The definition of the phrase “carrying a concealed weapon” (also known as CCW), seems simple enough. It basically means that a person owns some type of a weapon — usually a handgun — and that person carries it hidden (for example, in a gun holster under a coat) or somewhere near that person (for instance, in the car glove box). 

However, the laws that regulate CCW, are numerous, complex and constantly changing. This is because each of the 50 states, within the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, has their own laws to oversee the permitting process of concealed weapons.

Each election or court decision may result in a difference in the law; be sure to check your state law if you have reason to believe it may have recently changed. 

Why Do States Have Different Concealed Carry Laws?

Federal laws apply to all the states within the U.S. in the same manner. Some examples of federal laws include: civil rights laws, copyright laws, immigration laws and Social Security laws. So, no matter which state you live in, 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 50 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 and judiciary, education, local law enforcement, local roads and state highways as well as gun possession laws.

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

What are the Different Concealed Carry Permit Categories in the States?

In broad terms, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows individuals to lawfully own guns, also known as the Right to Bear Arms. The states, however, regulate their own gun possession laws. There are several different concealed carry permit categories used across the U.S. The categories include:

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

Currently, within the U.S., the “shall issue” CCW category is most common.

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

It depends on the state, some do offer reciprocity to gun owners already permitted in a different state. An example of reciprocity is as follows:  

Suppose an individual has a valid CCW permit from State X. While on vacation, they visit State Y. State Y has an agreement with State X, to accept State X’s CCW permits as valid permits. And, 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 to have a reciprocal agreement. Thus, in this example, the individual’s home state permit is valid in State Y. 

Even if a state does not have 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. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer with Expertise in Gun Possession Laws?

Carrying a concealed weapon and gun ownership, in general, entails an immense responsibility that requires due diligence. Gun laws across the U.S. vary and evolve over time, it is challenging for defendants in gun possession cases to stay on top of current laws. 

If you or someone you know has been charged with a gun violation, it is best to seek the expertise of a criminal defense attorney with knowledge of gun possession laws to resolve the matter. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and legal options in this area.