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The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

The Walls Keep Tumbling Down

This feature appears in the June ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association. 

Right-to-Carry continues to sweep the nation with legislative victories expanding permitless, open and campus carry.

The nation’s Right-to-Carry movement, which began in Florida and then flourished over the past 25 years, is one of the National Rifle Association’s most significant achievements, resulting in every state having at least a minimal carry law on the books. And with the current trend toward so-called “permitless” carry on the upswing in a number of states, the movement is once again gaining a resurgence that will serve to further protect the rights of law-abiding Americans to protect themselves and their families. 

First, however, a little background. ... concealed carry is the main point at issue in the battles that are currently being waged across the nation. Many of the states that have drafted legislation in support of “permitless” concealed carry already extend such a right to open carry.

If you’ve closely followed firearm politics over the past 25 or 30 years, this won’t be a surprise to you. But for our younger readers and those who might not have been paying much attention to politics at the time, there’s a great story to be told. 

Right-to-Carry laws recognize the right of Americans to carry handguns when away from home with a permit issued by a state to an applicant who meets requirements established by the state legislature.

RTC laws are consistent with the constitutions of the United States and 44 states, the laws of all states, and the common law, all of which recognize the right to use firearms in self-defense.

RTC laws are essential because self-defense is a fundamental right. In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that “the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” which is “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment.”

However, the movement to have the right to carry concealed handguns recognized by state governments—most of whom had outlawed the practice—began much earlier than that. In 1987, Florida enacted a “shall-issue” Right-to-Carry law that became the model for similar laws later adopted in 32 other states. Gun control supporters predicted that Florida’s law would cause crime to rise, and would result in a Wild West scenario and “blood running in the streets.” However, within five years, Florida’s murder rate had decreased 23 percent, while the U.S. rate had risen 9 percent.

After Florida, as states adopted Right-to-Carry legislation one after another, gun control supporters continued to predict that crime rates would rise, but the predictions have proven false. Attorney and frequent America’s 1st Freedom contributor David Kopel has noted, “Whenever a state legislature first considers a concealed-carry bill, opponents typically warn of horrible consequences. … But within a year of passage, the issue usually drops off the news media’s radar screen, while gun control advocates in the legislature conclude that the law wasn’t so bad after all.” 

As the numbers of Right-to-Carry states and holders of carry permits have increased, violent crime has decreased. Since 1991, when violent crime hit an all-time high, 25 states have adopted “shall-issue” laws, replacing laws that prohibited the carrying of concealed firearms or that issued concealed-carry permits on a very limited basis. Concurrently, the number of people carrying with a permit has risen to more than 12 million. 

The latest battleground is the fight for “permitless” carry. 

“Permitless” carry denotes legal recognition of the choice to carry a firearm (usually a handgun) without a special permit. Anyone not specifically prohibited from carrying a sidearm would thereby be free to exercise their right to arms without navigating yards of red tape and paying restrictive fees. 

In practice, concealed carry is the main point at issue in the battles that are currently being waged across the nation. Many of the states that have drafted legislation in support of “permitless” concealed carry already extend such a right to open carry. In fact, 30 states already recognize the right to carry a handgun openly without a permit. 

State legislative sessions this year have shown just how strong the “permitless” carry movement has grown. Going into 2016, seven states required no permit for law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms for self-defense, but that number has jumped, and might continue to grow. 

In fact, such legislation has been considered in seven other states just this year. 

West Virginia is a prime example of the legislative process working successfully to remove restrictions on the right to carry for law-abiding Mountain State citizens. 

In February, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed NRA-backed HB 4145 with a bipartisan 68-31 vote. Later that month, the state Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation by another bipartisan vote of 24-9. But in early March, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the measure—just as he had a similar bill the previous session. 

“Gov. Tomblin’s decision to veto this bill is unfortunate, especially considering the significant support HB 4145 had from both sides of the aisle,” Dakota Moore, NRA-ILA West Virginia liaison, said the day of the veto. “We’re hopeful that, in going back to the Legislature, each chamber will promptly reaffirm the rights of law-abiding individuals.” 

In the end, that’s exactly what happened. The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to override Tomblin’s veto by an overwhelming 64-33 vote. The next day, the state Senate voted 23-11 to override the governor’s veto of the bill, ensuring the measure was approved. The law goes into effect June 5. “… we can own and carry at home and on our property, but if we ever walk off of our home or property and we feel the need to be protected, without that permission and that fee that we pay the government, we’re in violation of the law.” 

