This fact sheet will be periodically updated to account for new policy developments. It was last updated on May 2, 2022.
What is permitless carry?
Permitless carry refers to a series of laws that allow individuals to carry loaded, concealed handguns in public without first undergoing a background check, obtaining a license, or receiving any firearm training. These laws reflect a relatively recent trend in which states are removing or weakening permitting standards for concealed carry.1
On April 12, 2022, Georgia became the 25th state to enact legislation eliminating permit requirements for concealed carry2 and the 21st state to do so in the past seven years.3 Similar bills are pending in at least five state legislatures.4
This movement toward permitless carry represents a massive step back for public safety and responsible gun ownership.
How does permitless carry affect public safety?
Permitless carry harms public safety by removing essential safety measures designed to ensure that those carrying handguns in public have been properly trained and vetted. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the removal of concealed carry permitting systems is associated with higher rates of gun homicide and violent crime. For instance, when Arizona repealed its concealed carry requirement in 2010, there was an 11 percent increase in gun injuries and deaths and a 24 percent increase in the probability that an individual involved in a violent crime would be fatally shot.5 More recently, researchers at GVPedia found that states with permitless carry laws saw a 22 percent increase in gun homicide for the three years following the law’s passage.6
Permitting requirements act as essential safeguards, ensuring that people prohibited from owning a handgun are not able to carry a loaded firearm in public. In 2020, 5,292 concealed carry licenses were denied in Georgia due to a history of criminal or mental health issues.7 During the same year, Wisconsin denied 4,161 concealed carry applications, with criminal history as the most frequent prohibiting factor.8
Concerningly enough, of the 25 states that now allow for the carrying of a concealed handgun in public without permit requirements, all but one also allow for the purchase of a handgun without a required background check. This means that 24 states currently allow residents to purchase and conceal loaded weapons in public without ever passing a background check.9
What is the public consensus on permitless carry?
Laws that repeal permitting and background check requirements for concealed carry are overwhelmingly unpopular among the public. According to a national survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, 83 percent of gun owners agree that in order to conceal-carry in public, an individual should first be required to pass safety tests that demonstrate lawful gun use.10
This claim is supported by an earlier survey from 2015 that found 88 percent of Americans agree with concealed carry permitting requirements.11 More recently, polling in Georgia found that 70 percent of voters, including more than 50 percent of Republicans, support concealed carry licensing requirements,12 while data from Ohio found that more than 60 percent of voters opposed legislation that would remove existing permitting requirements.13
Permitless carry: By the numbers
Increase in gun homicide three years after states pass permitless carry laws
Number of people that have died from fatal gun incidents at the hands of concealed carry permit holders since May 2006
Percentage of Americans who agree with concealed carry permitting requirements
Number of states that currently allow residents to purchase and conceal loaded weapons in public without ever passing a background check
Laws that repeal permitting standards, in addition to being unpopular among the public, are also unfavorable among local and national law enforcement. Indeed, police agencies across the nation supporting a licensing system. For instance, law enforcement agencies in Ohio14 and Indiana15 recently came out against efforts in their respective states to remove concealed carry permit requirements. Similar objections to permitless carry legislation were echoed by officers and law enforcement agencies in Georgia,16 Texas,17 Alabama,18 Louisiana,19 and Tennessee.20
However, all but one of these states continued to enact permitless carry legislation despite opposition voiced by law enforcement agencies and the public.21
Are arguments in favor of permitless carry based on evidence?
No. Arguments in support of permitless carry are based on myths perpetuated by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The section below debunks several common myths:
1. Easing gun restrictions does not lessen crime, and an armed society is not a safer one
Academic research indicates that weakening permitting requirements increases crime.22 In perhaps the most comprehensive study on the relationship between violent crime and weak permitting standards, economist John Donohue found that violent crime rates increased each year following states’ adoption of right-to-carry (RTC) laws.23 Moreover, Donohue found states that weakened their gun permitting system saw rates of handgun homicide and violent crime increase by 11 percent and 13 to 15 percent, respectively; the adoption of RTC laws, meanwhile, was associated with a 10 percent higher murder rate 10 years following their passage.24
The evidence is clear: Guns in public spaces pose a danger to public safety and increase the risk of violent confrontation.
This is consistent with findings from a previous study in 2017 that found RTC laws to be associated with a 10.6 percent increase in handgun homicide, an 8.6 percent increase in firearm homicide, and a 6.5 percent increase in total homicide rates.25 Alternatively, states with stronger permitting systems saw less crime: Researchers found states that empowered law enforcement to use discretion when issuing concealed carry permits experienced 11 percent lower homicide rates than those that did not allow for that discretion.26
Moreover, this myth of an armed society increasing safety can be easily dismissed by examining the relationship between gun ownership and homicide in the United States. America has the highest gun ownership level in the world; however, it has a homicide rate that is 25 times higher than that of other peer developed nations, on average.27 If an armed society were indeed a safer one, the United States would have lower rates of gun violence than its peer nations.
2. Defensive gun use is not widespread
Another common myth—often known as “a good guy with a gun”—asserts that there are roughly 2.5 million cases of defensive gun use per year, making incidents of defensive gun use four to five times more common than gun crimes.28
Yet this statement is false, as the figure in question has been seriously contested. In 1997, Harvard scholars debunked the myth, finding that defensive gun use was far less common than the 2.5 million cases claimed, attributing the extreme overestimation to massive research design flaws and data inconsistencies.29 A more accurate depiction of defensive gun use in the United States comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which estimates roughly 2,000 verified cases of defensive gun use annually, significantly less than the 2.5 million cases claimed by the gun lobby.30
Not only does research suggest that guns are rarely used in self-defense, but there is also no evidence to suggest that guns enhance personal protection during criminal victimization. On the contrary, researchers at Harvard University found that the likelihood of injury during a crime was nearly identical in cases where a gun was used in self-defense and in cases where no defensive measures were taken.31
Additional survey data found that defensive gun use occurs in less than 1 percent of contact crimes,32 and the majority of self-reported defensive gun use is done in violation of the law.33 In this regard, research collected by the Violence Policy Center shows that since May 2006, more than 2,000 people have died from fatal gun incidents at the hands of concealed carry permit holders.34 This includes 37 mass shootings, 64 murder-suicides, and 24 law enforcement homicides.35
3. Gun-free zones do not attract mass shootings
Advocates for permitless carry often claim that gun-free zones endanger society by attracting mass shootings.36 This claim, however, is false: An analysis of 133 mass shootings from 2009 to 2015 found that 95 of the shootings occurred in private homes, compared with 21 shootings in zones where concealed guns were permitted and 17 shootings in gun-free public spaces.37 Moreover, an examination of 111 mass shootings from 1996 to 2015 found zero events in which an armed civilian stopped an active shooting.38
Additionally, FBI data on active shooter incidents revealed that only 1 in 160 mass shootings was stopped by an individual with a valid firearms permit. In contrast, 21 incidents were stopped by unarmed civilians.39
The push for permitless carry and the subsequent removal of permit requirements in state law is not only harmful to public safety efforts; it is also rooted in misinformation. Permitting standards are in place to ensure that those carrying a concealed weapon in public have been properly trained and pose no risk to themselves or others. Yet when states allow for permitless carry, those safeguards disappear, allowing anyone to carry a weapon in public regardless of their ability to handle a firearm safely and lawfully. The evidence is clear: Guns in public spaces pose a danger to public safety and increase the risk of violent confrontation.