What used to be a legal oddity confined to the tiny State of Vermont is now the law in more than a third of U.S. states, and another four states are looking to pass legislation this year. Constitutional carry is a growing trend that appears uncomplicated on the surface. No permit required for concealed carry should mean exactly that. But constitutional carry can also be a trap for the unprepared. Digging into the history, implementation, and current landscape of constitutional carry will help you avoid any potential pitfalls.
Readers who have applied for a license or permit to carry a concealed handgun or are familiar with the firearms laws of their state have likely come across the terms “shall issue,” “may issue,” and “constitutional carry.” These terms have very specific—and important—legal implications.
What Are “Shall Issue” and “May Issue” Carry States?
Most states are “shall issue” states. This means that if an applicant satisfies the legal requirements and completes whatever training course may be required under state law, the state shall—or must—issue the applicant a permit or license to carry a handgun. Put simply, if an applicant ticks all the boxes as required by state law, the government authority in charge of licensing or permitting handgun owners who wish to carry in public is obligated to issue a license to the applicant.
“May issue” states, on the other hand, means a state may issue a license or permit to carry to an applicant, but they do not have to do so. “May issue” states afford a certain amount of discretion to the permit-issuing authority (typically the state’s police or local sheriff’s department) to determine whether an applicant should receive a license or permit to carry concealed. For example, in California, a county sheriff may issue a license if, in addition to other legal requirements, the applicant demonstrates proof of “good moral character and good cause to carry a handgun.”
In a “may issue” state, even if you satisfy all legal requirements to obtain a license or permit to carry a handgun—completing the training course, paying the requisite fees, passing a background check, etc.—you’re still not guaranteed a license or permit to carry a handgun. Receiving a license or permit to carry is entirely up to the permit-issuing authority.
What Is Constitutional Carry?
“Constitutional carry” is a broad term that is applied to states that do not require a license or permit to carry a handgun. Originally called “Vermont carry” after the first state to enact permitless concealed carry, the name "constitutional carry" has caught on in recent years as a reference to the Second Amendment of the Constitution. If your state is a constitutional carry state, you typically don’t have to worry about whether it is a “shall issue” or “may issue” state.
This surge in popularity has led many proponents of constitutional carry to point to the text of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as their “permit” or “license” to carry a handgun in public. It’s their position that every person who is not prohibited by law from legally owning a handgun should be free to carry it openly or concealed in every public place without fear of prosecution by the government for simply exercising their rights. The final phrase of the Second Amendment truly sums up their beliefs when it comes to governmental oversight of handgun ownership and carrying as a right that “shall not be infringed.”
It’s important to note that even though constitutional carry states allow for permitless carry, restrictions such as age, location, and residency may still apply. Additionally, constitutional carry laws typically apply only to handguns. So, a constitutional carry state does not necessarily mean a non-prohibited person may openly carry any other weapons, including long guns, in public.
A Growing Trend?
When President Reagan was elected, there was only one constitutional carry state: Vermont. Now there are many more, along with several states in the process of moving states to constitutional carry.
In 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling against an unconstitutional permitting requirement in District of Columbia v. Heller. In addition to slapping down what was essentially an illegal handgun ban, the Supreme Court’s decision included several rulings related to the carrying of firearms, including holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right of firearms ownership for the purpose of self-defense and is not connected with any militia or military purposes. The Court also ruled individual self-defense is “the central component” of the Second Amendment, with handguns deemed the primary defensive weapon of choice specifically protected by the Second Amendment.
The Court also interpreted the phrase “bear arms” to mean: “wear, bear, or carry...upon the person or in clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose...of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.”
In 2010, the Supreme Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago once again examined the Second Amendment and self-defense as it did in Heller, but with one important caveat—this time it was examining a state’s responsibilities under the Second Amendment, not the District of Columbia (which is under the exclusive control of the federal government).
McDonald importantly held that the Second Amendment is fully applicable to the states and that individual self-defense is its “central component.” This means states are prohibited from enacting bans on handguns for self-protection in the home.
