In the United States, the term constitutional carry, also called permitless carry, refers to the legal carrying of a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a license or permit. The phrase does not typically refer to the unrestricted carrying of a long gun, a knife, or other weapons. The scope and applicability of constitutional carry may vary by state.
The phrase "constitutional carry" reflects the view that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not abide restrictions on gun rights, including the right to carry or “bear” arms.
Before a landmark case in 2008, the United States Supreme Court had never extensively interpreted the Second Amendment. Consequently, a tapestry of different and sometimes conflicting laws about carrying firearms developed across the nation.
District of Columbia v. Heller, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in 2008, suggests that some state or local gun controls may be allowed, at least for certain types of firearms. The Heller case was extended by the Court in McDonald v. Chicago, decided in 2010, holding the 2nd and 14th Amendments to the Constitution were "fully incorporated" and thus the right to "...keep and bear arms applies to the States and not 'in a watered-down version' but 'fully applicable'...," and does limit State and local governments in passing laws that restrict this "individual" and "fundamental" right to "...keep and bear arms," for self-defense. Self-defense was considered by the SCOTUS a "...central component of the 2nd Amendment." All of the state laws described below operate in the context of federal regulation regarding the transfer and sale of firearms. Firearms and ammunition are subject to taxation as well.
U.S. jurisdictions that have constitutional carryEdit
As of 23 March 2017[update], Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas[disputed], Idaho (residents only), Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota (residents only; concealed carry only), Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming (residents only) do not require a permit to carry a loaded concealed firearm for any person of age who is not prohibited from owning a firearm. Permitless carry in Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming is applicable to residents only; non-residents must have a permit to carry a concealed handgun in these states. All aforementioned jurisdictions do not require a permit to openly carry either except for North Dakota and certain localities in Missouri.
On July 24, 2014, Washington D.C. became a permitless carry jurisdiction for a few days when its ban on carrying a handgun was ruled unconstitutional and the ruling was not stayed. The ruling said that any resident who had a legally registered handgun could carry it without a permit and non-residents without felony convictions could carry as well. The ruling was then stayed on July 29, 2014.
In June 2015, following victory in a class-action suit brought by "Damas de la Segunda Enmienda" Ladies of the Second Amendment (an affiliate of the Second Amendment Foundation) the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's carry and licensing regulations were struck down, eliminating the requirement to obtain a permit. On October 31, 2016, The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico denied a motion for reconsideration of a previous Court of Appeals decision that had found the Weapons Act to be constitutional.
On June 11, 2003, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski signed House Bill 102 into law, making Alaska the first state to rescind its requirement for a concealed carry permit. The bill eliminated the crime of simply carrying a concealed weapon by changing the definition of the crime. The section of law that describes the first instance of "misconduct involving weapons in the 5th degree" now requires that a person must either fail to inform a law enforcement officer of the weapon upon contact, fail to allow the law enforcement officer to secure the weapon (or to properly secure the weapon him/herself) upon contact, or if at another person's home, fail to obtain permission from a resident to have a concealed weapon on the premises.
The law took effect on September 9, 2003.
On April 16, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1108 into law. The law eliminated the requirement to obtain a permit in order to carry a concealed weapon in Arizona for U.S. citizens 21 and older. The process to obtain a permit was left in place so that Arizona residents could still obtain permits in order to carry concealed in other states or to carry in a restaurant or bar that serves alcohol. The law took effect on July 29, 2010.
Prior to August 16, 2013, Arkansas law (§ 5-73-120) prohibited "...carrying a weapon...with a purpose to employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person." Among other exceptions, Arkansas law allowed a defense to the charge of carrying of a weapon if "[t]he person is on a journey..." but did not define what constituted a "journey". Another defense permitted an individual to carry a concealed weapon if the person had a valid concealed weapons license. This provision was generally interpreted to prohibit open carry.
On August 16, 2013, Arkansas enacted Act 746. This act made two major changes. First, it statutorily defined a "journey" as "...travel beyond the county in which a person lives..." Because traveling on a journey is one of the defenses to § 5-73-120, a plain reading of the statute would indicate that the prohibition against carrying a weapon would now apply only to a person traveling within their home county. Second, it modified § 5-73-120 to prohibit "...carrying a weapon...with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person." Various firearms groups have interpreted this provision to require that the state must now prove that a person actually intends to use a weapon to commit a crime; and without proving this intent, possession of weapons, whether openly or concealed, is now legal.
