Although the current trend towards adopting concealed carry laws has been met with opposition, no state which has adopted a "Shall-Issue" concealed carry law has reversed its decision. As of February 2008, 48 US states allow some form of concealed carry (though 9 of them have discretionary "may-issue" policies, a few of these being effectively "no-issue" in practice) and all but 6 provide for some variant on non-concealed "open-carry. The states of Wisconsin, Illinois and the District of Columbia do not have any form of concealed-carry licensing; Wisconsin allows for open carry in most situations, while Illinois only allows it in rural areas subject to county restriction, and the District of Columbia had a blanket ban on ownership, possession and carry of handguns in its jurisdiction which began in 1976. This was struck down June 26, 2008 by the US Supreme Court.
In 39 concealed-carry states, issuing officials may not arbitrarily deny a concealed-carry application, a practice known as Florida-style "shall issue". It is so named because Florida gained national attention for adopting this policy in 1987, leading to citizens of other states advocating similar measures, even though this practice had been adopted in Washington state in 1961.
Nine states have "may issue" or "discretionary issue" laws requiring the applicant to demonstrate specific "need". These "may issue" states range from "shall issue" in practice, such as Alabama, Connecticut and Iowa; to "at the whim of local officials", such as New York, Massachusetts, and California, (where rural officials more liberally issue permits but urban officials seldom do) to "almost non-issue" in states such as Maryland and New Jersey; to "never-issue" Hawaii where, though state law allows for the issuance of permits, officials choose not to issue them under any circumstances.
Two states, Vermont and Alaska, allow a non-felon, aged 16 or 21 respectively, to carry without requiring a permit as a fundamental right. Alaskan residents may optionally obtain a permit granting reciprocal carry privileges in certain other states, or to be exempted from the NICS background check. Vermont extends the right to carry without requiring a permit to non-residents as well as to residents, but issues no permits to residents that could function to allow reciprocal concealed carry rights for Vermont residents while in other states.
As of July 2008, two states (Wisconsin and Illinois) and Washington D.C. have no provision for legal concealed-carry. There are currently movements in both of these states to pass concealed-carry laws. Legislation was passed in 2004 and again in 2005 in Wisconsin, but was vetoed by the governor. Conceal and carry bills are introduced every year in Illinois, but usually fail to make it out of committee. Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-Chicago) has vowed to veto any such legislation that makes it to his desk. Illinoiscarry.com is a website dedicated to concealed carry and the advancement of the Second Amendment in Illinois. On March 11, 2008, nearly 2,500 Illinois gun owners marched on the capitol in Springfield, as part of IGOLD (Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day) and demanded a conceal and carry provision and also called for an end to more gun control. On March 23, 2006, the legislature of the state of Kansas (which was formerly no-issue) overrode Governor Kathleen Sebelius's veto and enacted a concealed-carry law that became effective July 1, 2006. The District of Columbia is "no-issue" in accordance with its prior blanket ban on most firearms, including a total ban on ownership and possession of handguns and a requirement that long guns be kept locked or disassembled. The ban on handgun ownership and the requirement for keeping long guns locked and disassembled was overturned in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, but the decision, even though it struck down a ban on carry of concealable weapons, will likely not soon result in a compulsion to allow carry of firearms outside the home.
Reciprocal recognition of concealed-carry privileges and rights vary state-to-state, are negotiated between individual states, and sometimes additionally depend on the residency status of the license holder. While 37 states have reciprocity agreements with at least one other state and several states honor all out-of-state concealed carry permits, some states have special requirements like training courses or safety exams, and therefore do not honor permits from states that do not have such requirements for issue. Some states make exceptions for persons under the minimum age (usually 21) if they are active or honorably-discharged members of the military or a police force (the second of these two is also allowed under Federal law). States that do not have this exemption generally do not recognize any license from states that do; an example of this is the State of Washington's refusal to honor any Texas CHL as Texas has the military exception to age.
Attempts have been made in the United States House of Representatives (H.R. 226) to enact legislation to compel complete reciprocity for concealed-carry licenses, and the United States Senate (S. 388) has introduced similar legislation. However, opponents of national reciprocity have pointed out that his legislation would effectively require states with higher standards of permit issuance (training courses, safety exams, good cause, etc.) to honor permits from states with more liberal issuance policies, and states that do not currently allow concealed handgun carry would be required to allow it (which, as those states have no restrictions other than the total ban, would have no means to restrict concealed carry by out-of-state holders, as even the issuing states do). Most proposed federal reciprocity legislation contains no provisions to prevent someone whose concealed carry permit has been revoked or suspended in one state from obtaining one in another state. For these and various other reasons, members of Congress representing urban areas have consistently managed to prevent such legislation from being enacted.
Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and LEAA's Executive Director Jim Fotis co-authored H.R. 218 almost ten years ago. The Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) is the nation's largest non-profit, non-partisan coalition of law enforcement professionals, crime victims, and concerned citizens united for justice. With a major focus on public education, LEAA is dedicated to providing hard facts and real-world insights into the world of law enforcement and the battle against violent crime. LEAA fights at every level of government for legislation that reduces violent crime while preserving the rights of honest citizens, particularly the right of self-defense. Cunningham and Fotis jointly recognized the immediate, no-cost benefit to the community of simply allowing trustworthy officers to carry a concealed firearm full-time.
Recognizing the clear and immeasurable safety benefits to police officers, their families and communities, Congress passed H.R. 218 with an overwhelming majority and the bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 22, 2004.
Most required CCW training courses devote a considerable amount of time to liability issues. Even when self-defense is justified there can be serious civil liabilities related to self-defense. For example, if innocent bystanders are hurt or killed there could be both civil and criminal liabilities even if the use of deadly force was completely justified. Some states also technically allow an assailant who is shot by a gun owner to bring civil action. However, a majority of states who allow concealed or open carry forbid suits being brought in such cases, either by barring lawsuits for damages resulting from a criminal act on the part of the plaintiff, or by granting the gun owner immunity from such a civil suit if it is found that he or she was justified in shooting.
Therefore, while state laws vary, generally use of deadly force is recommended as a last resort, when life or limb is endangered, when escape or retreat are foreclosed, and warnings are given but ignored. However, increased passage of "Castle Doctrine" laws allow persons who own firearms and/or carry them concealed to also use them to protect property, and/or to use them without first attempting to retreat. Even given these relaxed restrictions on use of force, using a handgun must still be a last resort. The user must reasonably believe that nothing short of deadly force will protect the life or property at stake in a situation.
During the range portion of the course the applicant typically learns and demonstrates safe handling and operation of a firearm and accurate shooting from common self-defense distances. Some states require a certain proficiency to receive a passing grade, whereas other states (e.g., Florida) technically require only a single-shot be fired to demonstrate handgun handling proficiency. Some states (e.g., Florida) recognize the safety and use-of-force training given to military personnel as acceptable. Such states will allow a military ID for active persons or DD214 for legally discharged persons in lieu of formal civilian training certification. Active and retired law enforcement officers are also generally exempt from qualification requirements, due to a federal statute permitting retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons in the United States.
However, increased passage of "Castle Doctrine" laws allow persons who own firearms and/or carry them concealed to also use them to protect property, and/or to use them without first attempting to retreat.
Even given these relaxed restrictions on use of force, using a handgun must still be a last resort in some juridictions; the user must reasonably believe that nothing short of deadly force will protect the life or property at stake in a situation. And even with Castle Doctrine laws in place civil liabilities for errors that cause harm to another still exist, although civil immunity is provided in the Castle Doctrine laws of some states, e.g, Texas.
Some CCW holders in the United States have elected since 2006 to switch from carrying hollow-point bullets, and especially 10mm Auto caliber weapons, to instead favor carrying smaller caliber weapons. This occurred because of the conviction of retired school teacher Harold Fish in Arizona for second degree murder during a self-defense shooting. His conviction for killing a homeless man with a history of mental instability who attacked him while hiking on a remote trail was obtained through a jury trial by stressing Fish overreacted through choosing to use the increased stopping power of 10 mm hollow point bullets. State law in Arizona has subsequently been changed, such that the state now has the burden to prove that a self defense shooting was not in self defense, whereas the burden previously before the Fish incident was that the shooter on trial had to prove that the shooting was in fact done in self defense. Meanwhile, many CCW holders have elected to switch to carrying handguns loaded with FMJ bullets in calibers less powerful than 10 mm. A choice for selecting the correct stopping power advocated by defensive handgun instructor and columnist Massad Ayoob, and echoed by many CCW course instructors, is to select the exact same type of bullets (FMJ or hollow point), in the same caliber and possibly even brand that are used by the local police. By so doing, the CCW holder avoids being accused of such overreaction should they be involved in a shooting.
