The interstate traveler has 50 different sets of rules to deal with, plus over-riding federal law. It isn’t easy, but for safety and peace of mind when traveling, the laws of the jurisdictions where you’re going are worth knowing.

massad-ayoob.gifI write more than a few magazine articles each year, and this one is always the hardest. The reason is because nothing else I’m assigned to write about has 50 or more facets on its surface, every one of them capable of changing at a moment’s notice.

In other countries where I’ve carried guns, the license usually covers the holder anywhere in the nation. Here, in this regard at least, it seems that the operative word in “United States” is “states.” There are 50 of them, each with their own set of gun laws: a patchwork quilt made up of half a hundred pieces.

That worked out reasonably well a hundred years ago, when this country still had an agrarian-based economy and most ordinary folks still grew up, lived, and died within 50 or 100 miles of where they were born. Today, we Americans constitute the most mobile society on earth. A road trip might  take you through several states in a single day.

The states have universal reciprocity with your driver’s license. That’s not so with your concealed carry license. The differences are many. For instance, carrying a gun without a piece of paper that authorizes you to do so is perfectly legal in Alaska, but will get you popped for a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on the second offense in New Hampshire, and will see you convicted of a felony for the first offense in New York. There are states where any honest, law-abiding citizen can get the permit to carry, states where only the rich and powerful are likely to do so, and states where no one can.

I’ve long since given up on trying to publish lists of state gun laws in an annual magazine since they change so frequently. Just about every week, you hear that State A has added State B to the list of issuing authorities whose gun carry permits they’ll recognize, while State C has announced that it will no longer be reciprocal with State D.

When I went through Police Prosecutor’s School 18 years ago, one of the first things our instructors drilled into us was that when we looked up any statute, we were to go to the right side of the shelf of law books and check the latest softbound updates. A once-a-year magazine such as Concealed Carry Annual doesn’t have regular update editions, nor does it have any way to get them to everyone who bought the original. Suppose that as I wrote this, State E recognized carry licenses issued by State F. However, about the time the publication is shipping from the printers, these states’ two Attorney Generals decide that they don’t agree after all, and State E stops recognizing F’s permits. There you sit, with your State E permit in one pocket, your plane ticket to State F in the other, and a current publication in hand that says you are legal to carry in State F, but that legality has just ceased to be. We don’t want to be the ones who put you in that trick-bag.

That’s why, instead, I’m going to recommend that you go online and check an Internet site that can be far more up to date than any print medium. The best site ( for concealed carry at this time, in my opinion. Founded by Steve Aikens and Gary Slider, this site “has its feelers out” and stays on top of changes in handgun laws, with emphasis on concealed carry rules. There are links to each state’s official “dot-gov” websites, where you can pick up the fine points of their regulations.

pulled-over.gifFirst, let’s get a little terminology thing out of the way. Some absolutists and semanticists like to debate whether that little paper that authorizes CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) is a “license” or “permit.” Not having time for semantics here, I’ll use them interchangeably. Whether or not we believe that carrying a gun should be a right, we have to understand the reality, our legal system has evolved in such a way that carrying a gun has come to be treated as a privilege, one that requires that specific piece of paper in 48 of the 50 states.

If you want to carry a concealed handgun in this country, there are four different approaches you’ll have to deal with depending on where you are.

Free Carry
Under this system, no permit or license is required to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public, though certain places (courthouses, for example) may be off-limits. For many years, Vermont was our only such state. A few years ago, Alaska took the same route. One is merely forbidden to “carry” if one is a convicted felon, has been adjudicated mentally incompetent, or has criminal intent. And yes, in both Vermont and Alaska, these laws extend to visitors from out of state.

gunmap.gifThis seems to have worked well for the relatively short time it has been in place in Alaska, and it has worked famously well for the long time that it has been in place in Vermont. For many years Vermont has proven to have the lowest crime rate in the nation. You’d think this would tell the other states something about Free Carry.

About the only real problem Vermont had with this system was that with no permit of their own, when other states offered reciprocity, pistol packers in the Green Mountain state had nothing to reciprocate with. The savvy lawmakers who brought the Vermont Model to Alaska picked up on that, and Alaskans today have the option of a shall-issue permit which is recognized by many other states.

It is on this front that activists for gun owners’ civil rights have won the most important series of victories in the last 20 years. Circa 1987, the state of Florida went from a system where it was optional for the authorities to give out such permits (and they were only good in the county where they were issued) to a license that authorized the holder to carry statewide. Moreover, the law was written so that the permit could not be denied to any law-abiding citizen with a clean criminal record who could show a minimal acceptable level of firearms safety training. This is known as shall-issue licensing.

The “Florida Model” was soon copied across the land. It has been wonderfully successful. Nowhere has it triggered the increase in spontaneous violent crimes that its opponents predicted, and indeed, the norm seems to be that violent crime against the person goes down after these improved legislative reforms are passed.

