Carry On

Concealed weapon laws


The number of states that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms hit 36 in September, up from 10 in 1986. The three-dozen mark was reached after Missouri's legislature voted to override Gov. Bob Holden's veto of a right-to-carry bill.

Missouri's old law gave county sheriffs the discretion to deny a permit to any applicant they believed was "a danger to himself or others." Under the new law, which took effect in October, residents who are at least 23 years old and who take an eight-hour gun safety course can obtain a concealed carry permit provided they do not have disqualifying characteristics such as a dishonorable discharge, a felony record, or a recent conviction for a violent misdemeanor.

Thirty-one other states have such "shall issue" laws, which require that a permit be given to anyone who meets a set of uniform, specific criteria. Two states, Alabama and Connecticut, have discretionary permit policies that the National Rifle Association deems "fair," and two others, Vermont and Alaska, do not require permits at all. Alaska, which used to have a "shall issue" law, changed to the more permissive approach in June.

Other recent signs that a right to carry guns for self-defense is gaining widespread recognition:

? In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state's 130-year-old ban on concealed carry violates a 1998 amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing "the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose." (By contrast, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld that state's 144-year-old ban in a September 24 ruling that overturned a 2002 state appeals court decision.)

? In May a Colorado "shall issue" law took effect, requiring that a concealed carry permit be granted to "any competent person over 21" who is properly trained and passes a criminal background check.

? In April, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a similar "shall issue" law.

Gun control critics such as John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argue that right-to-carry laws have had a measurable impact on crime by making predators think twice about targeting victims who may be armed. (See "Cold Comfort," January 2000.) While those findings remain controversial, the proliferation of "shall issue" laws has forced anti-gun activists to concede that they were wrong to predict that letting people carry guns would lead to Wild West-style violence.

"My conclusion, looking at crime rates and concealed carry permits, is that it doesn't have any effect on crime," Jim Kessler of Americans for Gun Safety told The Washington Times in August. "It doesn't add to crime either. It's basically a wash."