Most adults and of-age teens in the United States go through the same process of getting licensed to drive: classroom or online instruction, as many as 100 hours of practice behind the wheel, and a skills test.
Far fewer people have that experience when seeking a
license to carry concealed weapons, reports the Washington Post.
Recently Ohio became the 23rd state to enact a law
eliminating permits as a requirement for concealed carry. The Buckeye State
closely followed Alabama, where
Gov. Kay Ivey signed a similar law on March 10.
The back-to-back wins for gun-rights advocates who
want to see fewer restrictions on the Second Amendment signal how partisan
divides and relentless activism at the state level are significantly reshaping
the landscape around gun possession.
“This is the latest front in the battle over gun
rights in America,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of
California at Los Angeles and an expert in gun policy and the Second Amendment.
Winkler sees a broader takeaway in the changes to Alabama and Ohio’s gun laws.
is: It’s coming to you,” Winkler said. “It’s a rising tide of reform, and it’s
a wave we’ve seen before.”
Seventeen of the 23 states that allow permitless
carry passed their laws in the past seven years. By contrast, concealed carry
wasn’t even legal in every state until 2013, when Illinois lifted its longtime
ban decades after most other states.
The push to end restrictions on concealed carry is
reminiscent of one made by lobbyists and gun rights activists 30 years ago with
“shall issue” permitting. States adopted laws that held authorizing agencies
shall issue concealed-carry permits to anyone who meets the basic requirements
set by the state, such as completing a training course or passing a background
check — a shift that rapidly expanded who could carry a concealed weapon.
Before the advent of “shall issue” permitting, most
states would let individuals concealed carry only if licensed; the permits,
Winkler said, were hard to get and required applicants to demonstrate a
justification for carrying a concealed firearm.
“The NRA has been incredibly effective in loosening
gun laws at the state level and have completely transformed how individuals can
carry guns in public since the 1980s,” Winkler said in reference to the National
Winkler said energy for gun control that often
swells after shooting incidents — including calls for change at the federal
level — but that such energy obscures the on-the-ground reality.
“Nothing has changed since Newtown,” Winkler said,
referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,
Conn., that killed 27 people, including 20 first-graders. “If you think that
[it has], you’re looking in the wrong place: The states are a hotbed of
activity of gun reform these days, and it’s mostly gun-rights advocates that
are winning the battles.”
The primary group that lobbied for Ohio’s permitless
carry law was the grass-roots Buckeye Firearms Association. Executive Director
Dean Rieck, in a recent podcast episode,
described its strategy as “moving the Overton window” from a place where the
public was largely wary of anyone with a gun to a place where opponents
welcomed licensing laws.
“You get to
the point where there’s enough trust to pass a law like this,” Rieck told The
Washington Post in an interview. “I think we’ll find the dire predictions in
passing this law don’t come true.”
Opponents of permitless carry argue that the law
decreases public safety by eliminating the requirements attached to permits,
such as background checks, safety training and, in Ohio, an application through
a local sheriff’s office.
Gary Wolske, president of the Fraternal Order of
Police of Ohio, the state’s largest police union, said the FOP believes in the
right to carry a weapon — but also in background checks.
“Last year, an estimated 2,000 were denied permits,”
Wolske said of Ohio concealed carry applicants. “But going forward, when this
becomes law, there’s no more requirements for anything. You don’t have to know
how to turn on the safety, how to carry your weapon or even know which end of
the gun goes ‘bang.’ ”
Anyone who purchases a gun from a federally licensed
firearms dealer is vetted through the National Instant Criminal Background
Check System, which screens for disqualifications such as felony convictions,
involuntary commitment to a mental health facility or dishonorable military
But the databases on which the government relies are
often flawed, outdated or incomplete; such was the case in the 2017 massacre in
Texas at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The gunman, who killed 26
people and injured nearly two dozen others, was
never flagged in the NICS because the Air Force repeatedly failed to
submit records that would have disqualified him from purchasing three of the
four weapons he used in the rampage.
Rieck argued that licensing laws end up stopping
only law-abiding citizens from fully exercising their Second Amendment rights,
since lawbreakers won’t submit to restrictions whether they exist or not.
“The kind of people who have criminal intent or have
a record that would prevent them from carrying a firearm aren’t going to go to
a sheriff’s office and get a background check,” he said. “It’s sort of
Training is another issue. While Rieck said groups
like his advocate for people to get as much training as they can, they don’t
want training to be a barrier.
“There’s a difference between recommending training
and mandating training,” he said.
Jake Pelletier, who owns Raven Firearms Training in
New Hampshire with his wife, Crystal, offered a comparison he has heard others
make in states that make training a hard-and-fast requirement of concealed
carry: “I’ve heard it put that it’s like saying you can exercise your right to
free speech as long as you take a communications course.’”
At the same time, the Pelletiers said it’s easy for
someone to underestimate the training needed to safely use a gun in a defensive
“They have no idea how difficult it is to use your
weapon in a use-of-force situation for defense safely, legally and while
avoiding collateral damage,” Jake Pelletier said. He estimated that beginners
need a baseline of roughly 32 hours of high-quality training.
“We stress to our clients, if you put out a round,
you own that round,” Crystal Pelletier added. “That’s not easy to do if you
haven’t trained — especially if you haven’t trained.”
Although New Hampshire hasn’t required
concealed-carry permits since 2017, the Pelletiers saw an uptick in customers
seeking safety classes following protests and riots that emerged in parts of
the country following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in 2020.
Despite public polling that indicates a majority of Americans favor more gun control, gun-control advocates have been losing ground for years because of activism at the state level in part because of increased political polarization, according to Sean Holihan, state legislative director for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The number of states where the legislative chambers
and the governorship were carried by different parties has shrunk.
“Increasingly, you’re seeing a trifecta and the
needs of the most active members of the party are being met,” Holihan said.
Both Ohio and Alabama state houses and governorships
are controlled by Republicans overwhelmingly along partisan lines; in Ohio, the
bill didn’t earn a single vote from Democrats in either chamber.
Winkler, the UCLA law professor, said a hidden
factor driving looser gun laws is partisan gerrymandering.
“In an environment where there are very safe seats,
you get candidates who, with an issue like gun control, try to outextreme the
other candidate,” he said. “And in the Republican Party, it’s been especially
pronounced; you don’t want your opponents to say you’re soft on guns, because
that hurts you in the primary.”
Gun-rights advocates commonly invoke crime reduction
and self-defense in their arguments, but Winkler said that loosening
restrictions has shown to be driven more by politics than public safety. The
data, he notes, is largely inconclusive.
Researchers have sparred for years over the question of whether easing gun restrictions lessens crime or fuels it. A 2021 analysis by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found states with looser concealed-carry laws had a higher homicide rate on average during a recent five-year period than the eight states with stricter permit laws — and that the role looser laws played in higher crime rates — if any — was unclear.
With a midterm election eight months away and major
election year in 2024, experts expect more laws easing gun restrictions to
pass. Already, bills to allow permitless carry are active in Indiana and
Holihan expects the expansion to stop after the
remaining Republican-controlled states enact permitless carry.
“We’ll have states with moderate-to strong gun
control police along the West Coast and some Great Lakes states, and other
states where it’s much easier to get and carry a gun, they’ll move on to other
issues like stand-your-ground,” Holihan said.
The result, he said, will be a picture with which
the country is already familiar: two Americas, and one deep ideological divide.