The Ultimate Guide to Concealed Carry – 5 Top Things to Know

The decision to carry a concealed weapon requires considerable thought. There is probably no more polarizing issue in the United States today than the question of firearms, their control, and their use. The question of concealed carry is particularly volatile. The debates and arguments often become emotional while being framed around increased gun crime, a less safe environment, and increased chances of becoming the victim of a violent crime.

Many times, gun ownership and concealed carry proponents counter those arguments based on the same emotion-laden logic. Claims of a safer environment, less crime, and constitutional rights are often the basis of these arguments.

What is the truth? I suspect that the unbiased truth is somewhere in the middle of the gamut of highly charged arguments. However, the issue is so clouded with rhetoric and emotion that finding the unbiased and unclouded truth can be difficult.

Getting Past the Smoke and Mirrors

I hope to get past the smoke and mirrors produced during most of the arguments and present a different look at concealed carry and how it plays out in our American culture. I am sure that my findings and opinions will raise the ire of both sides of the argument. That is often the case when you blow away the smoke, cover the mirrors, and let the facts speak for themselves.

Understanding the Current Landscape

It is important to understand the current landscape of law in the United States regarding concealed carry. Having a grasp of the law gives us a starting point to exam the issues and the arguments both for and against concealed carry. In many instances, states pass laws governing concealed carry based on these arguments both for and against concealed carry.

The Federal Government Position

Concealed carry is, by and large, considered a State issue by the federal government. There are no federal laws on the books concerning permitted carry, reciprocal rights, or licensing regulations. The Federal government has, so far, refused to intervene in the concealed carry debate. A few notable exceptions usually involve the Supreme Court of the United States in cases involving gun ownership and the Constitution.

A Hodge-Podge of Laws and Rules

Leaving the issue of concealed carry licensing to the 50 States leaves us with a confusing array of state laws, local rules, and ordinances. This mish-mash of different requirements and regulations can be not only confusing but also potentially devastating if you inadvertently misinterpret some of these laws.

This conglomeration of laws is an especially dangerous trap for a person traveling with a concealed firearm across several states. You are at risk of violating some stringent state or local laws while traveling. Since there is no guaranteed reciprocity between most states, it is safe to assume that your concealed carry license covers you only in your state of residence. To get an idea of the wide difference you can encounter across state lines, we need to compare state laws that govern concealed carry.

The Fifty States

The first thing to remember when looking at state laws governing concealed carry is the legality of concealed carry. Many people are surprised to learn that all 50 states in the union allow concealed carry. Most states have requirements for getting a permit that can range from the ridiculously easy to almost impossible.

The more important observation is the issue of reciprocity. There is no legal requirement for one state to honor or respect another state’s concealed carry permit. We will look at this issue in-depth later.

For a state by state summary of the concealed carry laws now in effect, we highly recommend visiting the USCCA reciprocity map. Keep in mind, though, that these rules and laws change almost daily. If you are traveling across state lines, get good legal advice for each state through which you will be traveling.

Reading the Chart – Not as Simple as It Looks

A few definitions and a little explanation need to accompany this chart. The issues of licensing and state laws are not as cut and dry as this chart would seem. What laws are on the books don’t always reflect how the laws are interpreted or used.

“Unrestricted Carry”

Unrestricted? Not necessarily. In many of the states marked as “unrestricted carry”, there are both state and local restrictions. 

  • Privilege of unrestricted concealed carry may be reserved only for legal residents of the state. Don’t go for a vacation and carry concealed unless you are sure that a reciprocity agreement exists.
  • Local laws may preempt state law in some cases. Municipalities or counties may limit where you can conceal carry without a permit.

“Shall Issue”

In many states, the state law that governs concealed carry mandates that the issuing authority (this varies from state to state) will permit an applicant who meets all the requirements outlined in the state law. The concept is to prevent local authorities or the state from using the permit law to restrict issuance. 

Many of these “shall issue” laws also eliminate the need for an applicant to show “good cause” for the license issuance. In most of these “shall issue” states, getting a license is almost guaranteed if you meet the requirements outlined in the statute.

“May Issue”

“May issue” states are an entirely different matter. In many of these states, deciding whether to issue a license rests with the district attorney or the sheriff. Many people complain that this leads to corruption and fraud within the system. Often, the “may issue” clause is used to eliminate a concealed carry permit license virtually.

The effective elimination of concealed carry is the case in States Like New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii. Hawaii has the notable distinction of not issuing a single concealed carry license in 2016.

“No Issue”

In theory, every state in the Union (plus the District of Columbia) has concealed carry permit laws on the books. In practice, several states use the “may issue” clause to eliminate a concealed carry permit system effectively. The states marked with red x’s in my list are states where the may issue clause has all but eliminated the issuance of concealed carry permits to citizens.

