If you are new to conceal and carry and want to get the basics this is the place to start. There is a lot to know, and it can seem overwhelming so this is a fly-by at 10,000 feet. After reading this you still won’t be fully informed on everything you need to know, but you will have a good “working knowledge” of how carrying a concealed weapon works.
So grab a cup of coffee and let’s start digging in. (Yes, this page is long, but it will be a fast read.)
The legal definition of concealed carry is the practice of carrying a handgun or other weapon in public in a concealed manner, either on one’s person or in close proximity.
Currently, there are no federal laws in place that offer citizens conceal and carry permits at a national level; therefore legislation has been enacted on a state-by-state level. Currently 49 U.S. states (all except Illinois) have laws that offer citizens at least some rights to legally carry concealed firearms.
Generally speaking, states have elected to adopt one of four guiding approaches to how concealed carry permits are granted:
Unrestricted: (Sometimes this is referred to as “Constitutional Carry”) requires no permit to carry a concealed firearm. Current unrestricted states include: Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming.
“Shall Issue”: These are the most common type of conceal and carry permits. Shall-Issue states require applicants to meet certain criteria defined by the law, but once a citizen meets the criteria the granting authority has no discretion to withhold permits. Typically states require residency, a minimum age, finger printing, background checks and attendance in a certified training program / firearm safety class.
Currently Shall-Issue states include: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, 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, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
“May-Issue”: These states require citizens to obtain a legal permit by meeting state requirements (similar to Shall-Issue states) but the granting authority has discretion to add additional requirements or withhold the permit if they do not feel sufficient cause warrants the permit. Typically these additional restrictions can include providing evidence that there is justifiable need for the permit.
In practice, May-Issue states may range from nearly “No-Issue” to “Shall-Issue based on the current political climate. Additionally, it is often seen in practice that May-Issue states vary in their requirements from locality to locality. States with May-Issue legislation are generally categorized into “Permissive May-Issue” where citizens who meet all legal requirements are rarely refused, and “Restrictive May-Issue” states whereby citizens without the ability to show good cause are not likely to be granted a permit.
Permissive May-Issue states include: Alabama, Connecticut
Restrictive May-Issue states include: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island
“No-Issue”: These states do not allow private citizens to carry a concealed handgun. The term refers to the fact that no permits will be granted or recognized. Currently Illinois, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia are No-Issue jurisdictions. However, Wisconsin will become a Shall-Issue state beginning November 2011.
Even though states using these broad approaches have many similarities, in practice most have unique provisions. It is important to know the rules of your state (and states you may travel to) to ensure that you are in full compliance with the law. Consult your individual state page for complete details.
Most states require conceal and carry applicants to participate in instructional training. Typically, training courses that meet most state training requirements will include both class-room and live-fire range instruction.
Some states will waive the training requirements with proof of prior police or military experience. Again, each state requires different documentation, but typically active military personnel may be asked for a military id and a copy of the applicant’s Basic Training Record (BTR) showing up-to-date pistol qualification. Active and retired police and law enforcement are generally not required to apply for a conceal and carry permit due to a federal law allowing them to carry concealed weapons in the United States.
Concealed carry classes are usually completed in the course of a day (or a weekend) and are valid for a set period of time (the exact duration is determined by each state). The most common recognized courses include curriculum develop by the National Rifle Association (NRA), former military personnel, or law enforcement officers, but it is always important to ask before signing up for the class if it meets your state’s concealed carry permit requirements.
Typically instruction will be divided into classroom instruction and live-fire proficiency training.
The classroom portion of the training will typically go over weapon mechanics, terminology, proper care, cleaning and handling of your weapon, conceal and carry laws and legal liability associated with concealed carry. Additional time may be spent covering topics such as tactical home defense, non-violent resolution to confrontational situations, and discussions about how to carry a weapon comfortably and effectively in your day-to-day life.
Live training requirements vary widely. For instance Georgia, Pennsylvania and Washington have no training or safety certification requirement, and Florida only requires a single shot to be fired to demonstrate handgun proficiency. Other states require that applicants demonstrate their understanding of handgun safety and accurate shooting proficiency from common self-defense distances.
Again, we recommend that you consult your individual state page for specific information about the training requirements in your state.
However it is our opinion that as gun owners and potential conceal and carry permit holders it makes sense to receive the highest quality, most extensive training possible. In fact, doing otherwise seems foolish and irresponsible. If you are ever faced with a situation where you would need to draw your weapon and defend your life, or the lives of your loved ones, you will want to absolutely know that you have the skills to handle the situation accurately and responsibly – otherwise you may be making a bad situation far worse by introducing a gun into the hands of the unskilled.
