The History of Concealed Carry Laws in the US

The History of Concealed Carry Laws in the US

The ongoing debate concerning gun laws is complicated, and it leaves many people a little confused. It’s a complicated issue in the United States, with around 30% of adults owning guns, but almost 50% of people think that gun violence needs to get curbed. 

Thrown somewhere into that mix are concealed carry laws. To understand where we’re headed, it’s important to take a look at where we’ve been. We’re going to take a look at the history of concealed carry laws today, giving you some insight into the journey these laws have taken throughout the country’s history. 

Hopefully, the ideas below give you a new perspective on the US concealed carry laws and help you form more insightful opinions. Let’s get started. 

The History of Concealed Carry Laws in The United States

To “conceal and carry” a weapon means to keep it hidden as you go about your day in public. Any time you’re holding a weapon on your person but it’s not visible to the outside world, it’s considered a conceal and carry. 

The Constitution grants individuals the right to bear arms, but the extent of that right is where things become less clear. At what point can the law tell a person to restrict their possession of arms, and what are the rules for how that person goes about carrying the gun?

Those questions are the subject of the current debate, and they’ve been under the magnifying glass since the country was founded. When the country originated, there weren’t many restrictions on when you could carry a gun or how you had to carry it. 

In many ways, issues with gun violence weren’t as common because guns weren’t as discrete or effective. Keep in mind that, alongside the muskets and pistols of the 1700s, people were still using swords and pikes

It wasn’t until the early 1800s that multi-shot revolvers were available with any degree of accuracy. It’s around that point that a gun could even be concealed. 

It’d be pretty hard to stuff a four-foot musket into your waistband without someone noticing.

The First Concealed Carry Bans

The first laws pertaining to concealed carry popped up in 1813. Louisiana and Kentucky passed laws to ban the concealed carry of a weapon. Those states set the precedent for numerous other states to pass similar laws. 

These laws spread around the country, and almost all states passed one concealed carry law or another. One notable exception to this rule is Vermont, which has never had any laws that restrict gun possession or use. Vermont’s constitution prevents it from passing any laws of that kind. 

Through the Antebellum South (1812-1861), every state passed concealed carry laws. A dominant explanation for this is that whites feared that freed or captive African Americans would form militias or retaliate in other ways. 

Moving West in the early 1800s, there were far fewer regulations pertaining to guns. Scarce towns had regulations on concealed weapons, while even fewer had prohibitory laws around having a weapon in public at all. 

The First Federal Case

State and local courts did most of the work pertaining to the Second amendment until the end of the 19th century. At that time, the case of Robertson v Baldwin determined that concealed carry laws were permissible under the constitution. 

The argument was that concealment wasn’t essential in the right to bear arms. A person could still carry their weapons out in the open. 

Laws and Regulations of The Early 20th Century

Moving forward, more restrictions were placed on the ability to handle weapons. Notably, the Sullivan Law required individuals to get permits in order to own pistols. 

Around the same time, Uniform Firearm and Uniform Revolver laws pushed unlicensed concealed carry punishments. Those laws also established something called “may-issue” licensures. These are loose laws that allowed a level of interpretation and manipulation by certain individuals. 

For example, individuals that showed “good cause” and possessed “good character” could receive permits to conceal their weapons. Naturally, those definitions were interpreted in favor of mostly wealthy, mostly white individuals, and very few others. 

Some states were fairer. For example, New Hampshire passed shall-issue laws in 1923, which require that qualified individuals receive permits to own weapons. Those laws spread through the country in specific areas until about the 1970s. 

New Wave Concealed Carry Laws

The onset of expansive concealed carry laws is referred to as the “new wave” of gun laws

This trend began in 1976 when Georgia passed its concealed carry regulation. That first push was, in large part, due to the efforts of the NRA. The NRA followed up in Indiana a few years later and passed a similar bill. The same trend followed up into Maine, over to the Dakotas, and down through Florida. 

49 states offer a path toward concealed carry permits now, all except for Maine which we referred to earlier. Of those states, 80 percent of them are “shall-issue” states that allow anyone to get licensure so long as they qualify. 

There are a few may-issue states left, and three or four fall somewhere in between shall-issue and may-issue. 

The Constitutional Carry States

The Supreme Court Case of Columbia v. Heller determined that second amendment rights certainly give a person the right to bear arms in order to defend themselves. 

That interpretation and phrasing give way to an opening for the idea of the constitutional carrying of weapons. Vermont is a perfect example of constitutional carry, which was legal the entire time, although the court case mentioned above was the “levy-breaking” moment. 

Alaska was the first state after Vermont to allow no-issue carrying or constitutional carrying. Shortly after, Arizona, Wyoming, Maine, Kansas, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah, Iowa Tennessee, and Texas all adopted constitutional carry laws. 

The period of time from 2008 to 2022 has produced a number of other changes in particular states. Illinois was the last state to have “no-issue” policies and change them. Wisconsin abandoned those laws shortly after. 

Arkansas established the precedent for carrying a concealed firearm without changing its actual laws. In a court case, Taff v. the State of Arkansas found innocent someone who committed a crime while holding a concealed gun without showing intent to use it.

They were guilty of robbing a convenience store, but they didn’t show any intention of using the gun they possessed. As a result, the person wasn’t prosecuted for gun possession in any way. This opens the law for ambiguous interpretation. 

That ambiguity might be good for lawyers to defend clients, but it sure makes it difficult for citizens to know what their concealed carry rights are. 

Practical Advice for Gun Owners

It’s wise to look deeply into your state and county’s practices when it comes to enforcing gun laws. While there’s a clear answer on paper, the reality of your home’s laws might not be quite as clear. 

For example, think about the laws in Hawaii. Hawaii grants permit for concealed carry, but those permits are only effective in the county that they were granted. So, if you have a concealed carry permit, you can’t utilize it anywhere but your confined area. 

There are similar laws in New York and numerous other East Coast states. The laws in those areas might be restrictive in numerous ways, and they can get enforced in ways that are arbitrary. The laws and regulations of “may-carry” areas are created in a way that gives law enforcement or the courts the final say of whether someone gets a permit. 

Contact Your Local Offices

Local courts have the knowledge you need to be confident on whether you can conceal carry. It’s a hassle to call and ask questions, but it’s much better than getting a fine or getting arrested for possessing an unlawful firearm. 

Any gun classes you take should also give you key insights into the laws and regulations in your area. Nobody will understand the practical gun laws in your region better than someone who’s training individuals to use guns. 

You can also ask friends or acquaintances that utilize concealed carry permits to get tips on how to do things safely. Any time you introduce a firearm into the equation, there’s an additional risk. 

It’s a risk that provides a measure of safety, but it’s a risk nonetheless. So, get all of the information you can from others who have experience with the process. 

Crossing State Lines

Make sure to note any time that you cross state lines while you have your weapon on you. Some states might not respect the laws of others, and that can get you in a lot of trouble.

It’s wise to know the concealed carry laws in the states that surround your own in the case that you need to travel there for any reason. Some states might not even allow you to have an open carry weapon, or possess a weapon at all unless you have the right permit. 

Want to Learn More About Concealed Carry Permits in the U.S.?

Hopefully, our look at the history of concealed carry laws was useful to you. There’s a lot more to understand about gun laws, though, and we’re here to help you work through all that you need to know. 

Explore our site for more ideas on gun laws, lifestyle advice, safety tips, and wellness insights. 

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