Books / Concealed Carry / Firearms / Personal Defense

The History of Concealed Weapons Laws in the United States, Part 3: The Rise of the Shall-Issue (Right-to-Carry) Era of Concealed Carry

In my previous post, I discussed the important historical observations about the “restricted era” of concealed carry in Brian Anse Patrick’s book, Rise of the Anti-Media: In-Forming America’s Concealed Weapon Carry Movement. In this era, concealed carry was either disallowed completely or allowed under a very restrictive discretionary system. In two subsequent chapters, Patrick chronicles the end of the restricted era and the beginning of the right-to-carry or shall-issue concealed carry era in which we live today.

In his book, Patrick supports the conventional idea that the passage of shall-issue concealed carry in Florida in 1987 was the decisive turning point for the movement.

flpermit2

(Note: I supplement Patrick’s account with information from a 1994-95 Tennessee Law Review article by Clayton Cramer and David Kopel, a 2008 Contemporary Economic Policy article by Richard Grossman and Stephen Lee, and a 2012 Government Accounting Office report on concealed carry.)

PRE-FLORIDA RIGHT-TO-CARRY

Prior to Florida, in only a few states was it relatively easy for an ordinary citizen to carry a concealed weapon legally. This included Vermont which has never regulated concealed carry of firearms, although it is illegal to carry a firearm (openly or concealed) on school property or in a courthouse. (See “aside” at end of this post on “Vermont Carry.”)

Having adopted the Uniform Pistol and Revolver Act in 1935, Washington state became one of the first states to reverse course when in 1961 it “required that if the applicant for a concealed weapon permit was allowed to possess a handgun under Washington law, the permit had to be issued” (Cramer & Kopel, p. 687).

1961: State of Washington

This change did not spark any broader movement for liberalization of concealed carry laws in other states. Indeed, it was almost two decades before Indiana became the next state to become shall-issue, in 1980. By that time, major changes in the gun culture were taking place and the concealed weapon carry movement that Patrick discusses was gaining strength.

Following Indiana were Maine and North Dakota which both implemented shall-issue concealed carry in 1985 and South Dakota in 1986. The Florida legislature had actually passed a shall-issue concealed carry law in 1985 as well, but it was vetoed by Democratic Governor Bob Graham. So it was not until 1987 that Republican Governor Bob Martinez signed shall-issue concealed carry into law.

1980: Indiana
1985: Maine, North Dakota
1986: South Dakota
1987: Florida

POST-FLORIDA RIGHT-TO-CARRY

Florida didn’t create shall-issue concealed carry, but it did open the floodgates for a massive expansion in the number of states with liberalized concealed carry laws. Four other states passed shall-issue laws in the three years following Florida:

1989: Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, *Georgia
1990: Idaho

*In 1989 the Georgia Attorney General clarified that state’s ambiguous law by maintaining that judges must issue permits to anyone who does not have a disqualifying condition (Cramer & Kopel, p. 696).

Counting Vermont and Georgia, then, by 1990 twelve states had laws favoring the right-to-carry concealed weapons by ordinary citizens. Over the next six years, that number more than doubled. From 1991-1996, another 16 states passed shall-issue laws:

1991: Mississippi, Montana
1994: Alaska, Arizona, Tennessee, Wyoming
1995: Arkansas, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia
1996: Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina

By the turn of the 21st century, more than half of the states (28) had liberalized concealed weapon laws. From 2001 to today, an additional 12 states have followed suit:

2001: Michigan
2003: Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio
2004: New Mexico
2006: Kansas, Nebraska
2010: Iowa
2011: Wisconsin
2013: Alabama, Illinois

The 41st state to have shall-issue concealed carry is New Hampshire, but I have been unable to determine exactly when that took place. Larry Arnold’s on-line “History of Concealed Carry, 1976-2011” suggests 1923, though that seems unlikely given the predominance of restricted carry at the time. Grossman and Lee say 1959 in their study. But writing in the mid-1990s, Cramer and Kopel note that they had been “repeatedly told by New Hampshire gun owners that concealed handgun permit issuance is non-discretionary in the Granite State. However, while New Hampshire authorities may issue permits readily, there is nothing in the statutes that requires them to do so” (p. 690n.41). If anyone has more information about when New Hampshire passed shall-issue legislation please let me know!

