With 25 states now having adopted permitless carry, also known as constitutional carry, it appears that the national attitude regarding who should be allowed to carry a gun in public is shifting more and more towards a general pro-gun stance. While permitless carry states still maintain some restrictions on who can carry a firearm, as well as where and how that firearm can be carried, for the most part if someone is legally allowed to own a firearm in a state with a permitless carry law in place, they may carry it concealed in public. Except for Vermont, all the states that have a permitless carry law still have a permitting process in place for those who wish to obtain one. The state simply doesn’t require eligible residents who wish to carry a concealed handgun in public to get a permit to do so.
If you’re wondering why a state wouldn’t require a permit to carry a concealed handgun, but would still have a process for obtaining one, the answer is relatively simple. If you live in a permitless carry state and want to carry a concealed handgun in other states, you’re going to need a permit for reciprocity. Not every state recognizes every concealed carry permit, but unless you happen to be traveling to a state that has permitless carry for non-residents, you’re going to need a concealed carry permit recognized by the state you’re traveling to if you want to carry a gun concealed. Remember, if you’re traveling by car, you’ll also need to deal with the laws of each state you’re traveling through as well.
How Attitudes Towards Permitless Carry Have Changed
It’s impossible to put a number on how many individual personal attitudes may have changed regarding permitless carry, but one thing that’s irrefutable is that there has been a significant rise in the number of states adopting permitless carry in the last 20 years. Prior to 2003, Vermont was the only state where it was legal to carry a concealed firearm without any sort of permit at all. In 2003, Alaska became the second state to allow eligible residents to carry a concealed firearm with no permit. Since then, 23 other states have enacted some form of permitless carry. Of the 25 states that allow permitless carry, 21 have passed these laws in the last seven years. Put another way, there has been a 525% increase in the number of permitless carry states during the last seven years.
While the conversation surrounding gun control remains just as divisive as ever on the national level, recent history would suggest that state lawmakers increasingly see a benefit to removing the permit process traditionally associated with carrying a concealed gun in public. Professor David Yamane of Wake Forest University notes that:
…since the rise of the shall issue era, no state has gone from a liberalized carry regime to a more restrictive one. That is, no permitless carry state has gone back to shall issue, and no shall issue state has gone back to may issue. It seems unlikely that pattern will change in the future. (Yamane, Concealed Weapon Carry Laws in the US: A Primer)
So, while the debate rages on, the reality is that the last 40 years have seen a massive increase in the ability for normal everyday people to choose to carry a concealed firearm and be able to do so legally. Given the trend of the last seven years specifically, and the number of states that have some variation of a permitless carry bill making its way through their respective legislatures, it’s not unreasonable to assume that sometime soon permitless carry will be the most common way that states choose to handle their concealed carry permitting structure.
Is Permitless Carry a Threat to The Public?
According to a survey from 2018, there are at least 393 million privately owned firearms in the United States. Today, that number is likely higher. Keep in mind, that as of 2022 the U.S. population is estimated to be 332 million.. All of this adds up to something that’s relevant to the overall conversation regarding permitless carry: There are currently more guns than people, in the United States. This is important information to keep in mind because the reality is that the number of negative incidents associated with firearms is incredibly low when compared to just how many firearms there are. Yamane examined data available to the public regarding firearms ownership as well as the negative outcomes associated with firearms and found that:
In any given year, the vast majority of America’s tens of millions of gun owners will not have any negative outcomes associated with their hundreds of millions of guns.
Anyone who wants to do the division on all of the above negative outcomes can. For my purposes here, I will just select some of the combined categories at the end for summary purposes.
39,413 / 400,000,000 (firearms)= 0.000098 fatalities per firearm
39,413 / 76,560,000(U.S. adult gun owners) = 0.00052 fatalities per gun owner
39,413 / 51,440,000 (households that have a firearm) = 0.00077 fatalities per gun owning household
A mere 0.0098% of guns, 0.052% of gun-owners, and 0.077% of gun owning households are involved in fatalities involving firearms annually.
Looked at the other way around, 99.999% of guns, 99.95% of gun owners, and 99.92% of gun owning households are NOT involved in any fatalities involving firearms annually. (Yamane, Light Over Heat #1: Just How Normal Are Guns and Gun Owners, Anyway?)
It’s important to note that Yamane’s observations regarding the available data doesn’t account for repeat offenders, or the same gun being used in multiple negative events. Additionally, there’s no consideration for the percent of incidents that jeopardize the public versus those that effect only a single individual. While it’s impossible to know exactly what the numbers would be if those factors were considered, there’s quite a bit of evidence that suggests the public is at risk of violence from only a small percentage of its members:
The majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by a small number of persistent violent offenders, typically males, characterized by early onset of violent criminality, substance abuse, personality disorders, and nonviolent criminality. (Falk et al., The 1% of the population accountable for 63% of all violent crime convictions)