The former president of the National Rifle Association is defending bills in the Florida Legislature proposing the open carry of handguns, saying the vast majority of states already allow the practice.
Marion Hammer, currently executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, responded to criticism of SB 300 and its companion in the House, HB 163. In a column posted on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website on Nov. 1, 2015, Hammer pointed out how many states allow open carry.
"Forty-five (45) states allow open carry of firearms," she wrote. "Varying restrictions on open carry in some states does not alter the fact that 45 states allow open carry."
Hammer was refuting Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Committee chairman. Gualtieri, whose group opposes the bills, previously told the Palm Beach Post it’s not really accurate to say those 45 states allow open carry because there are various rules and restrictions on the practice.
PolitiFact Florida decided to get to the bottom of just how many states do let you carry guns openly in public.
Laws across states
The bills filed in the state Legislature would allow anyone with a valid concealed weapons permit to also carry their handgun openly, a practice currently prohibited by law.
Obtaining a license for concealed carry already includes requirements for registration, fingerprinting and firearm training. Florida has about 1.4 million concealed weapon permit holders. Both bills are pending approval by committees before the 2016 legislative session.
Hammer told PolitiFact Florida that her figure came from the NRA’s own research of state laws. According to that analysis, there are four other states that prohibit handgun open carry in public places like Florida — California, Illinois, New York and South Carolina. The District of Columbia does not allow it, either.
Hammer is equating the lack of an outright ban in other states with the other 45 states allowing the practice, but it isn’t quite that cut and dried. There are different rules and restrictions in different places, and some so-called open carry states can be very specific about what’s required.
The Florida bills address the open carry of handguns, so that's the context of Hammer's column. There are other states that allow the open carry of handguns while restricting long guns, such as rifles and shotguns.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence agrees with the NRA on the same five states that prohibit open carry. But the center points out that Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey prohibit the open carry of long guns, just as Florida, California, Illinois and D.C. do. But New York and South Carolina allow open carry for long guns, while preventing it for handguns.
So Hammer’s statement that 45 states allow the open carry of firearms, period, is imprecise.
Further, 15 states require a permit or license to open carry, while eight more have other restrictions on how, when or where you are allowed to do so. Some municipalities restrict open carry in ways their state doesn’t. In Pennsylvania, open carry is generally allowed without a license, but Philadelphia does require a license.
There are even more caveats about specific states and where they land on the open carry spectrum. For example, gun rights group OpenCarry.org doesn’t include Texas on its list of open carry states, because its recently passed law doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016. Like Florida’s proposed change, the state’s concealed carry license will become an open carry license for handguns as well.
There are also states that could be categorized differently depending on how you interpret the local laws.
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action noted Arkansas is hard to categorize. The state decriminalized the open or concealed carry of a loaded handgun in 2013, but the state’s ban was not repealed. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a nonbinding opinion that the law was intended to protect people traveling through or across the state, even though open carry was still technically against the law. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes you generally can’t carry openly or concealed in Arkansas with the gun "readily available for use with a purpose to employ (it) as a weapon against a person."
All the groups we consulted agreed California is not an open-carry state because it banned open carry of loaded handguns starting in 2012, but there’s still more to the story. If you live in a California county with less than 200,000 people, you can ask the local sheriff or police chief to give you an open-carry license at his or her discretion. Of course, the license is only good for that county, but there’s wiggle room in saying California prohibits open carry.
Hammer said, "Forty-five states allow open carry of firearms."
Groups both for and against stricter gun laws told us there are five states that have laws banning open carry for handguns: California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina.
It’s worth remembering, however, that the laws in some open-carry states are not as permissive as Hammer makes it seem. Several states have restrictions on the open carry of certain types of firearms, and in some places the rules are stricter than others.
We rate Hammer’s statement Mostly True.