The History of Concealed Weapons Laws in the United States, Part 1: The Early Republic (Clayton Cramer)

As far as I know, there is no definitive history of the fall and rise of concealed carry in the United States. (Please correct me if I am wrong!) We do have some good partial histories, notably Clayton Cramer’s 1999 book Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic (Praeger Publishers).

Cramer Concealed Weapons Laws Book Cover

Cramer describes and seeks to explain the laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons in the first eight states to pass such laws, between 1813 and 1839:

Kentucky, February 3, 1813
Louisiana, March 25, 1813
Indiana, January 14, 1820
Georgia, December 25, 1837
Arkansas, 1837-38 Legislative Session
Tennessee, January 27, 1838
Virginia, February 2, 1838
Alabama, February 1, 1839

In a separate post, I will review Cramer’s attempt to explain the rise of these laws. Here I simply want to make available a table that summarizes the operative language of the laws (in several cases the statutory language is much longer than what is provided here), as well as the outcome of relevant state court cases in which the laws were challenged. The last column shows the first point at which language was included in the state constitution explicitly addressing concealed weapons (thanks to Eugene Volokh), always giving the state discretion to regulate the manner in which arms may be borne.

It is difficult to insert tables in sites, so here is the table as a PDF file: Concealed Weapons Laws Table

It perhaps goes without saying, but is worth highlighting, that the very act of banning a practice suggests that the practice was understood to be legal at the time and that enough people were actually doing it to make the practice (or a perceived consequence of the practice) seem problematic to a majority of legislators.

Some general points emerging from this table:

(1) It is interesting to note that the history of what is banned chronicles the history of weapons in common use at the time. 4 of 8 states specifically banned sword canes, including two of the three earliest states (Kentucky and Indiana). The second wave of concealed weapon laws in this period commonly identified by name the Bowie knife (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia) and the “Arkansas Tooth-Pick” (Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee).

Arkansas Toothpick
Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society, [nhnycw/ag ag0017b]
(2) A concealed weapon ban is not synonymous with a concealed handgun ban, just as today a “concealed carry” permit may allow the carry of weapons more generally (as in Florida) or only handguns (as in my state of North Carolina). Tennessee’s 1838 law was concerned only with knives, and Alabama’s initial ban in 1837 covered only cutting and stabbing instruments, though it was amended in 1839 to include fire arms.

(3) Most state courts upheld these concealed weapon bans. Only in Kentucky was the ban overturned in court, which led Kentucky to be the first state to put language in its state constitution providing that “the General Assembly may pass laws to prevent persons from carrying concealed arms” (in 1850).

I should note again that I constructed this table as a reference based on Clayton Cramer’s research published in Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic. I appreciate his efforts in compiling this information originally, and encourage anyone interested to purchase or try to find a copy from your local library.




  1. These early laws and state constitutional amendments were to limit the gamblers and crooks of the era. At the time (circa 1820) it was out of fashion to be a gentleman and concealing a weapon, a gentleman WOULD have his arms (firearm, sword, etc…) exposed or OC’ed (Open Carried).


    • There does seem to be a connection between the ban on legal dueling (by which gentlemen could honorably settle their disputes) and the rise of concealed carry by dishonorable individuals, and hence the restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.


  2. […] Kentucky passed the first law restricting the carrying of concealed weapons in public in 1813. Over the next quarter century, 7 other Southern states followed suit: Louisiana (1813), Indiana (1820), Georgia (1837), Arkansas (1837-38), Tennessee (1838), Virginia (1838), and Alabama (1839). This launched the “Restricted Era” of American history. […]


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