These ratings will upset people. It will overturn popularly held conceptions of states traditionally considered ‘gun friendly.’ Imagine if a state got a mark down every time you had to leave your gun in the car, unload it, or simply leave it at home. That’s how this list works, after a fashion. States gained or lost points for their lack or presence of certain laws, how easy it is to get a permit, and how strictly or loosely open/concealed carry is regulated.
My ratings are weighted towards the states where one who holds a concealed carry permit can legally carry a firearm, in any manner, in the most places possible. The less restrictions, the better. Each state is rated in comparison to the other states, not off a universal standard. This list is subjective and your mileage may vary. Basically, the one general rule of thumb I used could be described as: How many places can I carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, and with the least confusion by business owners or police? I also wanted to tackle the popular conception that simply having a form of “Constitutional carry” automatically puts a state at the top of the list by showing all the ‘catches’ to where one can actually carry.
Freedom to Carry
This category looks at the states with the least restrictions of places people can carry, either openly or concealed.
Best over-all states: 1, Utah; 2, Idaho; 3, Nevada; 4, Arizona
Utah takes the list, despite requiring unlicensed open carry to be unloaded, because the protections for those with concealed firearm permits and lack of gun-free zones surpasses all other states. State preemption is so strong that open carry by permittees at schools and colleges is legal instead of requiring the guns to be concealed. Idaho is a close second and would be in first place if they had a stronger campus carry law.
Nevada takes third because the only restrictions are no campus carry and government buildings can post ‘no guns’ signs and prohibit concealed carry, but not open carry. Arizona, traditionally ranked highly for having ‘Constitutional’ permitless concealed carry, falls short because of the amount of restrictions, such as bars/restaurants and posted government buildings, where you cannot carry.
Least concealed carry restrictions: 1, Utah; 2, Idaho; 3, Nevada; 4, Colorado
Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming all restrict concealed carry in far too many places, while openly carried firearms are legal and haven’t caused any apparent problems. Ironically, while Colorado law is quite unfriendly to open carry, concealed carry is well protected, even within liberal Denver.
Washington has the easiest permit to get, while Utah's permit is recognized by the most states (a popular choice for non-resident permits). New Mexico has the hardest and most onerous process.
Best open carry states: 1, Idaho; 2, Wyoming, 3, Nevada; 4, Montana
Idaho and Wyoming basically don’t regulate open carry at all, and Idaho has cemented open carry as the constitutionally protected form of carry with the court case Re: Brickey. Nevada places ahead of Montana only because Montana has some concealed carry laws businesses or police confuse with prohibiting open carry in a few incidents I’ve researched. Utah would be the worst due to unloaded, open carry being required, but if you have a permit, it’s the best.
Best and Worst One Attribute
The How and Why
Arizona has been widely praised as a land friendly to the carry of a gun. In contrast to Texas, which only legalized open carry this year, or California, Arizona certainly is gun-friendly. Most of the praise has been for “constitutional carry” or permitless concealed carry. While open carry has always been legal in Arizona, and somewhat more common than in other states, permitless concealed carry was only approved in 2010. Having permitless concealed carry doesn’t elevate it above the rest of the states, which restrict firearms in fewer locations. Simply having permitless carry for anyone over 21 does not invalidate the other restrictions.
In particular, I add a lot of weight to being able to carry while drinking (or eating dinner, as the case may be) because at the times and places people usually do these things, they can become crime victims. It’s a legitimate use of government power to prohibit carrying a firearm while intoxicated, but experience from other states, such as Nevada and Utah, where bar/restaurant hasn’t caused widespread problems, doesn’t justify Arizona’s ban.
Arizona falls far short of top place because of all the caveats when/where you can carry. Not being able to freely carry at dinner or while drinking takes away the whole appeal of visiting Arizona and going out for a drink for me. Arizona is actually far more regulated than most people think, so sorry, it does not take top place.
On a subjective basis, Colorado is tied for last place with New Mexico, however statistically, I have graded Colorado higher because it has an easier concealed carry permit process and affords concealed carry a lot of legal protection.
