This winter, I am planning to go to the USA for the first time. One of my concerns is the presence of weapons in public. I just came back from Paris and the sight of armed soldiers patrolling public spaces made me very uncomfortable (I come from a country where you can live for 100 years without having seen a gun in real life). So I'm wondering, in open-carry states, can you see people carrying handguns in their belts?

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    Where exactly are you planning to go? The answer to this question will vary on the state.
    – DCTLib
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 10:55
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    I've lived in various US states, and visited many more, most of which have few restrictions on open carry of firearms. In my experience, even in open carry states, very few people actually do so, and those that do are part of a very small protest movement. On the other hand, law enforcement officers are always armed.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 13:47
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    Come to NZ. You are unlikely to see guns and it will be summer :-). As a bonus you will not see warships which do not confirm or deny they are carrying nuclear weapons :-). | What country are you from.? Commented May 12, 2015 at 14:29
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    Having been to the southwest US, you're far more likely to see scorpions and rattlesnakes than normal citizens open-carrying handguns. (And you'll be in significantly greater danger from them as well...) Commented May 12, 2015 at 15:04
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    The soldiers carrying big scary weapons are probably the least dangerous of all- they're well-trained and the magazines are usually not in the guns. Gangbangers and bimbos with a handgun in their purse scare me more. Commented May 12, 2015 at 17:25

6 Answers 6


As Jonathan's answer mentions, pretty much all police officers open carry firearms in the U.S. (pistols on their belt.) Other than that, however, seeing people visibly carry their firearms is very rare in the U.S. (unless you're at a gun range or some such thing.) I live in one of the most gun-friendly parts of the U.S. and I almost never see a firearm carried openly in public, other than by police. Lots of people carry firearms, but nearly all of them carry them concealed where you will not see them.

It is also very unlikely that you will see armed soldiers carrying rifles patrolling in public in the U.S. as you may have seen in France. The only times I've ever seen that in person in the U.S. were when the President was about to step off of Air Force One within sight of where I was sitting and briefly in airports after 9/11 (and ceremonially at Arlington National Cemetery, if you count that.) You will not see armed soldiers in airports nowadays, though, except in very rare situations (such as the President landing there.) Soldiers patrolling airports in the U.S. only happened for maybe a few months to a year or so after the September 11 attacks.

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    I don't know about airports, but I see armed soldiers in Penn Station on a daily basis. It's been a while since I've seen them carrying rifles rather than sidearms, but not that long — a couple years? I also used to see them in the PATH station under WTC but it's been a while since I've traveled that way.
    – hobbs
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 14:57
  • @hobbs They are still around the PATH, but they usually only carry holstered sidearms, no larger weapons. Commented May 12, 2015 at 15:21
  • Guns also fit nicely in purses. But I would also add that many guns aren't necessarily ON the person. Granny with a pistol in the glove compartment, trucker with a shutgun in the door, etc.
    – WernerCD
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 17:22
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    Penn Station FWIW is a special situation directly related to national emergencies. Penn Station is a facility involved with the on-going JTF (Joint Task Force) Empire Shield. Straight Dope has some more information about this special circumstance.
    – L0j1k
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:01
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    Also, you will not know if you're around someone with a concealed weapon, so it might not have the same nervousness factor as open-carry.
    – cpast
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:54

Every single police offer in the US carries a visible firearm as a part of their uniform. Therefore it is extremely likely that you will see multiple handguns during your visit as most urban areas are regularly patrolled by policemen.

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    The Paris armed soldiers carry big guns in their arms, which is a lot more disturbing than policemen having a gun on their belt. Our local policemen carry guns but still those guns in Paris were disturbing for me as well.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 15:29
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    @SteveSether most popular tourist sites in Europe are patrolled by police officers. I assume the same applies in the US.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 16:46
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    "Every single police offer in the US carries a visible firearm as a part of their uniform." Well, that's not quite true. MANY, probably MOST, police officers in the US carry visible firearms. But not all. For example, the DARE officer in my old home town didn't carry a gun. (DARE=police-run program to encourage kids not to use drugs) Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:11
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    @SteveSether location matters. In my former life, I felt the same way. Working in Manhattan, hardly a day goes by when I don't see multiple NYPD.
    – hobbs
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 19:04
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    @AE It's a fairly disturbing site for those of us that live in areas with much more lax gun control, too. Seeing a rifle on a gun range or while hunting is one thing. Seeing police or military carrying rifles/carbines/SMGs in crowded public areas is quite another.
    – reirab
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 19:42

It is extremely unlikely that you will ever run across a normal citizen walking around with a gun strapped to their belt, even in open-carry states.

