Colorado is an open-carry state, meaning that most adults are allowed to openly carry a firearm without a permit. But there are exceptions to the rule. Denver County generally prohibits the open carry of firearms. And certain classes of people are forbidden from carrying a gun anywhere, including
- convicted felons,
- minors, and
- drug addicts.
Colorado has no express laws about the right to openly carry a firearm. But the right to possess a gun is generally protected under Article 2, Section 3 of the Colorado constitution:
“All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights[.] [A]mong which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties[.] [O]f acquiring, possessing and protecting property[.] [A]nd of and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
To help you better understand Colorado’s open carry law, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers answer the following faqs:
- 1. Who may openly carry a gun in Colorado?
- 2. Does a Colorado concealed carry permit allow me to openly carry a weapon?
- 3. What are the penalties for gun violations?
- 4. What is Colorado’s “home rule” law?
|Required / permitted in Colorado?|
|Permit to purchase||No|
|Registration of gun||No|
|Ban on assault weapons||Denver only*|
|Magazine capacity restriction||Yes (pre-2003 purchases exempted)|
|Open carry||Yes, if 18 or over|
|Concealed carry||Yes, with permit|
*Other cities may also enact bans. Machine guns, short shotguns and short rifles are prohibited throughout state unless you have a federal tax stamp from the ATF.
In Colorado, you may openly carry a firearm unless:
- You are under 18 years of age,1
- You are legally prohibited from owning a firearm (for example, you are a convicted felon),2 or
- You are subject to a Colorado protective order that prohibits firearm possession,
- You are on federal property (such as a National Park, courthouse, airport, post office or federally subsidized housing),
- You are in your car with a loaded firearm that is not a pistol or revolver,3
- The firearm is loaded and you are in a public transportation facility,4
- You on are on the grounds of a school or university (whether public or private), or
- You are on government property (such as police stations or city parks) within the limits of Denver or another jurisdiction that prohibits open carry under the “home rule” powers of cities and counties (see below).
Note that Colorado law requires gun purchasers to pass a Colorado Bureau of Investigations (C.B.I.) background check.
Your Colorado concealed handgun permit (CCW permit) has nothing to do with Colorado open carry. However, if you possess a concealed carry permit, you may carry weapons both openly and concealed wherever not prohibited by law.
Colorado is a “must-issue” concealed carry permit state. The local sheriff’s office will issue a state permit to carry a concealed firearm to anyone who is
- at least 21 years of age and
- not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
See our related article on concealed weapon reciprocity.
Since open carry is legal in Colorado (other than in Denver), there are no penalties unless you openly carry a prohibited weapon or are legally prohibited from possessing a handgun.
- Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines.
But a second violation within five years of another Colorado gun charge is a Colorado class 5 felony. Punishment can include:
- 1 to 3 years in Colorado State Prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
- $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.
Meanwhile, unlawful possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) is a Colorado class 5 felony. POWPO consequences include:
- 1 to 3 years in prison, and/or
- $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.
Under Article 20, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution, local cities and counties have the right to pass laws affecting their own jurisdictions as long as they do not directly contradict state or federal law.
Denver tested this clause when it passed Section 38-117(b) of the Denver Revised Municipal Code, which makes it unlawful for any person “to carry, use or wear any dangerous or deadly weapon, including, but not by way of limitation, any pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun . . . or any other dangerous or deadly weapon” unless specifically permitted under state law.
Denver’s law was challenged in the landmark case Denver v. State of Colorado. The judge sided with Denver, noting that “the State’s interest in allowing the general open carry of firearms is insubstantial and is far outweighed by Denver’s local interest in regulating firearms more strictly in an urbanized area.”
The Colorado Revised Statutes has now codified this rule as 29-11.7-104 C.R.S., which provides that a local government may enact an ordinance prohibiting the open or concealed carry of a firearm in a specific type of building or area as long as signs are posted at the public entrances to the building or specific area.
The law does not limit the right to possess a firearm on private property for self-defense or in vehicles, so long as state law restrictions are observed.
However, home rule also allows Denver to prohibit possession of assault weapons and Saturday night specials.5 Again, the judge in Denver v. State of Colorado found that Denver’s interest in limiting the impact of assault weapons and Saturday night specials in its jurisdiction outweighed the State’s interest in uniformity of gun control laws.
Although at present these limitations apply specifically in Denver, any Colorado jurisdiction is free to enact similar restrictions on the possession and open or concealed carry of firearms.
For criminal defense representation…
Arrested by law enforcement for violating Colorado gun laws? Our experienced Colorado defense lawyers are here to help.
We represent clients accused of Colorado weapons offenses throughout the state, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Loveland. You can reach us through the form on this page or at our centrally located Denver home office:
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
Also see our article on Nevada open carry laws.
- 18-12-108.5 C.R.S.
- 18-12-108 C.R.S.
- 33-6-125 C.R.S.
- 18-9-118 C.R.S.
- See Denver Municipal Code, Division 2, Sections 38-130 and 38-122. See also, for example, People v. Stanley (Colorado Court of Appeals, Division Five, 2007) ; Trinen v. City and County of Denver (. , 2002)