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Here’s How US States Differ on Carrying Guns in Public

In the US, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, states have differing policies on who can carry concealed weapons in public. Pro-gun activists have made headway in recent years by getting more states to stop requiring permits to do so. (Openly carrying weapons, a distinct but related issue, is also subject to state-by-state laws.) Now the Supreme Court has struck down New York’s law that required people to show a special need to carry a handgun in public, ruling for the first time that the Second Amendment protects gun rights outside the home.

1. How do permit laws work?

State laws on concealed-carry fall into three categories. In states with “permitless carry” laws, individuals need no prior approval or permit to carry a concealed firearm in public. States with “shall issue” laws grant a permit to any applicant who meets minimum legal requirements, such as being at least 21 years old and having no felony convictions. States with “may issue” laws, the most stringent type, give officials some discretion to reject people seeking a permit. The Supreme Court’s ruling against New York most likely spells the end for this category, leaving states to choose only between permitless carry and “shall issue” laws.

2. How many states have each type of permit law? 

New York was one of at least six states -- along with California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii -- with laws that prevented most people from legally carrying a handgun. About a third of states have some kind of “shall issue” law, offering state officials a degree of discretion in approving or denying applications; these “shall issue” regimes aren’t affected by the ruling striking down New York’s law, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. About 25 states -- half of the US, in other words -- allow concealed carry with no permit. Those states include Texas, where 21 people died in an elementary school shooting in May.

3. Are there no limits to carrying a gun in public?

There are. Many states -- even some with the most permissive concealed-carry laws -- do require permits to carry guns in certain places, such as schools. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that states have the power to ban guns in “sensitive places,” such as schools, government buildings, courthouses and polling places, so long as the term is not defined too broadly.

4. What’s the case against permit laws?

Gun-rights activists and the conservative political leaders who generally side with them argue that requiring permits violates their constitutional rights. They say applying for a permit can be a tedious obstacle in the way of taking steps to defend oneself. The National Rifle Association, whose affiliate challenged New York’s concealed carry permit laws in the Supreme Court, has been pushing to weaken permit laws since the mid-1980s.

5. What’s the case for them? 

Gun safety advocates argue that Americans are at greater risk when guns are allowed in public spaces and the threshold is low for who gets to carry them. Law enforcement organizations have also generally opposed doing away with permits, saying that such laws put officers’ lives at risk. Texas police organizations, for example, gathered outside the Texas Capitol to oppose permitless carry before it became law there. (Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP. The group filed a brief at the Supreme Court supporting the New York restrictions.)

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