This article does not constitute legal advice. Not only am I not your attorney, I’m not an attorney at all. So before you go around using this document as an end-all-be-all reference to constitutional carry laws throughout the United States, you need to do your own legal research as to what your rights will be in different states and counties. And yes, within states, counties will have different laws and regulations when it comes to carrying a firearm, especially in California.
Piggybacking on the previous point, laws are constantly changing throughout the country, and bills are being introduced seemingly monthly. Make sure that you’re checking the most recent changes and regulations for carrying a firearm before you embark on a trip. It’ll not only save you the headache of dealing with authorities when you had no idea you were in the wrong, but you may also risk getting your firearms confiscated. In a different state than your home state, that headache is far more of a hassle to deal with than your local municipality.
What is Constitutional Carry?
In layman's terms, (not because of you, but because I’m not an attorney) Constitutional Carry means that state laws won’t hinder your ability to exercise your 2nd Amendment right to carry a firearm in public. Some states refer to this as a “permitless carry,” where citizens don’t need to go through a permitting process in order to exercise their carry rights. Even permitless carry states have CCW permits available, and those still come in handy, but we’ll talk about that later in the article.
Although some states do allow for this, it doesn’t necessarily mean you're able to open carry in a constitutional carry state. What it does mean is that anybody legally allowed to possess a firearm is equally allowed to carry it while outside of the home.
Now, the reason why the aforementioned “legally allowed” is important is because you must not be forbidden from owning a firearm in order to exercise your right in a constitutional carry state. Who is a forbidden person? When it comes to possessing firearms, the most general and common forbidden group is felons and violent misdemeanor offenders.
Sadly, felonies can be handed down for a litany of reasons, many having nothing to do with violence or firearms, but that’s just how our system works in our country. As for misdemeanor offenses, most won’t carry a prohibition on firearms unless they pertain to violence, such as assault or battery charges that don’t breach the felony threshold.
Being that this article isn’t meant to be critical of the laws and punishments in the United States, I’ll move on from the legalities of the prohibited group. Keep in mind that even for a misdemeanor, probations will often contain a prohibition on firearms. Ok, now that we have this foundation on what constitutional carry is and who is generally allowed to exercise constitutional carry, let’s move on.
Which States Allow Constitutional Carry?
As of June 2021, according to the all-knowing entity that is Wikipedia, 21 states have some form of a constitutional or permitless carry law. The only difference between those two designations is that a permitless carry state may have the same requirements to carry a firearm as if it had a permitting process, such as a lack of DUI’s or other blemishes on your record.
As of the publishing date of this article, here are the states that have either a constitutional carry or a permitless carry system in place:
*Note: Remember to do your own research before you travel outside of your home state with a firearm. This guide is meant to be that and only that… a guide. This is not intended to be legal advice, and yes I will be mentioning this fact multiple times.
There is a wealth of information from legal authorities who break down these laws and carry requirements for each state listed above. We are not that legal authority, so we’ll suggest that you do the proper research prior to visiting a state on this list if you plan on carrying your firearm. The absolute best way to ensure that you won’t be breaking any state or local laws is to simply contact the law enforcement agency of the area(s) where you’ll be traveling.
It is worth noting that age requirements also change based on state. Some states require the age of 21, while others require the age of 18. Some states even drop the age from 21 to 18 for active military personnel.
What Happens To Concealed Carry Permits?
This may be surprising, but states that have constitutional carry laws may also offer concealed carry permits. But why would they offer permits if their state doesn’t require one? Well… most of the time it comes down to reciprocity of other states. While your home state may not require you to have a permit to carry a firearm, other states likely do. If you plan on traveling to one of those states, you may be able to carry if they recognize a permit from your home state as valid.
Now, while this may seem odd, many constitutional and permitless carry states recognize permits of other constitutional and permitless carry states. Why in the world would two permitless states require and/or recognize a permit from the other? Without getting into every single combination of why and why not, I’ll use somewhere like Utah for example.
Currently, Utah allows for non-residents to carry a concealed firearm. However, for non-residents without a permit that Utah recognizes, you must carry this firearm at least two stages from firing. The easiest way to comply with this is to simply not chamber a round while you’re carrying.
In contrast to this, having a permit within the state of Utah, or an out-of-state permit that Utah recognizes, allows you to bypass this provision and carry a firearm that’s fully capable of being fired by simply pulling the trigger.