Taking these two important cases into consideration, it is clear the Second Amendment restrains the government from interfering with the possession of handguns for self-defense by law-abiding folks. Constitutional carry supporters point to these two cases as proof that there are limits to what state and local governments may pass as laws intending to restrict the right to bear arms, both at home and in public.
Which States Allow You to Carry a Gun Without a Permit?
As of this writing, the following 20 states have enacted some type of unlicensed (“constitutional”) carry:
- Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa (effective July 1, 2021), Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee (effective July 1, 2021), Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- In addition, while not conventionally considered “constitutional carry,” the six states of Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia allow the permitless open carry of a handgun.
Finally, the State of Texas passed its version of constitutional carry—HB 1927. Texas Governor Greg Abbott followed through on his intention to sign constitutional carry into law. Texas residents will be able to enjoy permitless carry when the law goes into effect on September 1, 2021.
It is vital for law-abiding folks to keep apprised of current laws before they take advantage of any “constitutional carry” states, as some include language limiting the right to citizens of that state exclusively.
Each state has its own laws—in some states, even neighboring counties and cities may have wildly different rules and punishments—which could mean the difference between going home with a warning or going to prison!
How It Works
Why is it that some states have constitutional carry, while others do not? Why doesn’t the federal government get to decide for all states? While the federal government does have some say in the regulation of firearms and carry (think: commerce in firearms, federal bans on felons possessing firearms, etc.), the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The individual states, then, may decide for themselves where their residents are allowed to carry, whether a permit is required, and if so, what those requirements consist of. A review of gun laws in all 50 states shows the law is as varied as the landscape of our great country itself.
Do I Need a Permit?
If you live in a constitutional carry state, it would seem that you don’t need a permit to carry, right? But what if you want to visit another state? All states (except Vermont) that have enacted constitutional carry kept their permitting systems intact so that when residents are traveling out of state, they can still carry (assuming the destination state honors their permit). Similarly, having a handgun license or permit is a good idea even if you’re headed to a permitless carry state, since at least two states (North Dakota and Tennessee) restrict permitless carry to their residents. Non-residents can still carry concealed in those states, assuming they have a valid concealed carry permit (or license to carry) from their resident state that is honored in North Dakota or Tennessee. It’s always a good idea to research the carry laws in the state you’re visiting before setting off on your journey.
Where Can I Carry?
In the states listed, it’s important to note that constitutional carry does not supersede other state or federal laws restricting where you can and can’t carry. Just because you’re in South Dakota doesn’t mean you can waltz into the post office with your concealed firearm; that’s still illegal, regardless of South Dakota law. And in Utah, it’s legal to carry in bars but illegal to be intoxicated and carry at the same time; the state defines intoxicated as a blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of 0.05 or greater. Constitutional carry doesn’t supersede federal law, and it doesn’t negate other carry restrictions in the state.
Additionally, some states allow you to carry in more places if you have a carry permit than if you’re carrying under the constitutional carry law. In Arizona, if you’re carrying concealed without a permit, you’re not allowed to carry in a restaurant that serves alcohol, but if you have a valid Arizona concealed carry license, you can. You can’t be drunk and carry, obviously.
Missouri is another state where having a permit is beneficial. In Missouri, local jurisdictions can restrict permitless open carry. However, if a person has a valid Missouri concealed carry permit, they’re exempt from any local restrictions on open carry.
Know the Laws
Whether your state is a constitutional carry state or you’re traveling to a permitless carry state, it’s vital that you remain up to date on the laws for each jurisdiction. One of the difficulties with constitutional carry is that the implementation in many states has been different. Oklahoma, for example, passed legislation allowing constitutional carry. When this was announced in the news, most residents assumed that the permit requirement was eliminated, and constitutional carry was now allowed in every place that formerly required a permit.
In reality, the constitutional carry legislation did not remove the word "license" from several criminal statutes and a permit is still required to carry in many places. Even with constitutional carry, it’s still illegal to carry in bars and on school grounds in Oklahoma unless you have a valid carry permit. So even when constitutional carry is an option, law-abiding gun owners still need to protect themselves from legal trouble.
