If you’ve ever considered carrying a firearm with you in public, you may be familiar with the idea of concealed carry. In the United States, concealed carry laws and regulations allow responsible gun owners to legally carry firearms on their person — for example, using a discreet holster or in a purse — for personal protection. Concealed carry laws exist in nearly every state, but vary based on regional regulations.
What does “concealed carry” mean?
While “open carry” laws allow people to carry legally obtained firearms in public, visible to others and without concealing them, concealed carry is the opposite. Concealed carry is the act of legally and discreetly carrying a firearm, such as a handgun, in public. While every concealed carry permit holder and gun owner has different motivations for having their firearm in a public place, the most common reason is for personal safety.
In most regions of the United States, concealed carry requires a permit for the gun owner to legally take their hidden firearm in public. Every state has differing requirements for a concealed carry permit, such as background checks, firearms education, and permit renewals.
How can I get a concealed carry license?
The specifics of getting a concealed carry permit vary from state to state based on each legislature’s regulations and laws. But in many cases, you can expect the following process when you apply for a concealed carry permit or license:
- Determine your state’s specific concealed carry permit laws, and if you are eligible to apply. Most states determine your concealed carry permit eligibility based on age, crime history, concealed carry training, and if you previously held a concealed carry permit.
- Take a concealed carry course. This training is required in many states, and must usually be taken in person with a concealed carry weapons instructor. This class will go over best practices for firearms safety, as well as concealed carry permit laws. In many cases, concealed carry laws require 8 hours of certified training.
- Contact a local police or sheriff’s department to begin the application process. There, you will submit all information required to obtain a concealed carry permit, such as your driver’s license, an application that is used for a background check, and your proof of training. You may also be required to pay an application fee, and will be photographed and fingerprinted during the concealed carry permit application process.
- You may have a waiting period, which varies by state but usually is around 45 days, during which your application is pending. During this time, your background check will occur, and local law enforcement will determine if you are eligible to receive a concealed carry permit.
- If you pass the concealed carry permit background check and meet all eligibility requirements, you will be on your way to receiving your license. You may now be required to pay the concealed carry permit fee (which often range between $50 and $150).
If you do not pass the application process for a concealed carry permit but believe that you legally qualify for this license, you can reach out to an attorney or lawyer for legal advice. In most cases, a lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible, and petition a court or law enforcement office to help you receive your concealed carry permit.
Which states offer concealed carry reciprocity?
Because each state has different laws determining how you can receive a concealed carry permit, and how you can legally carry a firearm in public, it can be tricky for permit holders who travel across state lines. This is where concealed carry reciprocity comes into play. Reciprocity is when one state chooses to acknowledge a concealed carry permit issued by another state. Not all states offer concealed carry reciprocity, and a state does not have to acknowledge permits from all 49 remaining states. Just because you have a concealed carry permit issued by one state does not mean you can legally carry a hidden handgun in another state.
Concealed carry reciprocity can be tricky, simply because concealed carry laws vary from state to state and can change over time. In most cases, almost all U.S. states offer some form of concealed carry reciprocity. As of August 2017, 10 states specifically do not honor concealed carry reciprocity, including: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island. Washington D.C. also does not have concealed carry permit reciprocity.
Some concealed carry permit holders choose to apply for licenses from other states (called a non-resident permit) simply because their state’s concealed carry permit is not recognized in many other states. For example, Florida concealed carry reciprocity is extensive; Florida concealed carry licenses are honored in more than 35 other states. But, Florida concealed carry reciprocity is different within the state; it will not recognize non-resident permits (meaning that if you live in Missouri but have an Ohio concealed carry permit, Florida will not honor it), and only recognizes resident permits from select states.
In other states, changing laws have impacted reciprocity. For example, Virginia concealed carry reciprocity has changed in recent years due to legal battles that at first cut reciprocity agreements before restoring and increasing them. Virginia CCW reciprocity is currently honored in more than 30 states, and the state acknowledges permits from every other state in the nation.
Do I need to take a concealed carry course?
If you are thinking about applying for a concealed carry permit, you most likely will need to explore taking concealed carry courses. Most states require that you have completed at least one approved CCW class that goes over firearms training and your rights as a concealed carry permit holder. The average length of CCW classes necessary to receive your permit is 8 hours. Classes vary in cost, and are often available from private instructors, although some law enforcement offices also offer them.
Depending on your state’s requirements, you may be able to take an online concealed carry course and present the completion certificate when you apply for your permit. In more restrictive states, concealed carry education consists of a classroom component that goes over best practices and laws for concealed carrying, as well as a shooting range section that determines your shooting ability and accuracy. Some states mandate that you have a shooting accuracy of a certain percentage before you are able to obtain a permit.
After successfully completing a CCW class, you may be required to take a concealed carry exam to receive your handgun safety certificate, which shows law enforcement that you have completed the class when you submit your permit application.
While many experienced gun owners may think they don’t need to take a gun safety course or a CCW class, sitting through this training can be worthwhile. CCW classes provide more than just firearms training — many will help you understand the legality of your concealed carry permit, state reciprocity, and what happens after you draw a concealed weapon in public should the need ever arise.
What are the best concealed carry guns?
Just like clothing and accessories, concealed carry guns are a personal preference. Which concealed carry handgun you choose greatly depends on your preference for firearms size, how you choose to carry your weapon (on your body, in a holster, or in a purse), and daily activities. Whether you are interested in purchasing a new, specific gun, or carrying a trusted firearm you already own should also come into consideration.
When it comes to choosing the best concealed carry gun for you, keep these things in mind:
- How easy is it for you to conceal your firearm?
