Weak Laws Permitting Concealed Weapons Endanger Public Safety

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Editor: Kacy Lovelace
Date: 2011
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: At Issue
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 2,506 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1440L

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Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV),"America Caught in the Crossfire: How Concealed Carry Laws Threaten Public Safety," December 11, 2009. www.lcav.org/concealedcarry/. Copyright © 2009 by Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV). Reproduced by permission.

Legal Community Against Violence is a public interest law center dedicated to preventing gun violence. Founded by lawyers, LCAV is the country's only organization devoted exclusively to providing legal assistance in support of gun violence prevention.

Over the past two decades, the gun lobby has succeeded in weakening state laws that regulate the carrying of concealed weapons. Thanks to the gun lobby's increasingly vigorous efforts in this area, state legislatures across America have removed law enforcement discretion from the concealed weapon permitting process, significantly expanded the places in which permit holders may carry concealed firearms, and otherwise made permits dangerously easy to acquire. Contrary to the claims of the gun lobby, research shows that permissive concealed carry laws do not decrease crime. In fact, these laws may increase crime. States that choose to permit the carrying of concealed weapons may adopt common sense policies to reduce the risks created by permissive concealed carry laws.

In the summer of 2009, many Americans were shocked to see images of gun-toting protestors at town hall meetings across the country, and even more shocked to learn that this outrageous behavior was perfectly legal. The scary truth is that 32 states allow a person to openly carry a loaded handgun without a permit. But while open carrying has received widespread media attention, there are significant numbers of guns in public that we don't see. Hidden in plain sight, rising numbers of Americans are carrying concealed, loaded handguns in public places.

Thanks to a relentless campaign by the gun lobby, state concealed carry laws (commonly known as "CCW" laws) aren't just bad; they're getting worse. Over the past two decades, state legislatures across America have removed law enforcement discretion from the permitting process, significantly expanded the places in which permit holders may carry concealed firearms, and otherwise made permits dangerously easy to acquire.

Americans want solutions to our nation's gun violence epidemic.

Most Americans Oppose Easing Concealed Carry Permit Requirements

The gun lobby continues to push legislatures to expand carrying, despite the fact that public opinion polls confirm that Americans feel less safe when their fellow citizens carry concealed guns. Americans overwhelmingly do not want concealed carry permits to be easier to acquire, with 73% opposing easing permit requirement, and nine-out-of-ten respondents stating they do not want average citizens to be able to carry guns into places like restaurants, college campuses, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, or government buildings. In fact, more than 40 percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on the carrying of concealed firearms.

Americans want solutions to our nation's gun violence epidemic—which kills more than 30,000 and injures almost 70,000 each year—and understand that widespread carrying of concealed weapons isn't the answer; it's part of the problem.

In this publication, [Legal Community Against Violence, or LCAV] examines the laws that facilitate the widespread carrying of guns within our midst. As discussed below:

  • State concealed carry laws vary widely. In some states, individuals must demonstrate a justifiable need to carry a concealed weapon. The vast majority of states, however, do not require "good cause," and mandate the issuance of a license to anyone who meets minimal requirements.
  • Most existing CCW permitting schemes are full of dangerous gaps, allowing too many people to carry weapons in too many public places.
  • Contrary to the claims of the gun lobby, research shows that permissive CCW laws do not decrease crime. In fact, these laws may increase crime.
  • Federal legislation to require states to recognize out-of-state CCW permits would force states to allow carrying by persons who would not meet the requirements for in-state permits.
  • The Second Amendment presents no barrier to strong regulation of concealed weapons.
  • States that choose to permit the carrying of concealed weapons may adopt common sense policies to reduce the risks created by permissive CCW laws.

Concealed Weapons Laws Vary Greatly Between States

Whether and to what extent individuals may carry concealed weapons in public are primarily questions of state law. Different states have very different laws, and many states have significantly changed their laws over time. Although laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons date back to the early 1800s, states began to grant law enforcement discretion to issue CCW permits in the first few decades of the 20th century. It was not until the 1990s, however, that, at the behest of the gun lobby, large numbers of state legislatures began to enact laws removing law enforcement discretion from the permitting process and otherwise significantly weakening CCW laws.

