Gun laws can be an incredibly delicate subject. Moreover, because they vary from place to place you have to be especially careful if you cross any border. Not just national or state borders, but also crossing into a new county or city in some places can change your legal status. Even the way you carry can change how the laws see you, especially with a shoulder holster. I was surprised to discover something as simple as getting cold and putting on a sweater can change whether or not some kinds of carrying are legal.
Is a shoulder holster considered open carry? The answer depends on whether your gun is visible. If your holster is under a jacket or other cover, it’s concealed. Conversely, if you’re walking around with a T-shirt and your holster over it with no attempt to cover the holster, then it’s open carry.
Why Carry Openly
As hard as it is to imagine now, there was a time when concealed carrying was virtually unheard of in polite company. Due to the size of handguns before WWII, you couldn’t hide one easily. Moreover, especially in the west, it was more common than not to see adults carrying guns on their hips. Even a longer gun slung across your back would have been reasonable. No one questioned your right to protect yourself. Historically, hiding guns was considered devious and potentially an indication of your criminal intent rather than practical.
Most people who open carry do so for very practical reasons. Why choose open carry? You may object to the fingerprints and background checks for permits. Indeed, these things are not required to use your other constitutional rights. You might wish to avoid paying the extra fees for a concealed permit. Perhaps you feel it’s an expression of your rights and a meaningful way to support them. Lastly, and most common, open carry is an exceptional deterrent for crime. Whatever your reason, carrying openly is certainly your right.
Where Can I Open Carry
Though counties and cities may have special restrictions, most states allow open carry. I can never quite say this enough, always check your local laws specifically before you take your gun out of the house. The following list is an overview of the open carry laws in the USA’s states and territories. This is not an end-all-be-all list; it’s just a general reference as of the time this article is published.
There are five main categories for open carry gun laws. The first is called Permissive. Generally, that means unrestricted within reason. Second, permissive with local restriction states are self-explanatory. The laws vary from county to county or city to city substantially. Third, licensed open carry states require you to have a license. Fourth are anomalous open carry states. Here they may allow you to open carry selectively. Lastly, the nonpermissive areas either forbid open carry or restrict it severely enough to be almost the same.
The Permissive Open Carry States & Territories
These states typically allow any citizen who is legally the owner of the gun in question to carry it unconcealed. Though the wording of the laws varies, you can have the gun on your person or openly visible in your vehicle. Some states consider partial coverage the same as complete concealment, while others do not.
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- *Northern Mariana Islands- Open carry is illegal. Interestingly, the law is considered unconstitutional and generally not enforced.
- *Oklahoma (Not in effect until November 1st, 2019)
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Permissive With Local Restriction States & Territories
- Colorado- You can open carry everywhere except Denver county and city. In Denver, you can’t open carry at all.
- Iowa- You can open carry outside cities without a permit. Inside any city, you need a permit.
- Missouri- It’s complicated. Some cities and counties restrict you from open carrying and require concealment, but don’t need a permit for concealed weapons. You can open carry without a permit elsewhere. If you have a concealed carry permit you may be exempt from open carry restrictions. In general check local laws everywhere you go.
- Nebraska- You may open carry without a permit anywhere but Omaha.
- Oregon- You can open carry without a permit except in places that restrict open carry of a loaded gun.
- Pennsylvania- You can carry in the open without a permit, except your car where you need a permit. Philidelphia requires a permit regardless.
Licensed Open Carry States & Territories
- *American Samoa- Only shotguns and rimfire rifles have been permitted since 1991.
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- *Oklahoma- You only need your permit until November of this year.
- Rhode Island
Non-Permissive States & Territories
- *American Samoa- See previous note.
- District of Columbia
- New York
- *The Northern Mariana Islands- See previous note.
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- The U.S. Virgin Islands
- * Maryland, Hawaii, and New Jersey all technically allow open carry by permit. Unfortunately, in practice, you can expect your permit request will get denied.
What Happens if You Violate Open Carry Laws
Almost all gun violations are felonies. Merely having a gun with you can upgrade a crime you are involved in to ‘violent’ status. The exact penalty for carrying your gun wrong will depend a great deal on where you’re standing. Unfortunately, you will have to look at every state’s current laws if you want to know the potential consequence. When charged with a gun crime call a lawyer immediately.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you are carrying legally and obtain a permit if you need one. Reciprocal carry laws will help you if you cross a boundary with a gun when you have a concealed or open carry permit. In short, your CCW may be respected by another state without the need to apply for a new permit just to travel. Having a permit often allows you to choose your mode of carrying.
How to Wear a Shoulder Holster
Shoulder holsters are one of those accessories you either love or hate. Plenty of gun users find the fitting process a bit too complicated or uncomfortable for their taste. In spite of the confusion, a shoulder or ‘armpit’ holster, is an excellent solution for carrying your firearm(s). Adjusting the fit isn’t as difficult as it may seem at first.
Steps To Adjust Your Rig Properly
- Empty your rig. It may seem a bit obvious, but you should never adjust the fit of a holster while it has a gun inside. Never overlook basic safety.
- Put your arms through one side at a time and slide the holster loosely into place.
- Make sure the straps cross high on your back, and nothing is twisted.
- Adjust the fit of the crosspad. Typically this is worn about six inches below the neck, but it’s vital that you find the spot that feels best for you so use that as a starting position.
- If your holster has shoulder pads, adjust them now. These should sit high and centered front to back, near the neck.
- Next, you should adjust the straps so that the whole rig fits tightly. It should sit flush against your body, but not rub or squeeze in ways that make you uncomfortable.
- Test the fit. Move around for more than a minute and lift your arms. Don’t forget to twist and bend. Maybe even do a few jumping jacks and arm circles. You might feel silly, but running through a series of movements will help you see if you need any additional adjustments.
- Now, load your gun into the holster.
- Finally, with the safety on, move around again to see if there are any changes to the fit after the holster is full. If you need to adjust, don’t forget to remove the gun first.
If At First, You Don’t Succeed
It may take some wear and a few minor changes before you get used to a shoulder rig. It’s well worth the trouble to make the adjustments. Unlike a belt holster, this is not ‘plug and play,’ but you may discover you like it far better. Keep in mind that different styles will have different fits. There’s no single ‘perfect,’ adjustment. Try on different shoulder holsters before you choose the one that you like for the best results.
Sometimes concealed, sometimes not, a shoulder holster is a complicated thing. The question of shoulder holsters isn’t unique. There are plenty of times when making a small change can affect the way the law defines something. The only sensible solution is to be a responsible and informed citizen. Naturally, that means you have to check your local laws and national updates regularly. Consequently, where your shoulder holster is concerned, make sure you do not cover it up unless you have a CCW.
Is a waistband considered open carry? Similar to a shoulder holster, your waistband or belt holster is deemed to be concealed if people can’t see the gun. Simply tucking your shirt in is enough to un-conceal your weapon. If you dress semi-formally or formally, or if it’s cold out and you’re wearing a jacket you may accidentally violate the concealment laws. It’s best to be careful and very aware of how visible your firearm is at all times.
How do I get a concealed carry permit? Policies vary by state or territory. In most places, if you are a citizen and a resident of that state, you have to be a legal adult to apply. Notably, there are some exceptions; for example, American Samoa doesn’t allow concealed carry. Some states will issue a permit to non-residents as well. Check your local regulations.
Is there a federal law for open carry? The Second Amendment allows citizens to carry guns. Unfortunately, there’s no specific federal mandate regarding open carry. As a result, each state, county or city has the right to decide for themselves. There are some federal gun laws, but none effect carrying, only things like sales.