What’s the Benefit?
While it’s popular to think of constitutional carry as a way for everyone to carry a gun, that’s not the case. Just like there are requirements to get a concealed carry permit, all the states with permitless carry have requirements for someone to carry concealed without a license. The majority of the states with permitless carry require a person to be at least 21 years old and not be legally prohibited from owning a firearm in order to carry concealed. Those requirements are so similar to the steps necessary to get a carry permit that constitutional carry legislation failed in Indiana because the governors of both states didn’t believe the single additional step of applying for a permit was a significant enough burden on gun owners.
In states that have legalized permitless carry, many residents still choose to get a concealed carry permit (“CHP,” “LTC,” “CCW,” etc.) because while constitutional carry is a valid option, it may not be the best option for them. Some gun owners in constitutional carry jurisdictions may choose to maintain their current license or permit to carry a handgun.
The reasons for obtaining or maintaining carry permits in constitutional carry states include possible reciprocity with other states—which, if recognized, would allow the gun owner to carry their handgun according to the laws of the state they are visiting; expanded locations where carrying a handgun is authorized; greater access to handgun training; and expedited federal background checks for purchasing firearms from a licensed gun dealer.
If you have questions about your state’s carry laws or the differences between “shall issue,” “may issue,” and “constitutional carry” laws, please contact U.S. LawShield for the legal education you can trust.
The information provided in this publication is intended to provide general information to individuals and is not legal advice. The information included in this publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication without the prior written consent of U.S. LawShield, to be given or withheld at our discretion. The information is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. We strive to ensure the information included in this publication is accurate and current, however, no claim is made to the accuracy of the information and we are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of information in this publication. The use of this publication does not create an attorney-client relationship between U.S. LawShield, any independent program attorney, and any individual.
Having held a CCP since the 1970s, and having been in a “state of constant training & mind set” must have (still am) properly concealed … back in the 70s, my co-workers were not aware. Under my suit coat in a shoulder harness was my S&W 38 spl with 5″ barrel (Now dubbed “Barney Fife”). Since “active shooter” class in 2017 reverting from 380 to 38 spl, due to supplies & ammo, led me to a S&W 642, which is concealed nicely in a pocket… so far my efforts at concealing have worked, no “printing” … avoiding “situations”; confrontations; & trouble in general, has resulted in being able to defend my self, fellow co-workers, & loved ones … but not having to be in the circumstance to make one aware of my EDC… Somewhere’s near 50 years, by rough count. I have been blessed … Thank you Jesus …
It is a terrible mistake to allow people to be concealed without the needed training and preparation for their CPL/CCW license. I have been around firearms’ all my life and hand guns were never in the mix until the last 15 years. Most of military veterans were not trained in handguns, only Officers, Military police and E-5s.
Being concealed will become a dangerous use of handguns by those who think they are ready and capable to use them. Most people can’t take them apart and reassemble them, plus their level of awareness is not keen.
We know the criminal is way ahead of the average US citizen when it comes to handguns.
The victims of hand guns are now the elderly, women, and children. Licensed and trained CPL/CCW license persons are in the 99% of law biding citizens-concealed carry is a must for Personal protection and Home protection.
I have been a NRA Instructor for over 10 plus years and every class has many problems with the lack of knowledge and preparation to shoot an handgun..
So essentially as a paid firearms instructor you have a vested interest in state requiring training. It is the responsibility of the gun owner to be proficient with their weapon. It is not up to government to impose how they get that training or what type of training they get.
THANK YOU US LAW SHIELD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ray: I have taught LTC and CHL classes in Ohio and now here in Texas. I must admit that I have a split personality on this topic. I agree that one shouldn’t need a permit/license, pay fees and in essence, seek approval from some government body to exercise a Constitutional right. But, I must admit that way too many people pass the written and range test that should not be carrying a gun in public or at home for that matter. Our range added safety and basic fundamentals to our program ,but even that is pretty limited. I would just ask that you encourage anyone you know that might be thinking of carrying to get some training for everyone’s safety.