- What kind of capacity and caliber do you prefer to carry?
- Are you able to control the gun well?
- Do you feel confident and comfortable with the weapon you’ve chosen?
If you are unsure about the best kinds of concealed carry guns, consider speaking with an instructor for concealed carry classes. They should be able to offer professional tips on selecting the best firearm. You may also want to discuss concealed carry insurance, and how your selected firearm may impact your insurance plan and coverage.
What are current concealed carry laws?
Just like the regulations for getting a driver’s license or any other permit, concealed carry laws vary from state to state. CCW laws are often whim to social and legal pressures, meaning they can change more rapidly than other kinds of legislation. After obtaining your concealed carry permit, it is important that you stay informed about concealed carry laws and changes to ensure you are always in compliance with your state’s regulations.
While concealed carry laws are difficult to summarize because they are so varied from state to state, you should understand the difference in the different kinds of permit laws. All states fall under one of several categories: “shall issue,” “may issue,” “no issue” and “unrestricted.”
- Unrestricted: In states with unrestricted concealed carry laws, you are able to carry a hidden weapon without a permit.
- Shall issue: In these states, you may apply for a permit, and local authorities (or the agency handling CCW permits) must grant you a permit so long as you meet all concealed carry laws during the application and background check process.
- May issue: Here, you must meet all CCW laws and requirements when applying for a concealed carry permit, though states may still deny you if they do not believe you need the permit. In some “may issue” states, you must present evidence as to why you should receive a permit.
- No issue: These states do not provide permits and concealed carry laws prevent residents from carrying hidden weapons in public.
Before applying for a permit, you should determine which kind of concealed carry laws are in your state. You may also want to refer to a concealed carry reciprocity map. These online maps can help you determine which states will honor your permit, and what permits your state will acknowledge. Concealed carry reciprocity maps can help you determine if you’d like to get a permit within your home state, or apply for a concealed carry permit in another state (called a non-resident permit).
Concealed carry laws by state
As mentioned above, each state sets its concealed carry laws, as well as reciprocity agreements with other states. Because of this, laws differ greatly across the country. Each state can dictate its own application requirements, fees, processing time, and renewal costs and requirements. For this reason, concealed carry maps are helpful in determining what requirements you must meet based on where you live.
For example, Florida concealed carry permit application turnaround times range from 50 to 55 days, while further up the East Coast, a sheriff’s department must issue a concealed carry NC permit within 45 days. In Utah, carry permits must be processed within 60 days of when your application deposit is processed, so the time could be longer or shorter than two months.
Concealed carry states also vary in the amount of training you must have to obtain a license. Requirements for concealed carry Illinois permits mandate that you have 16 hours of firearms training, while Indiana gun permit laws do not require any training (similar to Ohio concealed carry laws that also do not require firearms education).
Cost is a major difference among concealed carry states. In more restrictive states, such as Illinois, concealed carry permits may cost more than a concealed carry Florida license, simply based on the cost of applications and required courses. Each state can set their own fees and costs associated with obtaining a permit.
Concealed carry laws also impact behaviors for when you are carrying your weapon. In Utah, concealed carry permit holders do not have to inform police officers that they are carrying a legal weapon during a traffic stop, while Florida concealed carry licensees are only required to mention their firearm if asked by an officer. Texas concealed carry laws require you to immediately inform an officer that you are carrying if you are approached during a traffic stop or during any interactions with police.
You should know that politics does often impact concealed carry laws by state. Virginia concealed carry, for example, saw potential restrictions in 2015, though the state now has an extensive reciprocity program. Concealed carry Texas permit holders saw application and renewal fees drop drastically in 2017, as well as an extension to legal carrying on college campuses.
Where concealed carry is not allowed
In some areas of the United States and its territories, it’s difficult or not possible to get a concealed carry permit. States most restrictive — “may issue” states — including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Many Native American reservations are also considered “may issue” regions, and U.S. territories such as the American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have rules against concealed weapons or are moving towards those practices.
In all concealed carry states, there are places where you cannot have your weapon, despite having a permit. Even in states that allow concealed carry without a permit (such as Missouri, Alaska, and Wyoming), there are still restrictions on where you cannot have your firearm on your person.
While laws vary from state to state, you generally cannot have a concealed carry weapon in schools, federal government buildings, prisons, post offices, college campuses, and courthouses. Some restaurants and stores can also choose to prohibit concealed carry weapons on the premises.
Choosing concealed carry handguns and accessories
Just like selecting your concealed carry firearm, choosing the best concealed carry accessories is all about personal preference. Some people choose from a range of concealed carry holsters because they find body carrying to be most comfortable, while others consider concealed carry purses or bags (many women choose this route because concealing a weapon on their body can be difficult or uncomfortable).
When selecting firearm accessories to complement your concealed carry weapon, it’s easy to begin with classic firearms manufacturers, because they often create perfect-fit holsters and accessories. For example, Colt firearms may fit best in manufacturer-specific accessories. There are also a variety of smaller firearm creators and retailers with plenty of options, such as Atlantic Firearms or Red Jacket Firearms (which now operates under the brands Meaux Guns and Aklys Defense). These companies can supply a variety of holsters, gun accessories and other needs to make carrying safe and comfortable. If you choose to carry collectors firearms, you may need to look for custom-made accessories that specifically fit your handgun.
Along with carrying accessories, a handgun safe is also a must. After searching for the best handguns and reading countless handgun reviews, its smart to have a well-researched and safe backup place for your concealed carry weapon — specifically in situations where you may need to stow your gun based on where you are going. Handgun safes are available for vehicles and home, and should be considered a must-have accessory for safe concealed carrying.