about it, ask you to justify it, or distance themselves from you socially and emotionally. This may be desirable for you, depending on your personality and preferences. But it may not be worth the tradeoffs for you.
Arguments for concealed carry (pros)
Now let’s go over some reasons you may want to carry concealed rather than open carry.
CCW is tactically superior
Regarding survivability, intelligent tactical awareness, and lethal-force training, carrying concealed is objectively the better way to go. You won’t be singled out as a target by opportunistic thieves or bad guys in a robbery or mass-shooting situation (any more than anyone else will). You may be able to gain an advantage against the bad guys by keeping your firearm under wraps and de-escalating the situation until your firearm is absolutely needed. A concealed firearm is much less likely to be stolen or grabbed by a criminal of opportunity.
Concealed carry doesn’t attract unwanted attention from law enforcement or bystanders
When you carry concealed, you’re just another regular person doing regular things, and nobody will be alarmed by the sight of your gun or call the police on you. If you do it right, concealed carry is completely unnoticeable and has no impact on how anyone treats you. (When you’re armed, you should work to avoid volatile situations or escalating arguments, but that’s another issue.)
It may be legal in more places
Concealed carry is generally allowed in more locations than open carry, so if always being armed is your priority, CCW is objectively the better way to go.
Concealed carry is private
When you carry concealed, you get to choose who knows about your practice of carrying a firearm for defense. If you don’t want your co-workers, friends, or even your family to know about it, you don’t have to make it their business. You won’t have to defend your choices socially or discuss gun issues or related political topics unless you choose to.
Video: 12 Concealed Carry Tips You Need To Know
Arguments against concealed carry (cons)
Let’s go over some disadvantages of concealed carry, specifically compared to open carry.
It’s slower to access your gun
As noted above, if pure speed is considered, open-carrying a handgun makes for a faster draw/presentation than concealed carry. Pocket, ankle, small-of-back, or purse carry makes this even more apparent. However, this small advantage may be negated by the fact that CCW carry doesn’t attract the kind of attention that open carry does. Furthermore, a well-practiced concealed-carry advocate can often draw and fire an accurate shot from concealment in under a second.
Video: Concealed Carry The Proper Draw
It’s annoying and uncomfortable
A quality CCW holster and belt setup can go a long way toward mitigating discomfort. Still, there’s no way of getting around the fact that lugging around a couple of pounds of steel on your hip, particularly if it’s stuffed inside your waistband, will require some getting used to. You’ll probably need to purchase your pants a size or two larger than typical to allow for the gun and holster. Having a leather or Kydex holster next to your skin all day can make you feel sweaty or rub your skin raw. And you absolutely must always remember to keep your CCW gun out of the reach of kids and anyone else. When you get complacent, bad things can happen.
You might forget it’s there
This happens more than you think. People try to walk into courtrooms, schools, airports, or other secure locations and forget they have their CCW guns on them. This can have potentially expensive and embarrassing results and even criminal charges. This is less likely to happen if you are open-carrying a large handgun in an exposed holster on your hip because you’ll be more aware of it. Others will certainly be more aware of it, and may bring it to your notice before it goes too far and you’re at a secure entry point.
Tips for successful open carry
If you decide to open carry, there are things you can do to make it a more successful and pleasant activity. Here are some tips.
Keep your cool and learn the law
Really evaluate yourself and decide whether you have the right attitude and temperament for open carry. If you’re the kind of person who likes to get into arguments and rises to challenges and taunts, you’re likely the wrong person to open carry, or really, to have a gun. If you open carry, you will likely be confronted by strangers, store security guards, police officers, and others. Be polite, be nice, and don’t rise to taunts or confrontational behaviors.
If you open carry to encourage awareness of the Second Amendment or legal firearms ownership, understand that not everyone agrees with your opinions (or even facts). Don’t take it personally; try to be a calm and collected representative of the good guys. Of course, you must be well-versed in the law and any local ordinances or regulations regarding open carry.
Use a quality holster with at least level one retention
Letting your Wilson Combat 1911 flop around in a loose, ill-fitting universal nylon holster is asking for trouble. It’s best to carry your handgun in a retention holster designed specifically to help prevent others from being able to draw your gun from its secure location. Safariland makes some good holsters, and this brand is popular with law enforcement. Obviously, you’ll have to train and practice regularly so you can actually draw your firearm when needed.
Rural areas are usually more tolerant of open carry
If you live in the sticks, people may not think twice about seeing a six-shooter on your hip when you swing into town for a bag of horse feed. But walking into a mall in a larger town with the same gun on your hip might get the cops called on you. Be smart about it.
Your choice of an open-carry firearm can make a big difference
As mentioned above, walking into a mall or pretty much any public location with a slung AR-15 rifle these days is definitely going to cause concern, even if you live in a very gun-friendly state. However, a western holster with a cowboy gun on a person's hip wearing jeans, cowboy boots, and a Stetson may not even raise bystanders’ eyebrows, particularly in locations where people are more rural or outdoor-minded.
Keep your guns secure in a Liberty Safe
Whether you decide to open carry or keep it concealed, be sure to store all your firearms and ammunition securely when not in your direct control. One of the best ways to keep your firearms safe from theft, fire, unauthorized access, and environmental damage is a quality, US-made gun safe from Liberty. Look at our online catalog or click our dealer locator to find a Liberty showroom near you.