Concealed Weapon Carry Laws in the US: A Primer (Updated July 2021)

I submitted the manuscript for my recent small book, Concealed Carry Revolution: Expanding the Right to Bear Arms in America, at the end of 2020. It was out of date from the start! Since January of 2021, five more states have passed permitless carry laws: Iowa, Tennessee, Utah, Montana, and Texas.

These developments provide a good occasion to review concealed weapon carry permit laws in the US.

Regulatory Regimes

There are four basic regulatory regimes governing the carrying of concealed weapons in public. From least to most restrictive, they are:

  • Permitless Carry (without the option to get a concealed carry permit)
  • Permitless Carry (with the option to get a concealed carry permit)
  • Shall Issue
  • May Issue

The image below briefly describes these regimes and highlights certain caveats.

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Concealed Carry Revolution Book Available Now

Despite the profound significance of the issue, no comprehensive but concise history of concealed carry laws in the United States yet exists. Concealed Carry Revolution seeks to fill this gap. It is available right now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by special order through your favorite local bookstore. An electronic version should also be available soon.

An even better way to get a copy of the book is to make a small donation in support of my work through my “Buy Me a Coffee” page (like Patreon). Those who sign up as annual members will receive a free signed copy of the book and monthly supporters will receive a free electronic copy as a “Thank You!”

This small book (100 pages including extensive notes) was originally written as a chapter in my larger book on Gun Culture 2.0 on which I continue to work. As the chapter grew longer and the focus of that work shifted, I found myself with a great deal of material which had no obvious outlet.

If you happen to get a copy of the book, I would appreciate your review (honest, if necessary) on Amazon.com, Goodreads, or your favorite book review site.

As always, I am grateful for your interest in and support of my work in telling the story of American gun culture.

Buy me a drinkIf you want to support my work, please buy me a drink

Guns Don’t Kill People, Systemic Inequality Does

Another day in America, another pile of bodies, and another set of cries for gun control. Predictably, the Atlanta and Boulder and Indianapolis mass public shootings were followed by calls to ban AR-style rifles. President Biden proposes to subject “ghost guns” to background checks and place pistol-stabilizing braces under the National Firearms Act as short-barreled rifles.

This marks a return to the old, pre-pandemic normal in America in which extremely rare cases of large-scale homicide bring efforts to regulate guns and gun parts in ways so general they are unlikely to have the desired effect of dramatically reducing gun violence.

As tragic as they are, overemphasis on these dramatic but rare events diverts our attention from the vast majority of homicides which involve fewer than four victims, victims who are shot with regular old handguns that are acquired in transactions not covered by criminal background checks.

Having studied American gun culture for a decade now, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday gun violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. Efforts to reduce this violence should, therefore, be equally concentrated on addressing its causes in these same areas. Doing so shifts efforts at intervention away from guns per se, a move that allows us to circumvent federal gridlock on gun legislation and as well as legal challenges to gun regulation. We can carve a political path forward right now by decoupling violence reduction from gun control.

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Was the Storming of the U.S. Capitol Building an “Insurrection”?

In early January 2021, my work was disrupted by a text message from a friend: “They are storming the capitol.” It took me a moment to figure out who “they” were, but I soon made the connection. They were people gathered for the March for Trump rally in Washington, DC. Formally organized by Women For America First, the rally included a motley crew of people wanting to “Save America” by overturning Donald J. Trump’s defeat by Joseph R. Biden in the November 2020 presidential election. Joining run-of-the mill members of “MAGA nation” in forcefully entering the U.S. Capitol Building were followers of movements like Stop the Steal, the QAnon conspiracy, Proud Boys, Nick Fuentes’s Groyper Army, Boogaloo Bois, Oath Keepers, and III%ers.

As they were attempting to disrupt a meeting of Congress that was certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, many have called the event an insurrection.

But was it?

NOTE: I am not an attorney, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so nothing in this post should be construed as giving legal advice or as constituting comprehensive and accurate interpretation of the law.

DC Capitol Storming by TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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QOTD: A Tedious and Repetitive Dialogue of the Deaf

So began four years of the voluminous debate over the gun and its place in American life, fully documented in 4,000 pages of congressional hearings and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. It was to be a tedious and repetitive dialogue of the deaf.

— On gun control legislation following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, from Lee Kennett and Jules LaVerne Anderson, The Gun in America (1975), p. 232, emphasis added

Those Who Control the Present Control the Past by Jason Fertig

I see and hear a lot of ideas about guns and gun culture shared in private settings, either on social media or face-to-face, that I wish would garner a wider audience. It occurred to me that I could re-post or recount some of those ideas on this blog, for the benefit of those who are interested in but unsure about guns.

In that spirit of sharing, below is a reflection on the portrayal of the Second Amendment in a children’s book on the Constitution written by Jason Fertig, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management at the University of Southern Indiana’s Romain College of Business in Evansville.

As on Twitter, “Retweet =/= Endorsement.” That is, I don’t necessarily agree with everything written by others on this blog. But I do believe they offer a point of view that people who are “gun curious” will be interested in.

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Frustrating Anti-Gun Biases in Scholarly Publications on Guns

I was recently asked to review Guns in Law (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), for CHOICE, a monthly publication of the Association of College & Research Libraries designed to help librarians decide which books to add to their collections.

I was excited to have the assignment because I know the first editor, Austin Sarat, from my participation in “The Social Life of Guns” symposium at Amherst College. Sarat was also one of the editors of the book that came from that symposium, The Lives of Guns, to which I contributed an essay on technologies of concealed carry in Gun Culture 2.0. I also saw that two of the seven chapters were written by sociologists, Jennifer Carlson writing about her work on police and the Second Amendment and Laura Beth Nielsen on “Good Moms with Guns.” Continue reading

QOTD: Cicero on Moral Self-Defense

There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts, a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading, a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.

-Marcus Tullius Cicero, Murder Trials, trans. Michael Grant (New York: Penguin, 1975), p. 279. Quoted in: Guns in Law (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), p. 1.

The Continuing Expansion of Permitless Concealed Carry Laws in the United States

Not even a week after I posted a primer on concealed carry laws in the United States, Kentucky became the third state just this year to go permitless (joining Oklahoma and South Dakota). There are now 15 states in which anyone who can legally possess a gun can carry it concealed in public without a license (although various other restrictions on what, where, and when you can carry still apply).*

One of these is Vermont, which has never restricted concealed carry. The other 14 have what my friend Matthew Carberry calls “Alaska Carry” regimes. So called because Alaska was the first state, in 2003, to adopt a system in which the government issues but does not require permits to carry concealed weapons in public.

This permitless carry era on top of the previous shall issue carry era has resulted in a continuing expansion of the right to bear arms in public.

Graphic by Rob Vance, March 2019. Used with permission.

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