You will see police officers with guns strapped to their belts, that's about all you're likely to see.

There's a lot of over-hyped media attention to open-carry laws, and during some protests, pro-gun owners will make a point of exercising their constitutional right to carry firearms by bringing their guns out in public in a non-threatening manner. However this is extremely rare, and can be easily avoided by just avoiding conservative/right-wing political demonstrations. (Not that you'd be in any danger, whatsoever).

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    I agree that those protest are rare, but I also wouldn't call them entirely nonthreatening. I know that's the claim made by the protesters, and that they don't intend to directly threaten anyone, but in places where people don't expect to see guns, someone carrying a gun can easily be perceived as threatening. The OP's discomfort with seeing guns in public spaces is a perfect demonstration of this.
    – Cascabel
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:01
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    Whether a person FEELS threatened is not the same as whether he IS threatened. To the best of my knowledge, no one in the United States has ever been shot by people who were participating in a pro-gun rally or protest. (If you can find a case or two, they're extremely rare.) I suspect you are far safer at such a rally than pretty much any place else on earth, as even the truly insane criminals seem to have figured out that attacking someone at a place where you KNOW that there are hundreds of armed people around is a very bad idea. Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:07
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    @RussellMcMahon It would be tough to get statistics on that, as it would require identifying and tracking all the people who have attended such a rally. But I just did some searching for statistics, and here's the first thing I found: A 2002 study by the state of Minnesota on crimes committed by people with permits to carry a concealed weapon. Feel free to read it yourself: dps.mn.gov/Pages/Results.aspx?k=crime%20ccw Bottom line: they have a total of 11,381 people in the state with concealed-carry licenses. Of those, number who were convicted of any crime: 4. ... Commented May 13, 2015 at 2:37
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    ... Two for drunk driving, one for assault, one for speeding. Number who used a firearm in the commission of a crime: Zero. Sounds like an all-around pretty safe and law-abiding group to me. Disclosure: I have a license to carry a concealed weapon, have for, umm, probably 10 years, so I'm not claiming to be a disinterested observer. I don't carry a gun all that often. Unless you're a mugger reading this, in which case, I always carry my .357 magnum. Commented May 13, 2015 at 2:43
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    @RussellMcMahon "I believe the preceding is a very well demonstrated fact. Am I wrong?" Almost certainly. The vast majority of firearm murders in the U.S. are due to drug dealers/drug users/gangs, which are definitely not the people who hang out at pro-gun rallies.
    – reirab
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 21:19

To add a case not mentioned yet: in many rural parts of the US, hunting is legal and popular. I'd include rural areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada in that list (California less so). If you travel in those areas, and especially if you spend time outdoors in certain public lands such as national forests, you are likely to see gun racks on trucks, meet hunters carrying rifles and shotguns, and hear gunshots. Handguns are still less likely, though.

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    The distinction between US National Parks, National Forests and other designations probably isn't obvious to most (especially to non-Americans); this PBS article has a good summary. In particular, hunting is prohibited in National Parks, whose purpose is conservation, but not in National Forests, whose purpose is resource management. Commented May 12, 2015 at 15:34
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    Pennsylvania has the largest hunting population in the country. It is common to have children take off school the first day of hunting season. Commented May 12, 2015 at 20:04

You mentioned Arizona. I don't live there anymore, but I grew up in Arizona and lived there for over 25 years. I hardly ever saw people openly carrying guns. Every now and then I'd see someone with a gun on their belt, it was not common- maybe a couple of times a year. You could probably visit Arizona for a month and not see anybody carrying a gun, other than police officers, of course. On the other hand, in some cases, gun owners in Arizona can get a permit to carry concealed weapons. So you really never know who has a gun with them and who doesn't.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I did see armed soldiers for a while in places like airports in Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, etc. However, I think that has pretty much been phased out for the most part. I haven't seen any soldiers like that in years.

  • It may not be common in Arizona, but you will see open carry there more than other states, I think. When I lived in Phoenix I'd see someone with a pistol in the grocery store every other week or so. Open carry is technically OK here in Colorado too, but I hardly ever see it.
    – Zan Lynx
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:00

It is generally recognized that concealed carry is advantageous to open carry in public. Most gun owners who carry, do so concealed. In all honesty, you will most likely be around guns, but will not see them. Most of the time, people that tend to carry openly (in urban areas), do so when they do not have a concealed carry permit.


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    This looks like [quotation-needed] now.
    – skolima
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 15:42

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