Concealed weapons laws are one of the most common forms of gun control regulation throughout the states. Adopted by most states in the early twentieth century as alternatives to a total ban of weapons, these laws prohibited citizens from carrying concealed firearms. These laws were generally restrictive, though some states gave discretion to local police or judges to issue permits to those they felt were “trustworthy.” These laws were often backed by opponents of gun control such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).
They reemerged as an important part of the gun control debate in the 1980s and 1990s as gun control opponents organized to modify most of the laws to end the discretion of local police chiefs and sheriffs to require mandatory issuance of permits to those who meet certain requirements. Before 1987, only Georgia, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington had “shall-issue” laws requiring law enforcement officials or courts to issue firearm-carrying permits to the average citizen. In 1987, Florida enacted a “shall-issue” right-to-carry law that eventually served as the framework for other states. In 2011, 38 states have such laws. Only Illinois does not issue permits and prohibits all concealed carry.
In general, there is a brief spike in the number of individuals applying for a permit to carry a concealed weapon as soon as the more lenient laws are implemented, but this increase levels off after about a year. The number of permit holders in a state typically levels off after several years.
The most common requirements are demonstration of a minimum level of proficiency with a firearm (usually through completion of a training course or passing a test) and a criminal background check that reveals no felony convictions. Some states also include any convictions for domestic abuse or sex offense in the category of disqualifying events.
It is interesting that the opponents of gun control sparked the movement to change the laws they helped craft decades earlier. In some states, such as Virginia, they responded to sentiment that some of the judges were improperly exercising their discretion in denying permits to qualified citizens. In many cases, it was simply a preference to fight the legislative battles at the state level. State laws generally prohibit local jurisdictions from passing their own gun control measures (so-called preemption laws). This means that the interest groups involved in trying to influence policy can focus their attention on the state legislatures rather than concerning themselves with a much larger number of city councils.
The debate in “shall-issue” states tends to take place over the issue of restrictions on where concealed firearms may be carried. Typically, permit holders are not allowed to carry into schools, government buildings, churches, or restaurants that serve alcohol. The NRA and other strong gun rights groups have lobbied diligently, with mixed success, in reducing the number of areas in which firearms may not be carried.
The debate over these laws hinges largely on whether one believes that they increase the safety of the carrier by giving her or him the opportunity to fend off would-be assailants and deter potential criminals because they know their intended victim might be armed, or whether one believes that they lead to an increase in the crime rate because more people own and carry guns.
This field has become one of the most hotly disputed in gun control research. Researchers such as Lott (2010) and Moody and Marvell (2009) claim that more lenient restrictions on carrying concealed firearms result in lower violent crime rates due to deterrence. Others, such as Ayres and Donohue (2009), argue that, at best, concealed carry has no impact on the violent crime rate, and, at worst, lenient laws might actually increase violent crime. While this debate may seem esoteric to those not enamored of disputes regarding the correct usage of quantitative studies and statistics beyond the understanding of most citizens who are not trained economists or statisticians, the debate has significant impact on those who make public policy.
In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report stating that the evidence in the field was ambiguous and that further research was necessary (see Well-ford, Pepper, and Petrie). If the academy reconvened its panel today, it is unlikely they would reach a different conclusion.
See also: Cook, Philip J.; Defensive Gun Use (DGU); Gun Control; Hemenway, David; Kleck, Gary; Lott, John R., Jr.; More Guns, Less Crime Thesis; Preemption Laws; Right to Self-Defense, Philosophical Bases; Self-Defense, Legal Issues; Self-Defense, Reasons for Gun Use; Substitution Effects
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