Today, thirty-four states are "shall issue" states—meaning law enforcement officials are required to issue a permit to anyone who meets minimal statutory requirements (e.g., that the applicant is over the age of 21, has not been convicted of a felony, and is a United States citizen). Eleven states are "may issue" states, and give discretion to the issuing official to grant or deny a permit application based on various statutory factors, such as whether the applicant has "good cause," i.e., a justifiable need to carry a concealed weapon. Two of those states—Delaware and New Jersey—require court approval of CCW permit applications.

Illinois, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons, and no permit is required to carry a concealed weapon in Alaska, Arizona, or Vermont.

In every state that issues CCW permits, an applicant may not receive a permit if he or she is prohibited from purchasing firearms due to a disqualifying criminal conviction. In some states, a person will become prohibited after being convicted of a felony or one of a number of misdemeanors, in others, the number of disqualifying misdemeanors is far more limited.

Several studies of CCW permitting systems have identified flawed application processes that have allowed numerous persons prohibited from possessing firearms to receive CCW permits. In Florida, for example, more than 1,400 individuals who had pled guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 individuals with outstanding warrants, 128 people with active domestic violence injunctions against them, and 6 registered sex offenders held CCW permits in the first half of 2006. Unfortunately, Florida is hardly alone in issuing permits to convicted felons: reports have also documented flawed processes in Indiana, Tennessee and Texas.

Eleven states do not require a CCW permit applicant to complete a firearm safety course. Moreover, states that do require applicants to take safety courses rarely articulate the important elements that a course should contain, including education about federal and state firearms laws, demonstration of proper firearm handling and safe storage techniques, instruction in non-violent dispute resolution, and participation in live firing. Even more troubling, a recent Virginia law actually allows applicants to satisfy their required safety instruction through an online program.

State legislatures have recognized that concealed weapons on college campuses ... are overwhelmingly opposed by the American public.

Gun-Free Zones Protect Public Safety

CCW permits generally entitle permit holders to carry hidden, loaded firearms in any public place except where explicitly prohibited. Most states, unfortunately, do not prohibit carrying at many locations where large numbers of defenseless people congregate, or where interpersonal conflicts are commonplace. The majority of states prohibit concealed weapons on school property and in courthouses and other government buildings. Significantly fewer, however, prohibit concealed weapons in locations where liquor is served, places of worship, sports arenas, public parks, medical facilities, sites where gambling is permitted or polling places. At any of these locations, the accidental or intentional use of a gun could seriously jeopardize public safety.

Although the gun lobby has, since 2007, made more than 30 attempts to expand CCW laws across America to allow carrying on college campuses—arguing that concealed weapons could prevent a tragedy like the Virginia Tech massacre—efforts to bring concealed weapons into classrooms have been unsuccessful. Fortunately, state legislatures have recognized that concealed weapons on college campuses would needlessly place college students at an increased risk for accidental shootings, drug- and alcohol-related violence and suicide, and are overwhelmingly opposed by the American public.

Many state CCW permit holders receive an extra benefit from their permits under federal law: if their permits qualify, they do not need to undergo background checks before purchasing new firearms. Under federal law, a CCW permit holder is exempt from a background check if the permit was issued within the last five years and the permit application included a background check using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Without a check with each firearm purchase, however, a firearms dealer is unable to confirm that a buyer has not been convicted of a crime or otherwise become ineligible to possess firearms since the date his or her CCW permit was issued. For this reason, some states do not seek the exemption, and require background checks for firearm purchases by permit holders.

The gun lobby's outrageous claim that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times every year has been widely discredited.

Permissive Concealed Carry Laws Do Not Reduce Crime

Claims that permissive CCW laws lead to decreases in crime—by helping permit holders fight off criminals and sending the message to would-be attackers that any potential victim might be packing heat—are simply not true. No credible statistical evidence exists to show that permissive CCW laws reduce crime. In fact, the evidence suggests that permissive CCW laws may actually increase crime. Important research confirms the common sense conclusion that more guns create more opportunities for injury and death, not fewer.