Some states allow the concealed carry of a handgun in a vehicle by people who lack a permit to carry concealed. In some states, for instance, Vermont, carry of a loaded firearm in a vehicle is allowed whether in plain sight or concealed. In others like Texas, the handgun must be concealed, or alternately as in Virginia, it must be plainly visible. In still others, such as California, Maryland and New Jersey, transport of a gun in a vehicle is only allowed if the gun is unloaded and secured out of reach of the driver and passengers. Other states, such as Florida, have no restrictions as to the location of a concealed handgun for those without a CCW permit as long as it is "securely encased" (i.e., in a snapped holster, among other options) and that it is not on one's person (i.e., not in the person's manual possession). This does not alter the person's right to concealed carry on one's person outside the car unless one holds a valid CCW permit. In Florida, it is illegal if a handgun is visible and in an unsnapped holster inside a car. On the other hand, for holders of a valid CCW permit in Florida, it is legal to have a weapon concealed on one's person while inside one's private conveyance (vehicle, car, aircraft, or boat), or concealed in one's private conveyance, whether or not a snapped holster is used.
The doctrine of allowing weapons to be kept in a vehicle, especially if kept in a ready state, is often called the "traveler assumption" in states which have it because an officer must assume a person carrying a weapon in their car is transporting it, pre-empting all but probable cause on the part of the officer that the person has or intends to commit a crime. Previously, states such as Texas specified that a person traveling is exempt from the statute, but the definition of "traveling" was not provided statutorily, allowing for varied interpretation by officers and the judiciary.
The traveler assumption is sometimes combined with "Castle Doctrine", which states in general terms that "a man's home is his castle, and he has the right not to be forced to retreat from it, and to defend it with deadly force if such need arises". The combination extends these two rights to a person's vehicle, and also makes it feasible to defend oneself by allowing the availability of a firearm. A person being carjacked, for example, would be justified under such a combination of laws in using deadly force to repel the attack, and could, to that end, keep a firearm in the vehicle that could be readily used.
The general guideline is that laws regarding concealed carry of firearms in vehicles vary from state to state, and even within some jurisdictions within a given state, for those states in which state laws do not include pre-emption over local ordinances regarding firearms. Additionally, officers may be ignorant of the applicability or enforcability of certain laws and may ticket, summons or arrest a person who is in fact acting lawfully.
Weapon possession, in the context of concealed weapons, is a crime of that circumstance in which a person who is not legally authorized to carry a concealed weapon is found in possession of such a weapon. In the United States, it can also be interpreted as the possession of a firearm by a person legally disqualified from doing so under the Gun Control Act. Depending on state law, it can also apply to concealed carry of otherwise illegal knives such as stilettos, dirks or switchblades.
Even in localities where concealed carrying is permitted, there may be legal restrictions on where a person may carry a concealed weapon. Typical examples include the prohibition of concealed carry in:
Carry of a concealed weapon by a licensed individual where prohibited is also generally referred to as illegal weapon possession.
Lastly, some states regulate which firearms may be concealed by a particular permit holder. Texas, for example, differentiates between semi-automatic and non-semi-automatic firearms, and an "NSA"-class permit holder cannot carry an autoloading handgun (restricting them largely to revolvers). Other restrictions seen in select states include restricting the user to a gun of equal or lesser power than they used when qualifying, or to a specific gun. In most states, though, a CCW permit holder is limited only by what they can conceal while wearing a particular outfit.
By posting the signs, businesses create areas where it is illegal to carry a concealed handgun similar to schools, hospitals, and public events. These areas are often referred to as "gun-free zones", although that term is often considered a misnomer unless the prohibition is immediately enforced on entry with searches or metal detectors, such as in a government building or airport. In addition to signage, virtually all jurisdictions also allow some form of oral communication by the lawful owner or controller of the property that a person is not welcome and should leave. This notice can be given to anyone for any reason, including due to the carrying of firearms by that person, and refusal to heed such a request to leave constitutes trespassing. Trespass by a holder of a concealed-carry license may or may not have more severe penalties than "simple" trespass, depending on the jurisdiction.
In addition, signage acts to limit liability of the property owner. By posting signs encouraging, discouraging, requiring or prohibiting an action, the business not only influences actions in its favor, but largely avails itself of liability as the harm was caused by the individual's failure to heed the notice, placing the individual at fault for his action. Legal precedent both supports and refutes this argument depending on the severity and nature of the situation, and on State law governing the posting of such signs.
