gun permits explained

Concealed Handgun Permit: Shall-Issue vs. May-Issue vs Unrestricted States

In states requiring licensure to carry a handgun, the general method by which the states do that is what’s called “shall-issue”.For those who care about exercising their Second Amendment rights, it’s a given that the various states have dominion over how they allow their citizens to do so. Most states require licensure, allotted to citizens on a “shall-issue” or “may-issue” basis. Lets take a look...

It Means the State Shall Issue If…

The practical difference between shall-issue and may-issue is the scrutiny one must pass before being issued a permit to carry. In shall-issue states, the permit granting authority is compelled to license the applicant provided said applicant satisfies the legal requirements. In May-issue states, no such compulsion exists; applicants may be denied despite meeting all requirements.

Not That Simple in Practice

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Though that is the difference between shall-issue and may-issue, it’s not that simple in practice. Since these matters fall to the various states, the laws and how they’re applied vary.

The majority of states are shall-issue, making up 35 of the 50 states. Of those, 18 grant no discretion to issuing authorities to deny the application on grounds other than what would normally disqualify a person.

The remainder, 17 states, grant licensing authorities some discretion in denying applications outside of normal disqualifying criteria. Mostly, though, it takes probable cause of some sort; in 14 of the 17 limited-discretion states, law enforcement can deny a permit if they can substantiate the applicant is a danger in some manner.

Proof Required

concealed carry weapons permit

In the 9 may-issue states, licensing criteria varies. Most commonly, a person has to show a compelling reason why they need to carry a gun (such as imminent threats on life or property) or that they are of good character. Meeting both requirements is mandatory in 7 of them, namely California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Furthermore, there are 3 shall-issue states which likewise require an applicant to show cause and prove good character, namely Indiana, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Rhode Island in particular is an interesting case, as that state is both shall-issue AND may-issue. Permits can be secured from local law enforcement or from the state Attorney General’s office. Many local jurisdictions had been reluctant to issue previously and deferred to the AG’s office, but thanks to a 2015 state court decision, they have to show cause to deny an application and are thus (de facto) shall-issue with discretion. AG-issued permits are may-issue, by state law.

No Issue Or No Problem

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It was formerly the case that some states were “no-issue.” However, changing laws and court cases have removed any previous “no-issue” laws from the books in the United States...officially.

U.S. Territories are another matter; almost none allow carrying firearms on your person.

Does this mean permits are easier to get, since you technically can? Not at all. Just because a state can grant permits by law doesn’t mean they will with any kind of frequency. States such as Maryland, New Jersey and New York, for instance, are considered to be no-issue in all but name. The aforementioned Rhode Island Attorney General’s office is said to basically never issue permits, so the court case granting hybrid shall-issue status is actually a dramatic sea change.

Then there is Washington D.C. Technically, one doesn’t need a permit. However, you must register any firearms with the police. To register, you have to undergo a background check and training. Pending appellate litigation makes the status in the nation’s capital tenuous for the moment.

On the other hand, there are constitutional carry states. Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming don’t require any license of any kind for residents to conceal or openly carry a firearm.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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