Reciprocity – The Big Question

There is no federal mandate for one state to honor the concealed permit of another state. There is no federal law requiring states to honor each other’s driver’s license, either. Nothing bars a State from giving you a citation for driving in their state without a driver’s license issued by that state. 

Many proponents of concealed carry argue that the same courtesies should extend to concealed carry permits as are extended to driver’s licenses, marriage licenses, and other state-regulated permits. Opponents of concealed carry often argue that many other licenses and permits, such as electricians, plumbers, and even attorneys, don’t have guaranteed reciprocity. 

Reciprocity Agreements – Confusion Reigns

Many states have reciprocity agreements. However, there is no standard, and the variation in these agreements is broad. In some cases, the agreements change yearly as political control of state legislatures change hands. Just keeping track of the agreements and the changes has become an industry in itself.

To Carry or Not to Carry

Understanding that every state in the union has some concealed carry permitting process, we can approach the decision of whether you should conceal carry or not. You may not be successful in some states or areas in getting a concealed carry permit. However, the possibility still exists, which leads us now to an examination of the arguments for and against carrying a concealed weapon.

“It is My Constitutional Right to Carry”

The traditional argument supporting the right to concealed carry is the Second Amendment Argument. Advocates of what is termed “Constitutional Carry” hold that the Second Amendment protects and preserves the right of a citizen of the United States to carry concealed without a permit. This interpretation of the language of the Second Amendment becomes a quagmire of legal decisions and interpretation.

What the Courts Have Held

Historically, the Supreme Court of the United States had been silent on the Second Amendment issue until a ruling in 1897. In the case of Robertson v. Baldwin, the Supreme Court held that laws restricting concealed carry do not infringe the right to bear arms and therefore do not conflict with the Second Amendment. The Baldwin ruling made no mention of open carry, and until subsequent rulings open carry was generally unrestricted.

Landmark Cases

In 2008, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case District of Columbia v. Heller. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the Court’s opinion that stated the central findings.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.”

The major point of the findings by the Supreme Court was the first decision to define the right to bear arms as a constitutional guarantee to private citizens and not just a militia.

The Supreme Court extended this decision in its findings on the McDonald v. Chicago case in 2010. In this case, the Supreme Court ruling struck down the handgun ban instituted by the City of Chicago. The Court held that no jurisdiction has the power to bar or render invalid the right of any licensed individual to possess or carry a firearm.

The Truth About the Second Amendment

The Supreme Court must render decisions on interpreting and implementing the United States Constitution’s Rights and Clauses. As of now, the Supreme Court has held that private citizens are guaranteed the right to own and carry firearms. However, this right is not without restrictions. States and local jurisdictions can regulate this right by enacting permitting laws if they meet constitutional muster.

The Supreme Court’s rulings put the ball squarely back into each state’s arena and give each state wide latitude in managing the permitting process. Each state’s political and social climate is more a measure of permitting attitude than any other factor.

The Takeaway on Constitutionality

The Supreme Court has held that the right to possess and carry firearms is a Constitutional right for private citizens. However, the Supreme Court also recognizes that Constitutional Rights are not unlimited and that states have the power to enact reasonable and appropriate controls and limits on these rights. 

Whether you like it or not, the fact is that we live in a country that is based on the rule of law rather than the rule of men. The current position of the Supreme Court and lower courts is known and documented. Until the opinions and rulings change, the current rules and laws are the law of the land and must govern our actions.

“Where Concealed Carry is Common, People Are Safer”

Safety is another common argument promulgated by the supporters of concealed carry. Proponents often point out that criminals are less likely to strike when they know they may meet equal or superior force. If the criminal does choose to act, a concealed carry firearm provides the victim of crime a better chance to protect themselves and their families.

What the Critics Argue

Critics of concealed carry fall back to the argument that the presence of a gun in any stressful situation tends to increase and not reduce the chance of an escalation of force. In the thoughts of those who argue against concealed carry, the gun becomes a catalyst for more violence. 

Supporting the Arguments

Both sides produce impressive-looking statistics and studies that seem to support their arguments conclusively. Unfortunately, very rarely are the statistics and studies used in context or with an unbiased interpretation. My statistics professor in graduate school loved to point out that it is possible to make the same set of statistics support both sides of an argument with the right data interpretation.

What the Statistics Don’t Say

I reviewed data from the FBI, the CDC, and several independent fact-finding organizations. Taken as a whole, the data I reviewed was inconclusive. There doesn’t seem to be incontrovertible evidence to support either side of this argument.

In most of the studies I reviewed, there was no statistically significant difference in violence rates among comparable cities or states with more and less restrictive concealed carry laws. There are outliers in the data, as should be expected. However, interpreting data sets is not done on the outliers but on the data’s statistically significant portions.