The gun lobby's outrageous claim that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times every year has been widely discredited. The claim is based on a study that suffers from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent 200 million American adults.

Even when a gun is used in self-defense, which is rare, the research shows that it is no more likely to reduce a person's chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. One recent study suggests that carrying a firearm may actually increase a victim's risk of firearm injury during the commission of a crime.

Moreover, studies show that much of what is claimed to be self-defense is actually criminal gun use that creates or exacerbates interpersonal conflicts. In one study, after individuals were asked to provide detailed descriptions of their alleged defensive gun use, a group of criminal court judges anonymously evaluated the responses and concluded that at least half of the uses were probably illegal, including, for example, the conduct of a man who threatened to shoot an unarmed acquaintance who interrupted him while he was watching a movie at home.

Although legislatures continue to enact laws to expand concealed carrying, more research is needed regarding the impact of permissive CCW laws. One comprehensive study strongly supports the contention that more carrying makes society less safe. It found that Texas CCW permit holders were arrested for weapons-related crimes at a rate 81% higher than that of the state's general adult population. Additionally, recent research has identified CCW permit holders who killed at least 43 private citizens and 7 law enforcement officers in incidents that ended in criminal charges or the shooter's suicide between May 2007 and April 2009.

Attempt to Limit State Authority to Regulate Carrying of Concealed Weapons

As part of its never-ending quest to expand the carrying of concealed weapons, the gun lobby has begun to attack state control over CCWs. In 2009, Senator John Thune introduced an amendment to federal legislation that would have required every state that issues CCW permits to recognize all permits issued by other states. "Forced reciprocity" eviscerates every state's right to determine the requirements for carrying a concealed weapon within the state, and threatens the small number of states that have strong permitting schemes, since they would be forced to recognize permit holders who would have not met the requirements for in-state permits. Although Senator Thune's amendment was narrowly defeated in July 2009, new legislation to force reciprocity will likely emerge in the future.

Despite the gun lobby's rhetoric, the Second Amendment presents no barrier to strong regulation of concealed weapons. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense. The Court struck down Washington, D.C.'s decades-old ban on handgun possession, and the requirement that firearms in the home be stored unloaded and disassembled or bound by a locking device (which had no exception for self-defense).

The Heller Court emphasized, however, that the right protected is "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." Heller also noted that laws prohibiting firearm possession in "sensitive places" (including schools and government buildings) were presumptively valid.

In McDonald v. Chicago, the United States Supreme Court held in a 5-4 ruling that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments in addition to the federal government. To the extent that post-Heller courts have heard Second Amendment challenges to CCW laws, they have rejected those challenges. In any event, because strong CCW laws do not affect an individual's right to self-defense in the home—the core of the Second Amendment as interpreted in Heller—those laws should not conflict with the Second Amendment.

The gun lobby has succeeded in systematically weakening concealed carry laws across the country.

Common Sense Policies to Reduce the Risk of Carrying Concealed Weapons

In recent decades, the gun lobby has succeeded in systematically weakening concealed carry laws across the country: States that choose to permit the carrying of concealed weapons can reverse this trend by adopting the following common sense policies:

  • A license or permit must be required in order for an individual to lawfully carry a concealed weapon.
  • Law enforcement should have discretion to issue permits based upon a showing of a justifiable need. Persons convicted of a wide variety of weapons-related or violent misdemeanors should be prohibited from receiving CCW permits.
  • In addition to background checks, applicants must be required to undergo safety training and to pass written and hands-on tests demonstrating knowledge of firearm laws and safety.
  • Permits must be of limited duration (e.g., one or two years) and renewed only upon satisfaction of all application requirements, including a background check.
  • Carrying concealed weapons should be permitted in only a limited number of public places. Carrying should be prohibited in at least the following locations: school property, establishments which serve liquor, places of worship, polling places, sports arenas, medical facilities, sites where gambling is permitted, public parks, and courthouses and other government buildings.
  • A CCW permit holder should not be exempt from a background check when purchasing a firearm, despite a federal law that allows states to seek exemptions for qualifying permits.

LCAV is available to provide advice on legislation to implement any of these recommendations.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010788205