Carrying a Gun: Overview of Laws | Gunpowder Girls

Carrying a Gun: Overview of Laws

There are many nuances surrounding gun ownership laws in the United States. Owning a gun is major responsibility, which is why both federal and state governments have passed laws regulating the sale, ownership, and usage of firearms. Aside from safety, failure to abide by these laws could land you in hot water with the law.

Concealed Carry

All fifty states have laws which allow citizens to carry concealed firearms, either with or without a permit. Contrary to what some people may believe, neither the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) nor any other federal agency addresses concealed carry (CCW) permits. This is done at the state level, meaning each and every state has its own laws regarding who's allowed to carry a concealed weapon and who is not. U.S. Citizens who wish to obtain a CCW license should refer to the laws of the state in which they reside for more information.

Open Carry

Parallel to concealed carry is open carry, which is used to describe the act of carrying a firearm openly on one's person in plain sight. Many people prefer this method of carry because they believe it acts a deterrence against attacks and criminal activity. Critics of open carry, however, believe the practice has the opposite effect by making the carrier a target of crime. Keep in mind, however, that many states still require citizens to obtain a permit when carrying a firearm in plain sight.

Shall Issue

States that offer concealed carry permits operate under the principle of either shall issue, may issue or unrestricted. In shall issue jurisdictions, citizens must meet specific criteria to obtain a CCW license. Neither the police agency nor any other entity may prohibit a citizen from obtaining a CCW if he or she meets this criteria. The vast majority of states fall under the category of shall issue.

May Issue

May issue states differ in the sense that the local police authorities (or other governing bodies) has the discretion to grant or deny CCW permits. According to Wikipedia, may issue states generally require that the applicant must have good cause to carry a concealed weapon. One example is a security officer who needs a firearm for protection. Assuming the applicant has a justifiable reason for obtaining a CCW license in a may issue state, he or she should have little-to-no problem getting approved. 


States that operate under an unrestricted concealed carry (also known as Constitutional carry) allow citizens to lawfully carry concealed firearms without a permit. There are two sub types of unrestricted concealed carry: fully unrestricted and partially unrestricted. For the latter, only certain forms of concealed carry are legal, such as Oklahoma in which citizens may carry concealed without a permit if they have a valid ID on their person's.

Avoid School Zones

Under the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, it is illegal for unauthorized citizens to knowingly posses a firearm in a school zone. This law was introduced in the Senate back in October 1990 by Joseph R. Biden, the current Vice President of the United States. 

Some states also have laws prohibiting the carrying of guns in bars, churches, movie theaters, and other public places.

To Recap...

Trying to understand the legal ramifications of owning a gun can be daunting. You must consider both federal and state statues, some of which may conflict. When in doubt, though, you can always contact your local police department or courthouse to learn more about local gun laws in your area.

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