Updated March 30, 2020
Colorado permits the open carry of most firearms
Colorado is an “open-carry” state, with some exceptions. Denver generally prohibits the open carry of firearms. Certain people are forbidden from carrying a gun anywhere. (Such as convicted felons, minors, or drug addicts.) And no one in Colorado may ever possess a machine gun, short shotgun, or short rifle.
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. It provides:
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 Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 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 prohibited throughout state.
In Colorado you may openly carry a firearm unless:
- You are under 18 years of age and the firearm is a handgun,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,
- The firearm is a machine gun, short shotgun or short rifle (all of which are banned under 18-12-102 C.R.S., possession of dangerous weapons),
- 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),
- You are a resident of another state that does not have gun-reciprocity with Colorado, 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).
Your Colorado permit to carry a concealed weapon 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 state will issue a permit to carry a concealed weapon to anyone who is at least 21 years of age and not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
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.
- 3-12 months in jail, and/or
- A fine of $250-$1,000.
A second violation within five years of another Colorado gun charge, however, is a Colorado class 5 felony. Punishment can include:
- 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
- A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
Unlawful possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) is a felony under 18-12-108 C.R.S. Punishment can include:
- 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
- A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
Under Article 20, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution, local cities and counties have the right to pass laws affected 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 -12- 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…
If you or someone you know has been charged with violating Colorado gun laws, our experienced Colorado defense lawyers are here to help.
We represent clients accused of Colorado weapons offenses throughout the state. 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.