Again, I can probably come up with countless combinations of states and provisions to reference here, but this article isn’t meant to be the authoritative source for such information.
Laws Vary By State, County And Local Jurisdiction
I can imagine you’re reading the title of this section and thinking to yourself… laws vary by state, county and local jurisdictions? No duh. I get it, we all know this, or at least I’m assuming we do. But there is something very interesting about firearms laws throughout our country. In fact, many non-citizens just assume that the entirety of the continental United States is just like the Wild West, where you can go into a Walmart, purchase 80 firearms and walk out with them strapped to every limb of your body. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this is not the case.
Just to offer an opposing example, I’m going to use the state of California. If you were to list the top three most restrictive states when it comes to gun rights, California would surely make the list, if not top it. This, however, is not an open criticism of the state’s gun laws. I’m using it to illustrate just how radically the laws can shift from state to state, making it imperative to truly know the laws of where you’re traveling before you decide to exercise your right to carry firearms.
At the time of publishing this article, California does not recognize any concealed carry permits from any other states. It doesn’t matter where you hail from, California does not care. The moment you cross into the state, you’ll need to lock up your firearm in your trunk. If you’re traveling with a firearm on a road trip through multiple states where you plan on carrying, California is in its own ballpark. Now, I’m speaking for civilians of course, not referencing sworn law enforcement officers in this example.
But, being that California is not a constitutional and/or permitless carry state, I’ll move on to the vast differences between constitutional carry states. As fun as it sounds, this article isn’t going to give all the specifics of every state and every law. The references are readily available online, so I’ll just generalize here.
Even bouncing between constitutional carry states, you’ll find yourself abiding by different sets of laws that, while similar in their core allowance, still offer repercussions that contrast each other quite a bit.
Some states have no requirement for informing law enforcement officers that you’re carrying, while others make it a requirement. Some states don’t have laws restricting carrying your firearm in an establishment whose sole purpose is to serve alcohol, while others have strict regulations preventing you from doing so. Some states allow you to carry your firearm in government buildings, while others will stop you at the door. Some states don’t recognize “No Guns” signs as enforceable unless you’re asked to leave, while others deem posted signs a prohibition of firearms. Some states have ammunition restrictions, while others list no such restriction, including when it comes to armor-piercing ammo.
Arguably, the most important variation in laws comes down to self-defense and when one can justify lethal force. Keep in mind, these are all variations WITHIN permit-less carry states, so don’t assume that just because 21 states share the core allowance of carrying your firearm without a permit, this means they share the exact same regulations and repercussions for your actions. Always research and know what the laws are where you’re planning on traveling, and you should really know the same for within your home state, too.
I’ll give California another quick shout-out as a side example, where rural counties of less than 200,000 people allow for open carry, while places like San Francisco have ammunition restrictions the moment you enter city limits. Meanwhile, there are some areas where you’re allowed to temporarily open carry, but only if you’re fishing. Oh, and the federal land that is a part of the National Park Service defers their authority to the state as far as enforcing local firearm laws.
So while California tends to be in its own realm, just know that within a state where you may not need a permit, it’s worth knowing the nuances of what you are and are not allowed to do with a firearm. In my personal opinion, it’s not worth losing your firearms over a misguided trip or misunderstanding of local laws.
If You Plan On Carrying Your Guns Out Of State
Just recently, my wife and I went on a road trip that had us passing through four different states, all of which had contrasting gun laws. Being that my handguns have become a third arm of sorts, I didn’t want to leave my precious companions at home during the trip.
Without being specific with the details of the trip and the states I crossed through, here’s how the trip went. Mind you, I was waiting for my concealed carry permit to come in the mail, so I wasn’t able to exercise my concealed carry right in my home state at that point.
When the trip started, my handguns were unloaded and locked in the trunk of our vehicle. Being that we were traveling in an open-cabin SUV, I had a lock box that was also cable locked to the floor of the trunk by the spare tire. So as we came to the border of state number two, I was allowed to retrieve my handgun and put it on my person. It had to be open carried only, so my shirt was tucked behind my OWB holster.
After a few hours, we arrived at the border of state number three, at which point my firearm was allowed to be concealed, so I simply flipped my shirt over my holster and concealed my handgun right as we passed the state line. This didn’t last long, as state number four came fairly quickly after this. With state number four, I wasn’t legally allowed to carry my concealed handgun in a chambered capacity. It would have been legal if I had a manual safety, which would add one step to the firing sequence. However, my fire-ready handgun made it so that if I wanted to exercise my right to conceal a firearm on my person within state number four, I would have to remove the live round from the chamber. I was happy to do this, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but you better believe that I’ve trained for carrying a firearm in such a state and have become proficient in chambering a live round while drawing my gun from its holster.