Opponents also point to recent school, mall, church and other public shootings in areas where the owner or State has prohibited concealed carry as evidence that criminals are in fact drawn to posted places, as the population of such a place is likely to be less armed than a place in which concealed carry is allowed.
In Texas, for example, the specifications of a Section 30.06 sign prohibiting concealed carry are clearly defined, and only a sign meeting the specifications carries the force of the section. A sign, for example, that depicts the silhouette of a gun with a red circle and slash (similar to other signs prohibiting an action), that simply says "NO CONCEALED WEAPONS ALLOWED", is too small, has incorrect text, or is not placed prominently can technically be ignored as it doesn't fulfill the requirements to ban permit holders from carrying concealed. Many of these points of law have yet to be tested in court, but such is explicitly taught by the state licensed concealed carry instructors.
Conversely, the intent of posting such a sign may only be to discourage entry while carrying by those unfamiliar with the law, which (almost by definition) typically includes only those not licensed to carry concealed handguns. Because a licensee is trained to recognize a valid sign and differentiate it from a nonbinding sign, posting an invalid sign for this purpose serves as a form of doublespeak, reassuring patrons who oppose concealed carry while at the same time not actually prohibiting concealed carry.
Constitutionally, officials cannot license or register a fundamental right
The Supreme Court held in Lamont v. Postmaster General (1965) that the First Amendment prevents the government from registering purchasers of magazines and newspapers — even if such material is "communist political propaganda.
Proponents claim carry permits are a positive aspect of firearm ownership as there are lower instances of gun crime among permit holders than other gun owners, and concealed carry permit training courses and proficiency tests validate a sufficient level of competence and knowledge of responsibilities as a gun owner. A known counterargument is the claim that the actual criminals choose not to obtain permits and as such render the permits unnecessary.
There have been many studies and papers published in academic journals regarding the effects of various concealed carry laws on crime rate. Academics have also taken the discussion to books, blogs, and oral debates.
In his book, More Guns, Less Crime, University of Maryland scholar John Lott's analysis of crime report data has shown statistically significant effects of concealed carry laws. One major conclusion was that locations which enacted more permissive concealed carry laws had a decrease in violent crime but an increase in property crime. The possible reasons for this rise in property crime are twofold:
In both cases, crime is reduced overall, and criminal activity that does occur is recategorized as to type and severity because of the effects of the change in law.
Don Kates summarizes the consensus reached by criminological research into gun control thus:
"Unfortunately, an almost perfect inverse correlation exists between those who are affected by gun laws, particularly bans, and those whom enforcement should affect. Those easiest to disarm are the responsible and law abiding citizens whose guns represent no meaningful social problem. Irresponsible and criminal owners, whose gun possession creates or exacerbates so many social ills, are the ones most difficult to disarm."
Regardless of the interpretation of statistics, the trend in the United States has been towards greater permissiveness of concealed carry. In Florida, which introduced the "shall-issue" concealed carry laws used as a model for other states, crimes committed against residents dropped markedly upon the general issuance of concealed-carry licenses, which had the unintended consequence of putting tourists in Florida driving marked rental cars at risk from criminals since tourists may be readily presumed unarmed. Florida responded by enacting laws prohibiting the obvious marking of rental cars. In 1991, the Luby's massacre prompted Texas lawmakers to pass a concealed carry law that came into effect in 1995.
Research comparing various countries' violent crime rates, murder rates, and crimes committed with weapons, have found that legal ownership of guns, including concealed carry guns, generally reduces crime rates.
University of Washington public health professor Brandon Centerwall prepared a study comparing homicide rates between Canada and the U.S., as the two countries are very similar, yet have different handgun ownership rates. He reported "Major differences in the prevalence of handguns have not resulted in differing total criminal homicide rates in Canadian provinces and adjoining US states." In his conclusions he published the following admonition:
"If you are surprised by my findings, so are we. We did not begin this research with any intent to "exonerate" handguns, but there it is -- a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where NOT to aim public health resources."
State laws and policies relating to the issuance of concealed carry permits generally fall into various categories depending on their guidelines. These are typically described as may-issue, shall-issue, no-issue, and unrestricted.
U.S. states such as California and New York give wide latitude to the county authorities in issuing permits. In California, the usual issuance of the permits ranges from a no-issue policy, such as San Francisco, to an almost shall-issue environment, like Orange County. Iowa has a similar distribution, but unlike California, most counties have lenient policies as most counties are rural. There is a strong movement in Iowa to change the system to shall-issue due to the capricious nature of a county-by-county system. It may end up in a court case because of 14th amendment equal protection issues.
