The History of Concealed Weapons Laws in the United States, Part 5: The Permitless Carry Era

When I began this blog nearly 10 years ago, I had no idea that I would be talking about a new era of concealed carry in the United States. Shall issue was the thing.

By March of 2017, however, I was writing about “The Dawn of the Permitless Carry Era.” At the time, 10 states and Vermont allowed concealed carry without a permit. Two years later, in March 2019, when the number had grown by 4 states, I wrote about “The Continuing Expansion of Permitless Carry.”

Already in 2021, four states have passed permitless carry laws (Utah, Montana, Iowa, and Tennessee), and others are considering it. With the total now at 19 states plus Vermont, it’s finally time for me to add The Permitless Carry Era to my ongoing history of concealed weapons laws in the US.

The animation below, continually updated by Jeff Dege of Radical Gun Nuttery!, is perhaps the best representation of the liberalization of gun carry laws in the US since 1986.

Jeff Dege, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For the record, the previous four parts of this ongoing history are:

As of April 27, 2021, 19 states have what reader Matthew Carberry calls “Alaska Carry” laws. The term refers to the fact that Alaska was the first state, in 2003, to adopt a system in which the government issues but does not require concealed carry permits. This means that anyone who can legally possess a gun can carry it concealed in public without a license (although various other restrictions on who, what, where, and when still apply).

There are a couple of reasons individuals in these Alaska Carry states might want to get permits. First, having a permit conveys the benefit of concealed carry reciprocity in other states. For example, 38 other states accept Alaska concealed carry permits.

Second, in some Alaska Carry states having a permit allows individuals broader discretion when carrying. For example, in early adopting Arizona, only those with concealed carry permits can carry in restaurants that serve alcohol and within 1,000 feet of a school.

The 19 Alaska Carry states and Vermont take their place alongside 21 states which are shall issue, making 41 of 50 states with liberalized concealed carry regimes. Only 9 states today remain may issue, though over a quarter of the US population lives in those 9 states.

Following a 2017 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Wrenn v. District of Columbia and Grace v. District of Columbia, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department no longer requires applicants for concealed carry permits to provide a “good reason.” Although not a state, it is a shall issue jurisdiction.

Given the current division of American states into red and blue, we may see additional red states go from shall issue to permitless concealed carry regimes, but it is very unlikely that currently blue may issue states will become shall issue, much less permitless carry.

At the same time, it seems there is no going back from liberalized gun carry laws, at least not yet. Since the rise of the shall issue era, no state has gone from a liberalized carry regime to a more restrictive one. That is, no permitless carry state has gone back to shall issue, and no shall issue state has gone back to may issue.

NOTES

*Initial law applied only to Idaho residents was expanded to include all U.S. citizens in 2020.

**Following a 2018 decision by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in Taff v. State (2018 Ark. App. 488), the NRA-ILA and other pro-gun rights organizations recognized Arkansas as an open carry state. As the sections of the Arkansas Code that cover concealed carry have not yet been amended, however, gun control organizations like the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence continue to classify Arkansas as a shall issue permitting state.

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5 comments

  1. And the Supreme Court will look at New York State’s “may issue” Sullivan Law, which requires you to provide a “good reason” to get a permit. I got my permit in the Gun Culture 1.0 days, when I had a large/small game and fishing license. That Ruger Mk. 1 was a fun gun to shoot (I think David has one) but not the pocket cannon examples people carry around today.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I knew my pedantry would pay off at some point!

    I started using Alaska Carry to distinguish it from “Vermont Carry,” which folks online used to use as shorthand for permitless carry, both to note the “retaining a permit for reciprocity” angle, and to call out that Alaska was the first state to _affirmatively choose_ to extend the right.

    Vermont’s lack of a permit requirement rests on a very old court case, which, IIRC, barred them from offering permits even if they wanted to. That’s a good ruling by that court, but, philosophically in my opinion, lacks the civic virtue of people wresting back a little liberty from their government.

    Liked by 1 person

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