Although it is a convenient framework for understanding the broad historical development of concealed weapons laws and classifying states roughly according to how difficult it is for an ordinary citizen to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, this brief chronology should not to suggest that all shall-issue laws are created equal. For example, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (not at all friendly to concealed carry) distinguishes between “limited discretion” and “no discretion” shall-issue.

As is often the case, the devil is in details like training and firearms handling requirements, where concealed carry is permitted, reciprocity, cost, and so on. But the broad principal that any citizen who meets the established criteria shall be issued a concealed weapon permit is a significant departure from the restricted era of carry that characterized most of America up to the 1980s. This cool graphic from Wikipedia (created by Jeff Dege (http://www.gun-nuttery.com/rtc.php) shows the diffusion of “shall issue” and “permitless carry” laws through the 50 states:

Rtc

 

STATES REMAINING MAY-ISSUE

The remaining 9 states today retain discretionary, “may-issue” laws: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

How much discretion they exercise varies. In the case of Hawaii, no ordinary citizens receive concealed carry permits. In Maryland, only 0.3 percent of the adult population have permits to carry while in Massachusetts 5.1 percent do (see GAO report on “States’ Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary across the Nation,” Appendix V, Table 7).

In other cases, where permitting is delegated to local authorities, there can be considerable variation in permit issuance within a may-issue state. As I have written previously, California has extreme variation in permit issuance from county to county, with some counties being de facto shall-issue and some being de facto no issue. New York is similar, with New York City contrasting greatly with the more rural counties upstate.

And then there are states, like Connecticut, which are variously classified. Grossman and Lee, for example, classify Connecticut as shall-issue since 1969 (Table 1, p. 203). But, according to Cramer and Kopel, “While Connecticut’s concealed weapon permit law does provide an appeal process that appears to be weighted in favor of law-abiding citizens, who wish a permit, there is nothing explicit in the statute that requires a permit to be issued” (p. 690n.41). The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (citing Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 29-28 – 29-30, 29-32, 29-32b, 29-35, 29-37) and the GAO Report both list Connecticut as may-issue. Wikipedia offers this note of clarification: “Connecticut law specifies that CCW licenses be granted on a May-Issue basis, but the state’s courts have established that issuing authorities must grant CCW licenses on a Shall-Issue basis for applicants who meet all statutory qualifications, as unlike other May-Issue states Connecticut law does not contain a requirement for the applicant to show ‘necessary and proper reason’ for obtaining a license.”

SHALL-ISSUE = MORE CONCEALED CARRY

These minor variations aside, however, the bottom line is that the movement for shall-issue concealed carry has resulted in many more individuals being permitted to carry concealed weapons in public. In every state that has gone concealed carry, there is an immediate flood of individuals seeking permits. Wisconsin, for example, issued its 200,000th permit before the second anniversary of allowing concealed carry. Florida continues to see a growing demand for concealed weapon permits; the number of permits more than tripled from 2004 to 2013. And I know of no shall-issue state in which the demand for concealed weapon permits has gone down.

Women in Florida getting concealed-weapons permits

CONCLUDING ASIDE ON PERMITLESS CARRY

Aside: Permitless carry is sometimes called “Vermont Carry.” Some gun rights advocates are attempting to substitute the term “Constitutional Carry” because in the Constitutional era there were no laws prohibiting concealed weapon carry. “Permitless carry” seems the best neutral descriptor to me, though I imagine some would say this normalizes the idea that one must have a government permit to carry. In any event, this approach in Vermont earned it top billing in the Washington Post Wonkblog story, “The 6 craziest state gun laws.”

In recent years, three other states have come around to Vermont’s position and removed the permitting requirement for concealed carry by residents: Alaska in 2003, Arizona in 2010, and Wyoming in 2011.

 

 

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23 thoughts on “The History of Concealed Weapons Laws in the United States, Part 3: The Rise of the Shall-Issue (Right-to-Carry) Era of Concealed Carry

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