The History of Concealed Weapons Laws in the United States, Part 4: The Dawn of the Era of Permitless Carry

When I began this blog nearly 5 years ago, I had no idea that I would be talking about the dawn of a new era of concealed carry in the United States. But developments in the past couple of years have forced my hand. Before highlighting those developments, I will review the broad pattern of development in concealed weapon laws for the record .

A very rough dating of various “eras” of concealed carry in the US looks like this:

Briefly, in the early republic, no special licensing was required to bear arms, either openly or concealed.

But beginning with Kentucky in 1813, there was a movement in several southern states to ban the carrying of concealed weapons in public. In time, these prohibitions spread from the south to the rest of the United States. This “restricted era” of gun carry continued through the 1970s.

Over the last four decades there has been dramatic shift toward the liberalization of concealed carry laws in the form of state passage of what have come to be known as “shall issue” laws. From 1980 to 2013, 38 states passed these laws that require state or local authorities to issue a permit to any applicant that meets the objective statutory criteria if no statutory reasons for denial exist. The issuing authority’s discretion over subjective criteria like the “good moral character” or “good cause” of the applicant is removed from the process.

“Shall issue” laws now prevail in 40 of 50 states and only 9 states maintain more restrictive “may issue” laws: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

Vermont has never banned the practice of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and so does not issue concealed carry permits. Because of this, state laws that allow individuals to carry a concealed weapon in public without a permit are sometimes called “Vermont Carry.” Other terms for permitless carry are “freedom to carry” or “Constitutional Carry” (because “the Second Amendment is my carry permit”).


Whatever it is called, permitless carry represents the next phase of this liberalization of gun laws in the US. Including Vermont, 11 states now allow individuals to carry a concealed weapon in public without a permit, with certain restrictions and exceptions: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho (residents only), Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wyoming (residents only).

In order of passage of permitless carry:

2003: Alaska

2010: Arizona

2011: Wyoming

2015: Kansas, Maine, Mississippi

2016: Idaho, Missouri, West Virginia

2017: New Hampshire

Other than Vermont, these 10 permitless carry states still issue concealed carry permits, which offer additional benefits depending on the state. For example, only permit holders in Arizona can carry concealed in businesses that service alcohol (provided the business allows firearms in the first place and the concealed carrier does not drink).

Concealed carry permits from permitless carry states also allow the permit holder to carry in others states that have reciprocity agreements with the issuing state. For example, an Alaska concealed carry permit is recognized by 38 other states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

EDIT (3/16/17): Reader Matthew Carberry makes an astute observation in a comment (below) that calling permitless carry in states which issue carry permits “Vermont Carry” is a misnomer. The modern system of “permitless carry with permit for reciprocity,” therefore, is more properly called “Alaska Carry.”

Although I am not a betting man, if I had to guess what Part 5 of this history of concealed weapon laws in the United States might be I would say national concealed carry reciprocity. That is, a concealed carry permit issued in any state would have to be recognized by every other state. There doesn’t seem to be enough political momentum to pass such a federal law right now, but there didn’t seem to be any movement for permitless concealed carry when I began blogging in 2012 either.


  1. I’m hoping for national reciprocity in part because of those “may issue” states that make it difficult to near impossible to obtain a permit. Imagine the joy of being issued a permit in Arizona or Nevada and being able to enjoy owning a handgun in the Democratic People’s Republic of California.

    Permitless carry is dead in New Mexico this year. There were several pro gun and anti gun bills introduced in the Legislature and most are dead or moribund. A bill to order someone who has been served a domestic violence restraining order to store his or her guns with someone else is alive. Its actually not a bad bill; if I were the served one I could store my guns with anyone I wanted to as long as that was not a prohibited person.

    A background check bill on person to person sales is alive but is struggling because Mike Bloomberg tried to screw gun owners and it backfired. More on that later. Right now I am too busy being annoyed with it. A bit of foaming at the mouth here:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One distinction (perhaps without a difference except to us pedants) between Vermont and the modern “Constitutional Carry” states is that Vermont’s status rests on a state Supreme Court decision from about 1906 where it was ruled that, per that Court’s binding interpretation of Vermont’s state constitution at that time, no permit system would ever be constitutional in that state. It’s a historical oddity, firmly tied to that particular time and place.

    While “Vermont Carry” was useful as a fact in being, showing permitless carry’s innocuousness, it really wasn’t useful in terms of setting precedent for how Alaska and the rest could gain and develop a modern “permitless carry with permit for reciprocity regime,” more properly called “Alaska Carry.”

    In fact, Vermont residents almost suffer from it, as they are disallowed from getting resident permit reciprocity with any state and are thus dependent on other state’s putting in a “Vermont exception,” or granting reciprocity to non-resident permit holders.

    Now, long term that might be as useful for the movement as “Vermont Carry” was, providing the foot in the door for reciprocity of non-res permits (thus also giving that freedom to the folks trapped in may-issue states) and, bigger picture, perhaps reciprocity similar to Vermont and Alaska, et al’s, “if you can legally own it, you can carry it here.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • FWIW, I was just looking at the Lott report on concealed carry permits and was interested to see that only 1.6% of the Alaska population has permits, which is on the low end of the range and lower than other states that issue permits and have permitless carry. I wonder if that is largely attributable to the fact that Alaskans are geographically remote so the (perceived) need for the reciprocity a permit affords is lower? Certainly Alaska has to have one of the hire rates of people actually carrying concealed.


      • That, I think, comes down to demographics and travel habits. Half the state lives in the Bush, in small villages where everyone knows everyone and most don’t go armed, and effectively don’t leave except perhaps to come to Anchorage or Fairbanks, where they don’t need a permit anyway. Reciprocity with other states doesn’t mean much when you don’t travel to them with any frequency, particularly at $125 for the permit and a $75 renewal fee every 5 years when you aren’t in a cash economy.

        So, really, only those of us who live in the cities and travel reasonably regularly find them useful. But, where do we vacation? None of the West Coast warm states have reciprocity with us.

        Hawaii is “no issue.” California no reciprocity with anyone. Oregon likewise, though some sheriffs will issue Oregon permits to physically-neighboring state residents. Washington has very limited reciprocity, and refuses to recognize Alaska’s permit because until recently, in part due to AK’s strong privacy laws, we weren’t sending involuntary psych commitment info to NICs and thus weren’t checking for it per WA requirements. All renewals and new issues are NICs checked, but WA still balks until the last few older permits get renewed and checked. (Though their Dem AG is hostile to carry and will likely continue to stonewall.) The other big vacation destination for Alaskans is Mexico, obviously no carry, and, to a lesser degree, Vancouver, Canada.

        My relatives live in Massachusetts and New Jersey, so I can’t even legally possess while visiting, much less carry. I did get a WA state permit, they do not differentiate between resident and non, for when I am in Seattle but Seattle is where Alaskans go to get on the plane for their vacations, not usually the destination. In any event, the same constraints on carry as in my normal life exist, but moreso in some cases. I may be visiting no carry resorts or bars on vacation, or areas which ban carry on business, and not have anywhere to store the gun but a lockbox in a hotel room or vehicle. I’ve had a permit since they were introduced, but much of the time I can’t effectively use the reciprocity.

        Some sort of nationwide recognition (without a national standard, “carry per the standards of the best license a given state issues its residents” would be the rule I would accept) would make my permit a lot more useful.


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