This article isn’t about me, but I’m hoping this example of our road trip gives you a bit of an idea as to how you will have to adapt your situation to the laws that follow your trip. So again, if you plan on carrying your firearms out of state, just do your research and know the laws of the land for every mile of your trip.
Don’t Go Armed Without Training
When we reference constitutional carrying of a firearm, we aren’t referencing the act of carrying your firearm from your car to the range to practice. I’ve also yet to meet anybody who carries a firearm for decoration. The general consensus for exercising your right to carry a firearm in public is that you’re doing so for the defense of yourself and loved ones. Exercising such a right is a huge responsibility that should be treated with the highest degree of respect and caution.
Training with your firearms seems like an obvious thing that all gun owners should do. Being that shooting efficiently is a decayable skill, it doesn’t matter if you’re a newcomer or a veteran gun owner, all of us should be training regularly. In fact, you can read about how a lack of proper training can prove costly in more ways than one in our other article here. (LINK TRAINING ARTICLE)
If you’re not well-versed in handling your firearm effectively when you’re in a controlled environment, how do you expect to handle it if you happen to find yourself in a self-defense situation? Add not only loved ones, but random bystanders to the equation, and you may find yourself on the wrong side of the law if you don’t perform as needed in such a scenario.
I’ve been lucky enough to shoot with some of the best shooters you can imagine, and some who are all talk and no substance. The latter of these two types of shooters tend to scare me the most, and you’d be floored if I sat here and typed a few of my personal shooting experiences with others on the range, but I’ll spare you the details.
The point I’m trying to make is that these two groups of people share one differentiating factor… the amount of training they have. Shooters that are both accurate and proficient tend to train regularly, while the ones that had me hiding behind my car shared the “lack of training” trait.
Proper firearms training is expensive when you combine a qualified instructor with the always rising cost of live ammunition, but it doesn’t always have to be. In fact, our entire line of Mantis products is fully capable of helping you make the most of your training, both on and off the range. Dry fire training is a very effective tool for training, especially in intimate home-based scenarios, but even your live fire training will benefit from the unmatched data that Mantis provides on the range.
Please, not only for your sake, but for the sake of everybody around you, train effectively and train often if you plan on exercising your right to carry a firearm in any situation (especially a permitless and/or constitutional carry state). Permitless carry states don’t require a permit (stating the obvious here, I know), which means that they won’t vet you or require a training threshold be reached before giving you the right to exercise your 2nd Amendment right to the fullest extent. While there’s something beautiful about what the Constitution affords Americans the right to do, it leaves the responsibility in the hands of the shooter.
When it comes to training and staying proficient in the use of your firearm, you should also look into first aid training and supplies. No, I’m not referring to a pharmacy first aid kit full of band aids. I’ve brought this up before and was actually mocked for carrying a trauma kit with me when I carry a firearm.
Some people have laughed at the idea of me shooting somebody in self-defense and then proceeding to try to save their life, but this is not why I, nor you, should care about first aid training. You want to be prepared to save your life and the lives of the victims of violence if you happen to be involved in these scenarios, not necessarily the perpetrator’s.
So it’s just as important for you to learn how to apply a tourniquet, stop chest bleeding and deal with victims of traumatic injuries if you plan on carrying a firearm. There are plenty of kits readily available for civilians, but sometimes the best ones cater to your personal circumstances. It’s not practical for you to be carrying around a fire department-level first aid kit everywhere you go, but having a compact kit with the most important life-saving tools is a very practical and easily concealable addition to your everyday carry attire.
As a final personal touch to this article, I’ll say that I choose to carry a Combat Application Tourniquet, a pair of sucking chest wound kits, a battle bandage and gauzes in my baby’s diaper bag when I carry my firearm. It blends in with my regular life because I have a small child and nobody questions me carrying a diaper bag, but I know that if something happens to me or my family, we have the most fundamental level of tools needed for handling traumatic injuries.
I hope you found this article helpful and entertaining, and for those of you who plan on carrying your firearms throughout the country, do your research and stay sharp in your shooting skills by making a regular habit out of training with our line of Mantis products.