In New York City, a concealed weapons permit is allowed by law, but typically takes a large degree of money, political influence, and/or celebrity status to obtain one. Examples of current and past New York City permit holders are Senator Charles Schumer, Robert DeNiro, Don Imus, Howard Stern, Ronald Lauder, Edgar Bronfman Sr., Donald Trump, William F. Buckley Jr., Harvey Keitel, Joan Rivers, Arthur Sulzberger, and Bill Cosby.
This category also includes states where authorities have very limited discretion in permit issuance, such as Connecticut.
Maryland law contains provisions for citizens to apply for a concealed carry permit, but in reality only those with political or police connections can get one (making it effectively a no-issue state).
Alabama is by law a may-issue state, but as of 2006 all Alabama county sheriffs issue permits to almost all qualified applicants, making it shall-issue in practice.
Typical permit requirements include residency, minimum age, submitting fingerprints, passing a background check, attending a certified handgun/firearms safety class, participating in a range check/qualification before a certified trainer (for demonstrating safe firearms handling and practical proficiency), and paying the required fee (if any). Minnesota is a classic "shall issue" state.
Requirements also include certification that a person has never been diagnosed with a "mental illness," which include any condition which interferes with "normal life--" including trauma from being victim of prior crimes, or for which the person was diagnosed prior to the passage of the law.
These requirements vary by jurisdiction; for example, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Washington (with well over a million permit holders among them) have no safety certification requirement or range check.
The following are undisputed shall-issue states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Alaska is both a shall-issue and an unrestricted state. Alaska does not require a permit for any law-abiding individual to carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, within the state's borders. However, the state continues to issue permits to any of its residents who meet the state's issuance criteria for reciprocity reasons; Alaska residents can carry, with a permit, while in other states that recognize the Alaska concealed-carry license.
The status of Alabama, Connecticut and Iowa is in some dispute among gun rights activists. The laws of all three states, strictly speaking, would place them in the may-issue category, as permit issue is to some degree discretionary. However, these states are effectively "shall-issue" in practice as agency policies direct the issuing body to approve an applicant who has met statutory requirements.
As of December 2007 in the United States, only Illinois and Wisconsin are no-issue jurisdictions. Nebraska and Kansas have passed concealed carry laws which took effect on January 1st, 2007. Wisconsin, Kansas, Virginia and Nebraska all permit unlicenced open carry, subject to county and municipal restrictions. The District of Columbia is also "no-issue", and until District of Columbia v. Heller did in fact forbid possession or ownership of a handgun within the District, except those grandfathered in before the 1976 ordinance went into effect. The details of how DC residents may now own, and possibly carry, weapons are still being negotiated (as of July 2008).
Currently, among U.S. states, only Alaska and Vermont allow the general public to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
Alaska is both unrestricted and a shall-issue state as it continues to automatically issue carry permits to all residents who meet that state's issuance criteria; this is done primarily for permitting residents to legally carry in states that recognize permits from Alaska. In addition to this anyone 16 or older may equip said weapon without parental consent.
Vermont is unique in that permits are not required for carry concealed or unconcealed for resident and non-resident alike. Vermont has no statutes concerning concealed carry, nor is there a specific statute that allows it. In the absence of a statute that prohibits it, then it is taken that there is no law against it. Since Vermont does not issue permits, its residents are unable to legally carry concealed in other states that would normally recognize out-of-state permit holders unless they hold some other state's permit. As a way around this situation, a person who wishes to legally carry a concealed weapon in another state can apply for and receive a non-resident permit from Florida, or another state which issues non-resident permits. Florida is typically the state of choice because Florida has been quite aggressive about seeking the widest possible reciprocity with other states.
Distribution by age is generally proportionate to the overall state adult population. In Florida, 26% of permit-holders are in the 21–35 age group, 36% are 36–50, 27% are 51–65, and 11% are over age 65. The numbers of permit revocations are small. North Carolina reports only 0.2% of their 263,102 holders had their license revoked in the 10 years since they have adopted the law.
Permit holders are a remarkably law-abiding subclass of the population. Florida, which has issued over 1,346,000 permits in twenty years, has revoked only 165 for a "crime after licensure involving a firearm," and fewer than 4200 permits for any reason.