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Concealed Carry

A Look at America's Handgun Permit Status

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Gun owners are enjoying a greater freedom to carry handguns today than has been experienced since the first rudimentary efforts at gun control nearly a century ago. Carry laws are becoming less restrictive even as high-profile acts of guns violence increase public scrutiny of America’s gun laws.

Legal victories in the nation’s highest district courts of appeals and even the Supreme Court of the United States have struck down handgun bans in the District of Columbia, Chicago, San Francisco and other places, further relaxing laws against handgun carry.

Forty-eight states currently permit some type of concealed carry, the only exceptions being Illinois and Wisconsin. Among those states that do permit concealed carry, an increasing number are moving towards less-restrictive regulations.

No-Issue

In no-issue states, concealed carry permits are not issued for any private citizen and the concealed carry permits of other states are not recognized. Only law enforcement and trained security personnel are permitted to carry concealed weapons.

Until the late 1980s, more than a dozen U.S. states maintained a no-issue policy, including a sizable chunk of the Wild West states — Texas and Oklahoma, among others — where open carry of handguns had been romanticized in Western novels and films throughout the 20th Century. As recently as 2002, seven states were still no-issue.

Today, Illinois and Wisconsin are the last remaining holdouts. (Wisconsin does allow open carry of handguns, however.) Efforts are gaining momentum in Illinois to pass Right to Carry legislation that would make the state the 49th to adopt a concealed carry law, while Wisconsin has long been a governor’s veto away from becoming a concealed carry state.

May-Issue

In may-issue states, law permits concealed carry licenses after certain requirements have been met. However, local authorities — usually law enforcement agencies — have some discretion and are not required by law to issue the permits.

May-issue states range from the very lax — such as Alabama, where applications for concealed carry permits are almost never declined — to the very restrictive. In Hawaii, for example, concealed carry permits are typically granted only to military personnel and uniformed security personnel.

A total of 10 U.S. states currently fall into the may-issue category. However, that number will shrink to nine in January 2011, when less restrictive concealed carry laws take effect in Iowa, shifting it to the shall-issue category.

Besides Alabama, Hawaii and California, the may-issue states are congregated in the Northeast: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

Shall-Issue

Much like may-issue states, shall-issue states have laws permitting concealed carry of firearms once certain criteria are met. Unlike may-issue states, however, local law enforcement agencies have no discretion in issuing the permit. The law in those states generally reads that a concealed carry permit “shall be issued” if the requirements are met.

Typically among the criteria that must be met before a concealed carry permit is issued are a minimum age (21), background check, certified training and a permit fee.

A total of 37 states are shall-issue. Of those, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Washington are the least restrictive, not requiring certified training or a safety examination before a permit is issued.

Connecticut’s shall-issue status is sometimes disputed. A literal interpretation of state law classifies Connecticut as a may-issue state. However, private citizens who are denied a permit by a local law enforcement agency can appeal that decision before a state board. As long as the state’s criteria are met, the appeal will be granted.

Unrestricted Concealed Carry

Three U.S. states allow private citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In April 2010, Arizona adopted a law to join Alaska and Vermont as unrestricted carry states.

Alaska and Arizona still issue concealed carry permits to residents on a shall-issue basis for the purpose of reciprocity laws in other states. Those laws allow visiting U.S. citizens to carry concealed weapons in those states, but only if they hold a valid carry permit from their home state. Because Vermont does not issue concealed carry permits, residents there have a difficult time carrying weapons when visiting other states.

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