However, some confusion still exists. On July 8, 2013, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion stating that Act 746 did not authorize open carry. On August 18, 2015, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a different opinion, saying that open carry of a weapon following Act 746's passage is now generally legal, provided that the person has no intent to unlawfully employ said weapon. Rutledge also opined that, while mere possession of a weapon such a loaded handgun was formerly sufficient to establish "intent to employ" it as a weapon, such possession is now no longer sufficient to convict someone under § 5-73-120. Rather, the state must now additionally prove intent to unlawfully use the weapon. However, Rutledge also opined that concealed carry generally remains illegal without a permit. Because Act 746 did not remove or modify the other sections of Arkansas law pertaining to issuing concealed weapons permits, she concluded that possession of a concealed weapon without a permit could be construed as meeting the "unlawful purpose" requirement. However, various firearms groups have disputed this opinion and argued that, because § 5-73-120 (and specifically subsection (a)) permits unlicensed open carry, the same legal logic would dictate that concealed carry with no permit is also now legal. Further adding to the confusion is the fact that Act 746 changed the list of § 5-73-120 exceptions, including possession while on a journey and possession of a concealed handgun with a concealed handgun permit, from a list of "affirmative defenses" to a list of "permissible circumstances". Rutledge noted in her opinion that such change could be construed as creating a "non-exhaustive list of circumstances under which it is permissible to carry a handgun", thereby permitting a person to assert additional circumstances not spelled out in the statute. She also noted that future legislation would be the best solution to clear up the confusion that Act 746 has caused.
Idaho (residents only)Edit
Governor Butch Otter signed SB 1389 on March 25, 2016. The bill went into effect on July 1, 2016. SB 1389 does not apply to residents of other states. Non-residents must openly carry or have a permit from another state. SB 1389 also created an avenue for individuals 18–20 years old to obtain concealed carry permits.
SB45 was introduced in the Kansas Senate in early 2015. The bill initially passed the Senate 31-7 on February 26. The bill was sent to the House, amended, and passed 85-39 on March 25. The Senate then concurred, passing the amended bill 31-8 (also on March 25). On April 2, the bill was signed by Governor Sam Brownback and the law became effective on July 1, 2015, establishing constitutional carry in Kansas.
Kansas issues licenses to carry concealed handguns on a shall-issue basis. As of April 2015[update], over 87,000 current permits are issued. No permit is required to openly carry a firearm. Kansas will continue to issue permits so that Kansas residents may carry in other states that accept Kansas concealed carry permits.
In 2015, LD 652 was a constitutional carry bill that was under consideration by the Maine Legislature. It had 17 co-sponsors in the Senate and 79 co-sponsors in the House. LD 652 was signed into law by Governor Paul LePage on July 8, 2015. It came into effect on October 15, 2015.
As of July 1, 2015, the concealed carry law was amended to say "no license shall be required under this section for a loaded or unloaded pistol or revolver carried in a purse, handbag, satchel, other similar bag or briefcase or fully enclosed case". On April 15, 2016, the law was further expanded to include belt and shoulder holsters and sheaths. This effectively allows for constitutional carry in Mississippi. However, some forms of concealed carrying would still require a permit (e.g. Mexican carry or concealed in an ankle holster).
SB 656 allows for permitless concealed carry for anyone 18 years or older who may lawfully own a gun. The bill was passed by the legislature in 2016 but Governor Nixon vetoed it on June 27, 2016. The legislature reconvened for the veto-override session on September 14, 2016. The Senate voted to override the veto with a 24 – 6 vote (23 required) and the House followed through shortly thereafter with a 112 – 41 vote (109 required). The law went into effect on January 1, 2017.
In early 2017, several senators and representatives introduced New Hampshire Senate Bill 12, which proposed removing the requirement for a license to carry a loaded concealed handgun. The bill also proposed extending the minimum license period from four years to five years, removing the discretionary "suitable person" language from the Pistol/Revolver License law, and directing the state police to pursue reciprocity agreements. On January 19, it was passed by the New Hampshire Senate by a vote of 13 – 10. Governor Chris Sununu, who took office in January 2017, expressed support for this bill after the Senate vote, stating, "I am pleased that the State Senate today voted to advance common sense legislation in support of a citizen’s fundamental right to carry a firearm, joining neighboring states throughout the region and across the country." On February 9, it was passed by the New Hampshire House by a vote of 200 – 97. Governor Sununu signed the bill into law on February 22, 2017. It took effect immediately.
New Hampshire had made several previous attempts to pass constitutional carry legislation. Bills were introduced in 2011 and 2012, but failed to pass the legislature. Other bills were introduced in 2015 and 2016, and both passed the legislature, but they were later vetoed by Governor Maggie Hassan.