Many states have agreements where they honor permits issued in other states who have comparable standards. This is what is known as “reciprocity” and it is based on U.S. Constitution “full faith and credit provisions.
Reciprocity agreements between states vary wildly. Currently 37 states have reciprocity conceal and carry agreements with at least one other state, and several honor all out of state permits. However, a number of states have requirements including training courses or safety exams and do not recognize permits from states with no such requirements.
Currently the states with the widest reciprocity are Florida, Michigan and Missouri. In order to maximize their carry privileges some gun owners have elected to seek their permit from states with the greatest number of reciprocity agreements. This strategy can be effective, however states such as Michigan and Missouri do not issue permits to non-residents, and others do not extend reciprocity privledges to non-state residents. For instance many states do not offer reciprocity for out of state Utah permits.
So, as always before you decide which state you will seek your conceal and carry permit in it is best to fully research the laws and reciprocity agreements. You can find this information on the individual state pages.
Businesses in many states are allowed to post signs with specific language prohibiting concealed carry in their establishment. The precise language and format vary within each state. Citizens who violate these laws can immediately lose their conceal and carry permit. In addition to the signs businesses have the right to orally communicate that a person carrying a gun is not welcome and should leave the premises. Permit holders who disobey a business’s wishes are in violation of trespassing and very often this carries more severe penalties than simple trespass.
This issue has sparked much debate and controversy. Those against gun free zones argue that only law abiding citizens will honor the signs and those with more nefarious intent will target those establishments for the simple reason that they know the patrons are unarmed.
It is also interesting to note that some business owners have intentionally posted signs that prohibit guns, but do not meet state language or posting requirements. This is done to pacify gun control advocates while still allowing legal carry within their establishments.
In addition to Opt Out Statutes it is important to note that Federal Law prohibits an armed citizen within 1000 feet from a K-12 school. Some states have exempted this provision, but it does not generally extend to permit holders from states with reciprocity.
Generally speaking, it is illegal to carry a concealed handgun in a hospital and public gatherings, and certain federal property. However, concealed hanguns are allowed in all but 3 of the nation’s 391 national parks and wildlife refuges so long as all applicable federal, state, and local regulations are adhered to.
Even in situations where self-defense is legally justified, there can be serious civil or criminal liabilities when a concealed carry permit holder brandishes or fires his/her weapon. 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 technically allow an assailant who is shot by a gun owner to bring civil action. In a number of jurisdictions, liability is present when a resident draws his/her weapon, threatens its use, escalates an already dangerous situation, or when a citizen is carrying while intoxicated. It is very important to understand that simply pointing a firearm at any person constitutes felony assault with a deadly weapon unless circumstances validate a demonstration of force. A majority of states who allow conceal and carry, however, 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.
Simultaneously, increased passage of “Castle Doctrine” laws allow persons who own firearms and/or carry them concealed to use them without first attempting to retreat. However many states have also adopted escalation of force laws along with provisions for concealed carry. These include the necessity to first verbally warn a trespasser or lay hands on a trespasser before a shooting is justified (unless the trespasser is armed or assumed to be so). This escalation of force does not apply if the shooter reasonably believes a violent felony has been or is about to be committed on the property by the trespasser. Some states have also enacted a duty to retreat provision which requires a permit holder, especially in public places, to vacate him or herself from a potentially dangerous situation before resorting to deadly force. The duty to retreat does not restrictively apply in a person’s home or business though escalation of force may be required. In 49 states (all except Texas), lethal force is only authorized when serious harm is presumed to be imminent.
Even given these relaxed restrictions on use of force, using a handgun must still be a last resort in some jurisdictions; meaning the user must reasonably believe that nothing short of deadly force will protect the life or property at stake in a situation. Additionally, civil liabilities for errors that cause harm to others still exist, although civil immunity is provided in the Castle Doctrine laws of some states (e.g., Texas).
Typical criteria used to determine who can legally carry concealed weapons in Shall-Issue states are: those legally restricted from owning firearms, those restricted of possessing a conceal and carry permit, state discretionary licensing, state non-discretionary licensing, minimum age requirements (e.g., 18 or 21 years), successful completion of an approved instructor-led course, and shooting and safety proficiency qualification on a firing range. Unrestricted states generally have much lower standards to meet to carry a concealed weapon. These states include Vermont, Alaska, and Arizona.