I share your split-p and thoughts on this. I have been an NRA instructor for over forty years and hold certs in 9 disciplines. Agree you shouldn’t have to, but strongly suggest training for everyone. To that end. I haven’t charged for years and will train anyone for free. Not a certified course, but one less person at a time not likely to harm themselves or others by mistake born out of ignorance.
Tennessee IS NOT a Constitutional carry state. The new law allows for permitless open or concealed carry of a handgun by a resident of TN, and it did not remove the part of the law making it a crime to carry with the intent to go armed in a state park or greenway.
A spell checked version of my earliest comment…
I understand the whole better safe than sorry so get a permit anyway thinking. But I’m not seeing anywhere the overarching fact of how things actually play out is that every half step above and beyond the minimal requirements of the law actually is used against you in various ways. For example, when you have a license, you’re flagged on the record of the police department as having it and during a routine traffic stop, the officer gets a big red warning flashing on screen saying that you are a possible threat because you have a permit. This would immediately tend to put the officer in a more adversarial mindset against you than when it doesn’t flash that. This is simply the way this trying to go above and beyond works out on the street. Just keep it in mind. If you’ve never stood trial trying to defend yourself in a court of law, even civil court, it will be hard to understand that the courts end up putting you under a greater legal burden when you go above and beyond than if you stick to the barest minimum. This is exactly how it actually works. You won’t hear this on the news.
Does Florida intend on passing the Constitutional carry law.
I don’t mind the constitutional carry thing. I intend to continue to renew my carry license. However, if you can afford a $400 gun, I wouldn’t think another $50 class would be that big a deal. Get a bit of safety training folks. How do you get a drivers license? No seat belts on a gun!!!
What about the single mom with kids that receives a gun from her father as a gift to protect herself ?
Why does she need to pay the government anything? She could just as easily be trained by the person who gave her the weapon.
Why does the government need to know she has a weapon? Why does that information need to be public?
What I do not understand about this article is in the “how it works” section. The article sites the 10th amendment saying that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Fair enough, however the Constitution clearly gives the Federal government the power and responsibility to protect the 2A. And in it it says “The Right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” yet all the states are allowed to infringe under the tenth amendment? The tenth even says “NOR PROHIBITED BY IT.” The Bill of rights are part of the Constitution! They are not mutually exclusive. To my knowledge no court has answered the “what is an infringement” question. We have free speech but can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. The government cannot take away free speech they can however penalize you for its miss use. Why is that not the same for firearms? Fourth amendment searches can have different rules in different states? So the Federal Government cant conduct cruel and unusual punishment it would be allowed from state to state? My point, “Infringements” are expressly prohibited the Federal Government and the States. Its not their right to infringe. they were specifically told not to, by the Constitution! Why hasn’t that ever been argued legally in front of people that really believe the written word of the Constitution should be followed?
Somebody please give me a legitimate place to go and see where these infringements are allowed.
I am very much against a government body controlling guns or weapons. The constitution does not allow for any laws controlling weapons. Bad people are going to do bad things. A law controlling peoples weapons only applies to good people. Criminals disobey the law. And if people that can’t handle guns are so “dangerous” how is it that people are dying all the time from it? And I heard a person say that yes people are going to get shot and injured, we can withstand that. Also you can vote in gun control laws but you will have to SHOOT your way out of it. We have the weakest people in the history of the world. Toughen up men. Serve God as Jesus our Lord and Savior. If you have Him, why are you so scared?
I have a question as far as constitutional carry and gun insurances. Will there be any changes in the insurances bylaws? I have USCCA but it is more expensive than some of the other companies, Is there another company that will cover as much and be a little less expensive, and still protect me in a constitutional carry state in other words with out a cc?
No one should have to pay a single solitary dime to exercise a constitutional right. Should we issue permits for all of our other protected rights? Where is your church permit? Why are you talking about your beliefs in public without your freedom of speech permit?
Agree with you on that