Open Carry: What it is and Why You Might (or Might Not) Want to Do it

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Last Updated on May 13, 2021.
Open Carry What it is and Why You Might (or Might Not) Want to Do it

Millions of Americans carry firearms for self-defense. Some choose to conceal a handgun. Others prefer to carry openly.

If you’re contemplating carrying a firearm, you may have asked, “What is open carry?” It’s worth looking into this method of carrying and seeing how it compares with concealed carry.


What is Open Carry?

There are numerous ways to carry a handgun. Concealed carry is arguably the most common and allows you to carry a handgun discreetly under clothing or in a hidden off-body location. 

However, many Americans choose to carry their firearms openly. What is open carry? Open carry means precisely that—carrying your sidearm in an uncovered manner so that it’s plainly visible. 

Depending on the jurisdiction, you may need to carry the weapon in full view—i.e., in plain sight—or it may be partially visible. You should always check your local laws to determine how your city or state defines concealed or open carry. There are reasons that gun owners choose this method.


Pros and Cons of Open Carry

There are multiple ways to carry a handgun or other weapon. When carrying a handgun openly, an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster is the standard method. This type of holster attaches to the outside of your belt, typically using loops. 

Reasons to Consider Open Carry

There are several reasons that gun owners carry handguns openly. These include:

1. Comfort and flexibility

Carrying a concealed handgun can be uncomfortable for some and can limit your wardrobe choices, requiring that you find clothing to adapt to your holster and weapon. You have to ensure that your weapon does not print through your choice of attire, and in the summer months, having to wear additional layers to conceal a pistol can be exhausting. Open carry, on the other hand, offers both comfort and increased flexibility.

2. Deterrence

One of the reasons that gun owners cite for carrying openly is deterrence. If you’re carrying a concealed handgun, no would-be mugger will know. That means he may consider you fair game for robbery or assault. However, if he sees that you’re carrying a firearm, the reasoning is, he is more likely to give you a wide berth, choosing, instead, a victim who is less capable of offering resistance. 

3. Ready Access

When you carry a concealed handgun, you must often sweep away a cover garment, such as a jacket or coat, or lift a T-shirt to draw your weapon. In open carry, your weapon is available at a moment’s notice, laying conveniently by your side. You don’t need to navigate clothing or other obstacles — you can draw as rapidly as you need to, allowing you to respond to the threat immediately. You have the additional option of a dedicated quick-draw holster.  

Open carry isn’t limited to handguns. If you want to carry a rifle or shotgun for self-defense, especially in those more rural environments where defense against dangerous fauna is a necessity, carrying a long gun slung over your shoulder or at low ready is an effective solution.  

4. Carrying a larger gun

Without the restriction of concealment, you can carry a larger handgun, such as a long-barreled revolver or full-size service pistol. These weapons can provide you with increased control, power, and ammunition capacity. 

5. Legal availability

In many states, carrying a handgun or rifle openly — in plain sight — is legal without a license. As always, you should check your local laws. Depending on the state, there may be restrictions regarding where and what you can carry openly. 

Reasons to Avoid Open Carry

There are, however, several reasons to avoid carrying a firearm openly—these range from the tactical to the socially minded. 

1. It can render you a target

While some regard the open carrying of firearms as a potential deterrent, others see it as an unnecessary hazard. Some criminal assailants will perceive your firearm as a lucrative target for resale or another tool of the trade. 

The criminal retains the element of surprise to an extent by virtue of his profession. He has the luxury of choosing when and where to strike, in what numbers, and with what weapons. As a result, he can plan accordingly when he sees evidence that you are armed. 

Regarding deterrence and the element of surprise, there’s another risk involved in open carry that pertains to potential defensive scenarios. If you’re carrying a firearm openly in a business during the commission of an armed robbery, you will be seen as an immediate threat that must be incapacitated. 

This limits your options regarding whether to resist, comply, or wait. If you were carrying a concealed weapon, you would simply be seen as another prospective hostage or bystander.

2. Security 

A related concern is security. Law-enforcement officers often carry sidearms in active-retention holsters because there is an increased risk of an assailant attempting to disarm the officer and use their gun against them. 

Consequently, if you choose to carry a handgun openly, you should consider wearing a holster design that uses a thumb break or thumb-activated locking mechanism. This system will retain the firearm until you consciously override it to unlock your weapon. The alternative — i.e., a passive-retention holster that relies on friction — doesn’t provide sufficient security against an attempt to disarm you. 

3. Alarm

You have to remember that not every one of your fellow citizens is sympathetic to the right to keep and bear arms. If you’re carrying openly in an urban or suburban environment where firearms are relatively uncommon or not considered socially acceptable, a passerby seeing a man or woman carrying a handgun can cause alarm

If a person who is hostile to, or ignorant of, private gun ownership or the law regarding carrying firearms reports you to the authorities as “a man/woman with a gun,” you will likely be stopped and questioned by law enforcement or private security personnel.


​Concealed or Open Carry

What is open carry?” Depending on whom you ask, it can be a misuse or an effective way to exercise your rights. Under many circumstances, concealed carry is safer and more secure than open carry in urban and suburban environments.

However, there are conditions under which you may prefer to carry openly. These include when hunting, trekking, camping, farming, and ranching. Your increased access to firearms under these circumstances can be a lifesaver. 

If you live in an area where open carry is commonplace and seen as the norm, the risks associated with this practice may be reduced. Based on where you live and the company you keep, you’ll have to decide how viable it is for you to choose this carry method. 


Last Word

Open carry isn’t for everyone and all circumstances. By examining the pros and cons of this type of firearm carry, you can choose what the best solution is for you.