Shall-issue means that the appointed issuing authority can’t turn you down because they don’t like the color of your skin or the way you vote, or the idea of ordinary people carrying guns. Currently, we have some 34 shall-issue states. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

As the term implies, issuing authorities in these states may issue permits if they choose, but are not required to do so. This is also known as the “Discretionary” system, because the permits are issued at the discretion of the authorities. This old system is rife with corruption. In one big city, the story on the police force was that the cops in charge of issuing permits were transferred more frequently than vice cops, because police bosses saw the position as being ripe to draw tantalizing bribes for the “victimless crime” of allowing people to protect themselves from criminals.

This is not to say that the authorities take bribes, mind you. However, in may-issue jurisdictions, when a list of carry permit holders is published, it tends to comprise the wealthiest members of the community. New York State Penal Code 265, which encompasses this sort of regulation, requires that the issuing authority set its own standards as to who will get permits, and then stick to it. In New York City, one standard set was that the individual was likely to carry large sums of money. When Old West gunfighter Bat Masterson became a sportswriter in New York City, he wrote that the law in its wisdom allowed both the rich and poor to have ice, it was just that the rich had it in the summer and the poor had it in winter. New York City’s interpretation of the concealed carry privilege seemed to be similar, the rich and poor alike can get carry permits, so long as they carry large amounts of cash or other valuables.

States that currently hold to the may-issue rule include Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia technically falls in this group as well, though one wonders how someone who lives there can utilize the permit, since possession of handguns by all but police has long been banned in that jurisdiction. Fortunately, as I write this, that ban has just been struck down by the SCOTUS decision in the Heller case.

May-issue systems lend themselves to the sort of decisions for which the legal system coined the term “arbitrary and capricious.” In Hawaii, for instance, while technically it’s possible to get a carry permit, it just isn’t possible in real world practice. I am aware of three having been issued there to private citizens during my adult lifetime. One went to the civilian armorer who serviced the Honolulu Police Department’s duty weapons. Another was held by the Governor, who got it when he was Lieutenant Governor. The third didn’t last long, a Honolulu Police Chief issued it to his sister-in-law, but had to take it back when the newspapers got wind of the story. On the other hand, I hear that a few hundred carry permits have been issued in the last few years to security guards in Hawaii. That’s sort of analogous to a chip out of the Great Wall of China, but maybe it’s a start.

There are two states where there is simply no mechanism for the ordinary private citizen to legally carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public. These are Illinois and Wisconsin. For many years, there were seven such states, but one by one, the other five woke up to reality and logic. Each of them by-passed the elitism-prone may-issue model and went directly to the reform model of shall-issue concealed carry licensing.

It is to be hoped that the last two bastions of helplessness will fall in the same way. Wisconsin has more than once come agonizingly close, with the State House passing the bill, only to see it vetoed by Wisconsin’s Governor Doyle, a vociferous anti-gunner. The pro-civil rights groups just barely missed enough votes to over-ride the veto. One hopes that the next time will be the charm.

Observers from the gun owners’ civil rights community believe that Illinois will probably be the last state to allow its honest citizens to protect themselves with concealed handguns carried in public. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, known bitterly to some who live there as “King Richard the Second,” and Governor Rod Blagojevich are both vehemently anti-gun. While sentiment for concealed carry outside of Chicago is strong in this heartland state, it is populous Chicago that carries the voting power. Of course, the laws are such that if you get Daley’s endorsement and are elected as a Chicago alderman, you will be allowed to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public.

Gun owners’ civil rights groups have made great strides in gaining reciprocity, that is, recognition of permits issued in other states. Reciprocity keys on agreements between the Attorney General of the given states. The carry permits that seem to have the most reciprocity, as many as 30 or so states, come from Florida, New Hampshire, and Utah. Some states have “total reciprocity,” in that they recognize permits issued in all other states. Indiana and Michigan have had this policy for as long as I can remember, and it has always worked well. More common, however, is “limited reciprocity,” which means that only certain states’ carry licenses will be recognized by the given jurisdiction. Sometimes this is because the given state insists that the other state have requirements at least as strict as their own, and sometimes it’s simply a case of “we’ll recognize yours if you’ll recognize ours.” There are also some states that will only recognize your out-of-state permit if you live in the state where it was issued.

Some other states will not recognize outside permits, but will issue their own non-resident permits. Check out for the lists of who recognizes whom, and which states issue non-resident permits, and where to apply for the latter.

The careful armed citizen who knows the law and fills out the paperwork can broaden their concealed carry world dramatically. For instance, it has long been believed that New England was a bastion of anti-gun sentiment, but the fact is that the responsible gun owner who dots every “i” and crosses every “t” can become legal to carry throughout that six-state region. Vermont does not require a permit to carry (though some towns there have reportedly enacted concealed carry bans: check which ones before you go there). New Hampshire has a long list of states whose permits they’ll recognize reciprocally, and also issues non-resident permits through the State Police in Concord, the capital city. Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island also have non-resident permit procedures in place, though you may encounter progressively difficult procedures as you attempt to obtain them. Nonetheless, it can be done.

The bottom line is that the concealed carry picture is brighter right now than it has been in the memory of any living American. We who worked for it can congratulate ourselves, but we can’t rest on our laurels. There is still much work to do. There are still many more lives to protect.

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