In the United States no convicted felon may purchase, transfer, or otherwise be in the possession of any firearm. Illegally concealing a handgun is a felony in many states therefore conviction of such a crime would automatically result in the forfeiture of a citizen’s gun rights for life nationwide. Additional state penalties for unlawful carry of a concealed firearm can be severe with punishments including expensive fines, extended jail time, loss of voting rights, and even passport cancellation. A federal penalty of ten years in prison has been enacted for those found to be in possession of either firearms or ammunition while subject to a protection or restraining order. Such an order is grounds for the revocation of any concealed carry permit and the outright denial of any person’s new application while the order is active. 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 this can be interpreted as the possession of a firearm by a person legally disqualified from doing so under the Gun Control Act. These prohibited individuals include those who have been dishonorably discharged from the military, those who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, unlawful immigrant aliens, and individuals who have renounced their United States citizenship. None of these individuals are eligible for concealed weapons permits and may be punished not only for unlawful concealed carry of a handgun but for unlawful possession of a firearm. Depending on state law, it can apply to concealed carry of otherwise illegal knives such as stilettos, dirks or switchblades.
Citizens holding concealed carry permits may be prosecuted for failing to adhere to state and federal rules and regulations concerning the lawful exercise of carrying a concealed weapon. Some states do not allow the carrying of more than one concealed firearm by permit holders. Concealing two handguns, for example, might constitute a violation of law resulting in permit revocation or criminal charges. Carrying a handgun in the glove box of a vehicle, though commonly regarded as safe and legal, is considered illegal concealment in some states and could be punishable as a felony offense among non-permit holders. When arrested for any firearms offense the weapon(s) in question will be confiscated and could be destroyed upon conviction. While legally carrying concealed outside of one’s particular state of residence, such as in a state which grants reciprocity to the bearer’s permit, he or she must comply with all regulations in the state in which they are currently carrying even if those rules and regulations differ from those of the individual’s permit issuing state. Some states require that a person carrying a concealed weapon immediately declare this fact to any law enforcement officer they may encounter in the line of their official duties. This provision most commonly applies to traffic stops and police questioning but is required upon approach of an officer by the person who is carrying concealed. Failure to comply with this provision is an arrestable misdemeanor and additionally may require the mandatory revocation of the licensee’s permit. However simply passing an officer on the street, even at close distance, does not generally require the declaration of a concealed weapon. Carry of a concealed weapon by a licensed individual where prohibited is generally referred to as illegal weapon possession. In some states, no person may be in the public possession of a firearm while under the intoxicating effects of narcotics (whether prescribed or otherwise) or alcohol (usually defined as .01% BAC but up to .05% BAC in some areas).
Even in localities where concealed carrying is permitted, there may be legal restrictions on where a person may carry a concealed weapon unless state law overrides a business posting that no firearms are allowed. Examples include the prohibition of concealed carry in some states at:
- Public or private elementary and secondary schools either inside or within 1,000 feet of these areas (the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 contains an exception for individuals carrying under a state-issued permit, but some states that issue permits forbid carry in school buildings and/or on school property. The law authorizes federal penalties of up to $5,000 and five years in prison upon conviction.)
- Establishments that sell alcohol. The interpretation of this restriction varies widely from state to state. Some ban carry from all such establishments such as retail liquor stores and supermarkets, others only from businesses that sell alcohol “by the drink” for on-premises consumption such as restaurants (with some of these states, such as Kentucky, further distinguishing by banning carry in bar areas but not in dining areas), still others only from businesses falling under the state’s definition of a “bar” or “nightclub”.
- Government buildings (State Capitol, courthouses, police stations, federal buildings, post offices).
- Public accommodations (theaters, concert halls, indoor shopping malls).
- Public events (polling places, state fairs, stadiums and other sporting venues).
The city of Chicago, Illinois as well as the District of Columbia had banned handguns completely within their respective jurisdictions. However, two recent Supreme Court cases have effectively deemed those statutes to be illegal.
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 auto loading handgun (restricting them largely to revolvers). Texans who qualify with a revolver are only allowed to carry a revolver; if they qualify with a semi-automatic, they can carry either a semi-automatic or a revolver. Other restrictions seen in certain states include restricting the user to a gun no more powerful than they used when qualifying, or to one or more specific guns specified by the permit holder when applying. New York prohibits certain specific makes and models of pistols (mostly inexpensive low-caliber “Saturday Night Specials”) and will not issue a permit for those specific weapons. Maryland has banned these types of weapons entirely. Other states ban the carrying of handguns with large-capacity magazines. In most states, though, a CCW permit holder is limited only by what they can conceal while wearing particular clothing.