Previously, carrying a concealed handgun unloaded was legal without a license. A New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in 2013 clarified that the law did not prohibit carrying a concealed handgun if it is unloaded and no round is chambered, even if a loaded magazine is nearby.
North Dakota (residents only; concealed carry only)Edit
On March 23, 2017, Governor Doug Burgum signed House Bill 1169. Under its provisions, people carrying concealed without a concealed weapons license will need to carry a form of state-issued photo ID, must be a North Dakota resident for at least 1 year, must inform police about their handgun upon contact, and must not otherwise be prohibited from possessing a firearm by law. Open carry of a loaded handgun and carrying in a vehicle will still require a permit. Non-residents will continue to be required to have a permit recognized by North Dakota to carry openly or concealed. The law went into effect on August 1, 2017.
For many decades, the only state to allow "constitutional carry" of a handgun (i.e. without any government permit) was Vermont. From the formation of the 13 original states, "constitutional carry" was the law in all states until the 19th century. By the 20th century, all states except Vermont had enacted concealed carry bans, with the exemption in most states for those citizens with a permit. Due to wording in its state constitution and decisions made by the state courts, Vermont has never been able to have a restriction on the method of how one could carry a firearm, and thus, in this regard, Vermont stood entirely separate from the rest of the United States for quite some time. Because of this, constitutional carry is still sometimes referred to as "Vermont carry".
HB 4145 was passed by the House on February 8, 2016 and Senate on February 22, 2016, but vetoed by Governor Tomblin on March 3, 2016. The House then voted to override the veto on March 4, 2016 and the Senate voted to override on March 5, 2016. The law took effect on May 24, 2016.
Wyoming (residents only)Edit
On March 2, 2011 Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed legislation to allow constitutional carry. The law officially went into effect on July 1, 2011. Under the law, residents age 21 and older may carry concealed or openly without a permit. Visitors to the state and persons age 18-20 must either have a valid concealed carry permit from a jurisdiction that Wyoming recognizes or carry the weapon openly.
While Wyoming does have the resident limitation it is similar to Vermont in that the police may not disarm a citizen just because they "feel" it's necessary.
U.S. States that have a limited form of permitless concealed carryEdit
Some states have a limited form of permitless carry, restricted based on one or more of the following: a person's location, the loaded/unloaded state of the firearm, or the specific persons who may carry without a permit. As of February 22, 2017, these states are Montana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
States that do not require a permit to carry only in very limited areas, e.g. at a person's home and/or place of employment, are not included in this section.
Montana (outside city limits)Edit
Montana introduced a bill early in 2011 to allow constitutional carry. The bill passed the House with a vote of 55-45, and passed the Senate with a vote of 29-21. Montana HB 271 was vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer on May 10, 2011 and was unable to gather the necessary 2/3 majority to overturn the veto.
HB 298 was introduced in the 2015 legislative session, which would have legalized firearms carry statewide for all persons who are not prohibited from possessing a firearm. The bill passed the House 56-43 and the Senate 28-21, but was later vetoed by Governor Steve Bullock.
Montana is currently a shall-issue state for concealed weapon permits and open carry is legal without a permit. In addition to Montana's concealed weapons permit system, state law provides an exception for the prohibition of concealed carry for "a person who is outside the official boundaries of a city or town or the confines of a logging, lumbering, mining, or railroad camp or who is lawfully engaged in hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, hiking, backpacking, farming, ranching, or other outdoor activity in which weapons are often carried for recreation or protection."
New Mexico (unloaded weapon & loaded magazine, vehicle carry)Edit
Under New Mexico law, a concealed handgun license is required for concealed carry when the weapon is both loaded and concealed and the individual carrying is on foot. It is perfectly legal to carry ammunition as well as a loaded magazine so long as it is not inserted into the weapon. Additionally, it is legal for an individual to carry a loaded firearm in a concealed manner without a concealed carry permit while traveling in a vehicle, to include motorcycles, recreational vehicles (RVs), bicycles, and while riding a horse. This method of concealed carry has additional restrictions not found in permitted carry such as all the same restrictions that apply to open carry.
Oklahoma (residents of constitutional carry states)Edit
In the state of Oklahoma, any person who is a legal resident of a state that allows concealed carry without a permit may also carry concealed in Oklahoma without a permit, so long as they possess a photo ID showing they are a legal resident of that other state and also meet the legal requirements for permitless carry in that other state.
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