My interpretation of the data is that concealed carry makes no significant difference in violent crime rates and cannot be used to support arguments for or against concealed carry.

Making the Decision to Carry a Concealed Firearm

If you are inclined to get a concealed carry permit, there are certain things you need to consider. Gaining the permit is often the easiest part of the decision. Many people fail to consider the changes that a concealed carry permit requires in their personal lives. 

Critics of concealed carry often use these unforeseen changes as arguments against private citizens’ licensing for concealed carry. Understanding these changes and preparing for them is a critical part of the decision process.

Preparation and Training

Taking the concealed carry course, passing the test, and successfully scoring on the range portion is just the beginning. Proficiency in the current laws and regulations is just as important as maintaining your proficiency at the firing range.

A commitment to continuing education and training is an often unspoken part of becoming a concealed carry permit holder. Staying current and competent requires regular and consistent training on the firing range and on the current laws and requirements. 

Proponents of concealed carry argue that concealed carry license holders are safer and better prepared than non-licensed ones. This only holds up, however, if license holders actively train and prepare themselves mentally and physically as part of their routine.

The Critical Challenge

Those who oppose concealed carry point out the inconsistencies in training and proficiency requirements among the states. Some states make the permitting process almost automatic and without any real training or proficiency requirements. 

Also, almost none of the 50 States require any sort of follow-up continuing education or proficiency training to maintain a concealed carry permit. Many concealed carry permit holders never seek any further training or development after passing the initial course and receiving their permit.

Critics see this as a flaw in a system designed to ensure that concealed carry holders are proficient and knowledgeable. 

Weighing the Arguments

The argument that concealed carry license holders are safer than non-licensed carry holders is only valid if license holders in fact try to be safer and more proficient. A regimen of training and education should become part of every concealed carry license holder’s schedule. 

On the other hand, there is no statistically reliable data to suggest that concealed carry license holders are any more prone to accidental discharges or in becoming involved in firearms-related incidents. The differences in the data between states with minimal licensing requirements and those with stringent classroom and range requirements are negligible.

It is hard to make the argument in any direction other than the one based on common sense. Ongoing training and preparation are key in maintaining a high proficiency level regarding concealed carry, sports, or any other endeavor. Anyone who decides to conceal carry also assumes the responsibility of developing the knowledge and skill necessary to use their firearm if needed.

The Question of Comfort and Safety

Critics of concealed carry often cite the question of the comfort and safety of others. To gun owners and concealed carry license holders, this argument of comfort seems superfluous. However, everyone must recognize that some people have genuine and deep fears related to guns. 

These critics of concealed carry will often claim to be in constant fear in public because they do not know who has a concealed carry and who doesn’t. While it may seem a bit ridiculous, there is a viable argument for those kinds of fears.

The Big Difference

On the other hand, Proponents of concealed carry point out that criminals are notorious for not following the law. Even where it is illegal to carry a firearm, many criminals most certainly continue to do so. A prohibition on concealed carry won’t affect the criminal portion of the population. Concealed carry license holders often ask these critics who they would rather know is carrying a concealed firearm: a trained private citizen who has been background checked, or a known criminal.

What you Don’t Know Probably Won’t Hurt You

All in all, what you don’t know probably won’t hurt you. In most cases, those who carry concealed legally usually do so proficiently. When a concealed carry license holder does what he or she should do, the only person who knows that there is a concealed firearm is the person wearing it. 

Fearing what you can’t see is to live at a level of fear that borders on sickness. Most people would consider it irrational. In 2012, Reuters published a survey of Americans. Seventy-five percent of those U.S. citizens surveyed supported laws allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons in public.

My take is that the number of people with valid concerns and fears of what they can’t see is a small minority. The argument is a play on an emotion that has no place in logical and fact-based thinking.

The Final Take

There are many other arguments on both sides of this issue. In the end, taking an unbiased look at those arguments seems to indicate that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Every argument has its merits. Every rebuttal has its strengths.

The arguments about the right to carry a concealed weapon are overloaded with emotion and rhetoric in most cases. Sorting through the chaos can be difficult. Confusion is especially true when you have your own feelings and emotions about the issue.

Where I stand

My final take on this issue is colored by my personal feelings as well. I am an avid gun owner and shooter. I have been a licensed concealed carry holder for many years and carry almost daily. Among my close friends are those who are just as dedicated to their belief that there is no good argument for carrying a concealed weapon. I have long since learned that arguing the points is fruitless. 

In fact, my friends are as justified in their beliefs as I am in mine. That is the fabric of our country. Even when you strip away the rhetoric, emotion, and politics, there will be disagreements. Accepting the validity and sanctity of each person’s beliefs and opinions without taking umbrage or personal affront is the key to understanding and acceptance.