Generally the intersection of politics and science is an unholy union. Regardless which side of the issue you support you can find “research” to support your bias.
So what’s the truth?
The truth is – it’s hard to say. But there is ample evidence to suggest that increased permissiveness in conceal and carry laws, and an increase in the sale of handguns, lower the occurrence of violent crimes. One study found that crimes committed against citizens dropped markedly upon the general issuance of concealed-carry licenses.
In a 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime, economics researcher John Lott’s analysis of crime report data claims a statistically significant effect of concealed carry laws on crime, with more permissive concealed carry laws correlated with a decrease in overall crime. Lott studied FBI crime statistics from 1977 to 1993 and found that the passage of concealed carry laws resulted in a murder rate reduction of 8.5%, rape rate reduction of 5%, and aggravated assault reduction of 7%.
In a 2003 article, Yale Law professors John J. Donohue III and Ian Ayres have claimed that Lott’s conclusions were largely the result of a limited data set and that re-running Lott’s tests with more complete data yielded none of the results Lott claimed. However Lott has recently updated his findings with further evidence. According to the FBI, during the first year of the Obama administration the national murder rate declined by 7.4% along with other categories of crime which fell by significant percentages. During that same time national gun sales increased dramatically. According to Mr. Lott 450,000 more people bought guns in November 2008 than November 2007 which represents a 40% increase in sales, a trend which continued throughout 2009. The drop in the murder rate was the biggest one-year drop since 1999, another year when gun sales soared in the wake of increased calls for gun control as a result of the Columbine shooting.
In reporting on Lott’s original analysis The Chronicle of Higher Education has said that although his findings are controversial “Mr. Lott’s research has convinced his peers of at least one point: No scholars now claim that legalizing concealed weapons causes a major increase in crime.”
The National Research Council, the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences, claims to have found “no credible evidence” either supporting or disproving Lott’s thesis. However, James Q. Wilson wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that all of the Committee’s own estimates confirmed Lott’s finding that right-to-carry laws had decreased the murder rate and most of Lott’s statistical analysis was inscrutable and survive virtually every reanalysis done by the committee. On the Ayres and Donohue hybrid model showing more guns-more crime, the NAS panel stated: “The committee takes no position on whether the hybrid model provides a correct description of crime levels or the effects of right-to-carry laws.”
A 2008 article by Carlisle E. Moody and Thomas B. Marvell uses a more extensive data set and projects effects of the Ayres and Donohue hybrid model beyond a five-year span. Though their data set renders an apparent reduction in the cost of crime, Donohue and Ayres point out that the cost of crime increased in 23 of the 24 jurisdictions under scrutiny. Florida was the only jurisdiction showing positive effects from Shall-Issue Laws. Donohue and Ayres question the special case of Florida as well.
Using publicly available media reports, the Violence Policy Center claims that from May 2007 through the end of 2009, concealed carry permit holders in the U.S. have killed at least 117 individuals, including 9 law enforcement officers (excluding cases where individuals were acquitted, but including pending cases). There were about 25,000 murders by firearm that period, meaning that concealed carry permit holders committed less than 1% of the murders by firearm. Furthermore, a large number of the victims were killed in extended suicides, most of which took place in the home of the shooter, where arms can be possessed without special permits.
According to FBI police crime reports, in 2008 there were 14,180 murders and 616 justifiable homicides (of which 371 were performed by law enforcement) in the United States. The vast majority of defensive gun uses (DGUs) do not involve killing or even wounding an attacker, with government surveys showing 108,000 (NCVS) to 23 million (raw NSPOF) DGUs per year, with ten private national surveys showing 764,000 to 3.6 million DGU per year.
In 2009, Public Health Law Research, an independent organization, published an evidence summary concluding there is not enough evidence to establish the effectiveness of “Shall-Issue” laws as a public health intervention to reduce violent crime.
This empirical back-and-forth may well indicate that the data is too incomplete, ambiguous, and politically charged to establish the positive or negative effects of conceal-carry on crime. For further discussion, see Moody and Marvel’s and Ayres and Donohue’s 2009 articles in Econ Journal Watch.
Irrespective of these statistical arguments, it is clear that the growth of the concealed carry movement, and the now near universal ability of lawful citizens to carry weapons in public, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of people actually exercising this 2nd Amendment right.