In Idaho, despite heavy spending by gun-ban billionaire Michael Bloomberg, legislators approved and the governor signed sb 1389 into law—a measure that recognizes a law-abiding adult’s unconditional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the manner he or she chooses. Everytown for Gun Safety, Bloomberg’s New York-based gun control advocacy group, ran a full-page ad in the Idaho Statesman, the state’s largest paper, urging legislators to reject the bill. Everytown also ran TV advertising spots opposing the measure. In addition, Everytown affiliate Moms Demand Action lobbied legislators heavily. 

Yet the measure flew through the state Legislature, proving again that out-of-state money doesn’t trump local common sense. Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the measure on March 25, and the new law takes effect on July 1.

“This is a great day for law-abiding gun owners in Idaho,” NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox said upon Otter signing the measure. “Now, the residents of Idaho can choose what method of self-defense suits them best no matter where they are in the state.” 

“Permitless” carry legislation also met with great success this spring in Mississippi, where a bill that eliminates bureaucratic hurdles on the right to bear arms for gun owners was signed into law. 

House Bill 786, by Republican state Rep. Andy Gipson, expands current “permitless” carry options to include belt and shoulder holsters. The measure is only a small expansion on legislation passed in 2015 that authorized Mississippians who are eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law to carry a pistol or revolver without a license in purses, handbags, satchels, other similar bags or briefcases or fully enclosed cases, but not in a holster. 

On March 29, the state Senate approved the measure by a 36-14 vote, and on April 5, the Mississippi House voted 85-35 to concur with Senate amendments to the measure. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 786 into law on April 15, with the law taking effect immediately. 

Meanwhile, “permitless” carry measures are still under consideration in three other states. In Missouri, House Bill 1468 received a “Do Pass” vote from the House Committee on Emerging Issues on March 7. But at press time for this issue, the measure had not been considered by the House Select Committee on General Laws. 

HB 1468, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Eric Burlison, would recognize Missourians’ right to legally carry a concealed firearm without having to obtain a permit. The measure also would allow all law-abiding individuals to carry a concealed firearm anywhere that isn’t expressly prohibited by law. 

In New Hampshire, a “permitless” carry measure was still under consideration at press time for this issue, although it had been dormant in committee for a long period. HB 582 would recognize a law-abiding adult’s unconditional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the manner he or she chooses without a permitting requirement.  

It is already lawful to open carry a firearm in the state of New Hampshire without government-mandated permitting and fees. Proponents of the measure argue that citizens of New Hampshire should not be penalized for the method with which they feel most comfortable defending themselves. 

The measure was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in mid-March and could still be considered this session. 

Kentucky lawmakers also attempted to put the Bluegrass State on the “permitless” carry list this spring, but so far have been unsuccessful. Senate Bill 257 would have recognized the right of Kentuckians to legally carry a concealed firearm without the requirement of acquiring a Kentucky concealed-carry deadly weapons license (CCDW). This legislation would give Kentuckians the freedom to choose the best method of carrying for them based on their individual circumstances. 

The measure stalled in the Senate State and Local Government Committee and will not be considered further this session. However, sponsors promise to bring the legislation up again next session. 

In a little different twist on “permitless” carry legislation, Oklahoma House Bill 3098, also known as the “Constitutional Open Carry Bill,” passed the state House of Representatives in March by a 73-15 vote, and was approved by the Senate 37-9 in April. In a nutshell, the measure will allow law-abiding citizens over 21 years of age to openly carry a firearm on their person without the fees or clerical process associated with obtaining a carry permit. It’s important to note that in every state where “permitless” carry was passed or is being considered, the new laws do not do away with the current Right-to-Carry permitting laws.

Oklahoma is currently in the minority of states that require open-carry applicants to obtain a permit. Republican state Rep. Jeff Coody, who authored the House version of the measure, says this legislation would bring Oklahoma in line with other states in protecting gun owners’ rights. 

“It’s always just kind of struck me as odd that we can own and carry at home and on our property, but if we ever walk off of our home or property and we feel the need to be protected, without that permission and that fee that we pay the government, we’re in violation of the law,” Coody said in an interview with the Norman [Okla.] Transcript. “In 30 other states people can carry out in the open without a permit, without asking permission and without paying a tax to the government, and it’s not been an issue in other states.” 

It’s important to note that in every state where “permitless” carry was passed or is being considered, the new laws do not do away with the current Right-to-Carry permitting laws. The legislation keeps in place the current state systems so that those who choose to can still obtain a permit and can still enjoy state-to-state reciprocity agreements. 

Expanding the firearm freedoms of law-abiding gun owners has long been a main emphasis of the NRA, and the movement to eliminate burdens on armed self-defense through “permitless” carry laws is another step in the right direction. Look for other states to move forward with similar legislation next year and in years to come.