In legal terms, concealed weapon refers to a weapon that is kept hidden on a person’s body. This definition may also apply to a weapon kept under a person’s control, but not on their physical body, such as in a vehicle’s glove box or under the seat. When speaking about concealed weapons, at least in the United States, it is generally assumed that the concealed weapon is a handgun of some sort.

Carrying a concealed weapon is generally considered to be a crime, unless the person carrying a concealed weapon is a law enforcement officer. Or, if the person is licensed and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Such permits are most commonly issued by local law enforcement and are governed by guidelines which require the applicant to prove some sort of need for the permit.

The specific laws that govern and regulate carrying a concealed weapon (or, CCW) are numerous and complex. Additionally, these laws can vary wildly from state to state, and are constantly changing. This is largely due to the fact that each of the fifty states belonging to the United States, as well as the District of Columbia and other U.S. colonized territories maintain their own specific laws overseeing the permitting process of concealed weaponry.

To add to the variations, each election or court decision could result in changes to the laws that determine who may carry a concealed weapon. As such, it is important to frequently check your own state’s laws to determine whether they have changed.

Why Do States Have Different Concealed Carry Laws? What are the Different Concealed Carry Permit Categories in the States?

Federal laws apply to all of the states within the U.S. in the same manner. Some examples of such federal laws could include:

  • Civil rights laws;
  • Copyright laws;
  • Immigration laws; and
  • Social Security laws.

What this means is that no matter which state you live in, and regardless of your state’s laws regarding concealed carry, you are protected by and must adhere to federal laws.

Under U.S. Constitutional law, the states are viewed as sovereign. In other words, the fifty states are individual entities responsible for taking care of and governing the people that live within its borders. States are responsible for creating different laws to ultimately benefit its residents. This includes, but is not limited to, laws that deal with:

  • State government;
  • Judiciary;
  • Education;
  • Local law enforcement;
  • Local roads and state highways; and
  • Gun possession laws.

Within each state, there may also be differing laws in the counties, cities, and other municipalities. This is partly due to the fact that different regions of a state may have separate needs from another area of the same state.

Generally speaking, the Second Amendment to The Constitution allows individuals to lawfully own guns. This is also known as the Right to Bear Arms. The states, however, are responsible for regulating their own gun possession laws. Because of this, there are many different concealed carry permit categories used across the states. These categories include:

  • Constitutional Carry: This is the least restrictive category, wherein limited restrictions are placed on a gun owner. There are several variations to constitutional carry:
    • Constitutional Carry & Shall Issue to Residents Only;
    • Constitutional Carry & Shall Issue to Residents & Non-Residents; and
    • Constitutional Carry & Does Not Issue Permits.
  • May Issue: Under may issue, states have more discretion. Basic requirements must first be met by the potential gun-owner, and then the state might issue a permit. The variations in this category are based on residency:
    • May Issue to Residents Only; and
    • May Issue to Residents & Non-Residents.
  • Shall Issue: Shall issue means that as long as the potential gun-owner passes basic requirements, the state must issue a concealed carry permit to them. The variations in this category are also based on residency:
    • Shall Issue to Residents Only; and
    • Shall Issue to Residents & Non-Residents.
  • No Issue: This is the most restrictive category, as it does not allow CCW permits. There are currently no states that fall into this category, although the U.S. colonized territory of Samoa is considered to be a “no issue” area.

Within the United States, the most common carrying concealed weapon category is “shall issue.”

If I Have a Valid Concealed Carry Permit in My Home State, will Another State Recognize It?

Whether one state will recognize another state’s valid concealed carry permit depends on the state. Some states do offer reciprocity to gun owners already permitted in a different state. An example of reciprocity would be as follows:  

A person has a valid and legal CCW permit from State X, and they visit State Y. State Y has an agreement with State X, to accept State X’s CCW permits as valid permits. Additionally, State X has an agreement with State Y to also accept State Y’s CCW permits as valid permits. Both states must agree to accept the other state’s permit as valid, in order to have a reciprocal agreement. As such, in an example such as this, the individual’s home State X permit is valid in State Y. 

Even if a state does not maintain a reciprocity agreement with a gun owner’s home state, there may be Federal protections that allow an individual to travel through a state with their gun. Once again, it is important to familiarize yourself with relevant state laws if you choose to carry any concealed weapons.

Who Does Not Have the Right to Carry a Concealed Weapon?

In very simple terms, people who live in states or territories that do not allow for concealed carry, do not have the right to carry a concealed weapon. Additionally, a person does not have the right to carry a concealed weapon if their criminal record contains any convictions, arrests, and/or other illegal activities.

What Are the Potential Consequences for Carrying a Concealed Weapon? What Are Some Defenses for Concealed Weapon Violations?

Concealed carry permit violations vary based on state law. Some examples of such violations include:

  • Lack of permit or license to carry;
  • Illegal firearm or weapon not permitted under the statute;
  • Felon in possession of a weapon;
  • Minor in possession of a weapon; and/or
  • Carrying a weapon into a place that has banned weapons, such as a school or courtroom.

Penalties for concealed carry violations vary widely depending on the factors involved. Some states may issue only a citation or a fine for first-time offenders, while other states may impose felony charges. This is especially true for cases involving repeat offenders or those with prior felony convictions. The consequences for carrying a concealed weapon when doing so violates a statute may also result in civil fines, or prohibition against concealed carry.

Defenses to concealed weapon and permit violations include:

  • Valid permit, as in the defendant actually had a valid concealed carrying permit at the time of the arrest;
  • Permit is not needed, such as when possession without a permit is allowed;
  • The weapon is not actually banned for concealed carry permits;
  • Coercion, such as if the person was forced to carry a weapon against their own will under a threat of harm; or
  • Various other criminal defense theories.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Concealed Weapon Charges?

One of the benefits of working with a CCW attorney is that they will be most knowledgeable in terms of current concealed weapon laws for your state. If you need help with concealed weapon charges, it is imperative that you consult with a criminal lawyer in your area. 

An experienced and local criminal defense attorney will ensure that you understand your rights, as well as the charges being pressed against you and what consequences you may be facing. The attorney will also be able to determine what legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case, and can represent you in court as needed.