Second Amendment advocates scored a string of victories in recent years to expand to 25 states the right to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or what’s known as “constitutional carry.”
The trend is poised to continue and tip the balance to more than half the U.S. with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, pledging to get a constitutional carry law through the GOP-run legislature.
Gun control activists and some law enforcement view the trend as a threat to public safety because it enables people to carry concealed firearms without a background check or other requirements such as firearm training.
Gun rights advocates say background checks and other safeguards are applied nationwide when purchasing a handgun.
Other than Vermont, which has never regulated carrying guns since becoming a state in 1791, most states only recently adopted permitless carry. A wave of GOP-run states began passing constitutional carry laws in 2010 following a concerted lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association.
Just last year, Iowa, Montana, Texas, Utah and Tennessee adopted constitutional carry laws. In 2019, Kentucky, South Dakota and Oklahoma approved permitless concealed carry. Between 2010 and 2017, the law went into effect in Arizona, Wyoming, Arkansas, Maine, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Missouri.
Alaska was early to permitless concealed carry, making it the law of the Last Frontier state in 2003.
The popularity of constitutional carry, says Bearing Arms editor Cam Edwards, is that the constitutional right to bear arms “shouldn’t require a permission slip.”
He said the success of constitutional carry is a continuation of the right-to-carry movement that has been taking place in the U.S. since the mid-1980s.
“Since then, dozens of states have adopted ‘shall issue’ concealed carry laws, more than half have gone on to approve constitutional carry, and not one of them has ever decided to go back to a ‘may issue’ system or repealed their constitutional carry law,” he said. “As more states adopt the measure, it makes sense that other Republicans would become willing and even eager to sign on.”
Law enforcement groups often came out against state constitutional carry laws, including the Fraternal Order of Police chapters in Texas and Ohio.
Alabama Sheriffs Association Director Robert Timmons spoke out against the legislation when it passed in his state. He said, as a matter of public safety, it shouldn’t be easier to carry a gun than drive a car.
Mr. Timmons conceded that the permits were also a significant revenue stream for Alabama sheriffs, which helps supply personnel with ammo, vehicles, and bulletproof vests. “If you get rid of the permits, the taxpayers will have to pick up the bill,” he said.
In Nebraska, where a constitutional carry bill failed in the legislature in April, one lawmaker who opposed the legislation reportedly said he would have been willing to make the training free and eliminate gun-permit fees to lessen the obstacles to acquiring a permit. He argued that the training is an important safety issue.
Firearms makers view the move toward permitless concealed carry as an extension of the growing demand for guns, which was on an upward trajectory before spiking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The primary reason driving those guns [sales] was people’s concerns personal safety and safety of their loved ones,” Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs at the trade association for the firearm industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“What you’re seeing is a recognition from state legislatures and governors that the right to protect yourself and your loved ones is an inherent natural right and it’s also a right that’s protected in our Constitution. And they’re removing barriers that have been in place to allow people to fully experience and express that Second Amendment.”
Those gun sales came with background checks, he said, noting that the FBI in 2020 completed 21 million background checks for the sale of firearms and 18.5 million in 2021.
Some conservatives see the rapid expansion of gun rights in the states as reactionary against an increasingly aggressive left-wing, anti-gun politics in Washington.
Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, said he thinks his state adopted constitutional carry because the legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb felt the Second Amendment was under threat by the federal government.
“Indiana has gotten more conservative. The legislature was definitely for it and then the governor did sign it,” Mr. Braun told The Washington Times.
“There are many concerns across the country about how aggressive and enterprising the Democrats have been in general for their agenda. The Second Amendment is something people are worried about, it’s smart to start fixing some of that and at the state level as well,” he said.
The NRA first helped Florida adopt a law in 1987 allowing concealed carry with a permit outside the home for all law-abiding gun owners. This law created a “shall issue” permitting system in which the state was required to issue a carry permit to any person who could legally possess a gun.
Since then, the NRA successfully lobbied for similar “shall issue” laws in 42 other states, while eight states have resisted.
Most states with concealed carry licenses require a background check, training with a firearm, submitting fingerprints and passing a written test and a range test.
Other states such as New York and New Jersey leave the decision to issue a permit at the sole discretion of local law enforcement authorities, who weigh whether an individual has a good enough reason to carry a concealed firearm.
The issue of having to prove your need to carry is presently being deliberated by the Supreme Court.
Gun control advocates argue states with looser laws for gun ownership have higher gun deaths and violence than states with more stringent firearm laws. This includes an analysis released by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
“The evidence could not be more compelling than states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have strikingly lower rates of gun death,” stated VPC Government Affairs Director Kristen Rand. “This unprecedented spike in firearm homicide should be of tremendous concern to all Americans. Gun violence is a major public health threat that demands immediate attention from policymakers nationwide.”
Mr. Oliva responded: “Violence Policy Center singles out data in this report to reflect 2020 and 2021, years we know, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, experienced skyrocketing rates of crime. These were also years in which we saw efforts from local, state and federal lawmakers to defund police, enact no-bail policies which turned criminals back onto the streets, and lenient sentencing for violent offenders. Communities across the country are still grappling with these poorly-made decisions.”
“Further, VPC attempts to connect lawful firearm ownership with criminal activity. That’s a canard. Homicide is illegal in every state,” he said. “VPC is intentionally painting lawful gun ownership with the same brush as criminals that prey on the most vulnerable in society.”