Colorado is the California of the Intermountain West, which would probably not surprise or offend long-time Coloradan’s who have watched the Californication of their state. First, Colorado’s judiciary seems wholly sold out to gun control, finding in laughably ill-logical opinions that Denver’s gun control regime—which long banned open carry, standard capacity magazines (20+ rounds), and the mythical assault weapons—was constitutional. In our country where the rule of law being respected by judges is now a spotty thing, it’s no real surprise.
Colorado’s cons are:
Idaho is pretty close to ideal. Open carry is recognized by the state to be pretty much beyond regulation (save for schools, jails/prisons), and state preemption is well-established. Idaho loses half-a-point for concealed carry only on campus.
The dual-level concealed carry permits (Standard and Enhanced) causes Idaho to lose points because it creates confusion and leads and other states do not recognize the Standard permit. Idaho needs to expand campus carry to cover open carry like Utah.
“Constitutional carry” permitless concealed carry being restricted to only Idahoans is a huge caveat and hardly worthy of the term “Constitutional.” It’s merely a benefit to state residents. It’s dubiously constitutional to grant it to residents and deny it to non-residents. However, it is an important step forward and concealed carry has always been legal outside of incorporated cities and towns.
Montana, being mostly wild, doesn’t require a permit for concealed carry outside of cities, towns, and certain camps. It’s also fairly unregulated, however, concealed carry is more regulated than open carry and has can lead to confusion. The prohibition of concealed carry in banks or establishments that serve alcohol have lead a few open carriers to experience problems with management or law enforcement who do not understand the difference.
A real problem is with giving the power to local governments to ban firearms on local government buildings, facilities, and parks. A lot of municipalities do it because they state says they can. Helena has gone so far as to technically ban open carry, even though state law preempts them.
New Mexico ties Colorado for last place. Statistically, I rated it less than Colorado, but subjectively the gun laws are more classically liberal. The concealed carry permit process sucks with two-year permits and an annual refresher course. There is also a bevy of administrative restrictions applicable to permittees that includes signs having the force of law for permittees only.
New Mexico only allows carry in restaurants that derive more than 60% of its sales from food and serves only wine and beer. That’s only if they lack a ‘no-guns’ sign. If you go to a store that sells alcohol, you must have a permit and carry concealed, unless they have a ‘no-guns’ sign, which many do. Since you can’t open carry in any place that sells alcohol, even for off-site consumption, that means that even Wal-Mart is off-limits.
Nevada is pretty liberal (in the classic sense) when it comes to gun laws. It’s perfectly legal to carry in a casino and go for a drink as long as you’re not drunk. State preemption is probably the strongest of any western state. However, it’s technically illegal to carry concealed in your home/business or even carry an unloaded gun in a case without a permit. School/campus carry got shot down by RINOs in 2015.
Utah is near perfect, with strong preemption, legal open or concealed carry by anyone with a permit on school, college/university grounds, and you can even carry in bars while drinking. The ban on carrying on church property, done at the request of the LDS church, is no surprise and just goes with the territory. However, the Mormon history of persecution and patriotism has led to a profound respect for the Second Amendment. For a person who holds a permit, there is no better place in the union to carry.
Washington’s greatest attribute is as a strong preemption state, which Seattle has found out the hard way. It is also very generous in issuing concealed firearm permits, although the general lack of training hinders resident’s permits being recognized by other states. For negatives, Washington does have some quirky gun laws and suffers from the universal background check disease which banned private gun sales.
Wyoming deserves respect for its lack of gun laws. If it’s legal, there doesn’t need to be a law to say so. Open carry is legal everywhere but schools, correctional institutions, courtrooms, and the state capitol. It also has permitless concealed carry, but for residents only, so this both helps and hurts it. Unfortunately, concealed carry is strictly regulated to an absurd degree, and the amount of restrictions can lead to confusion about open carry in those places.
Please don't burn my house down. All in all, we have it pretty good here in the west.