The blog of the Urban Institute
September 4, 2019

What Happens When States Adopt Permitless Carry Laws?

Despite widespread opposition among Kentucky residents—including gun owners— in late June Kentucky became the 16th state to allow adults to carry concealed firearms in certain public places without a permit, background check, or successful completion of a gun safety training course (PDF).

These state-level laws, termed permitless carry, are appearing on the desks of lawmakers across the US despite inconclusive evidence on the impacts of these policies on community safety (PDF).

With little focus on the implementation challenges and lessons learned from stakeholders in other permitless carry states, legislators have scant evidence to draw on when considering the pros and cons of passing similar laws. But law enforcement, local government officials, and certified gun safety trainers can provide on-the-ground perspectives of the reach and impact.

We recently spoke with stakeholders—including law enforcement, local government officials, and certified gun safety trainers, in Kansas and Missouri, which enacted permitless carry legislation in 2015 and 2016, respectively, about the impacts of permitless carry and their opinions on the policy. In line with most Americans and most gun owners, they generally disapproved of permitless carry laws, emphasizing the benefits of the mandatory training during the permitting process.

Our conversations yielded three key insights on what can happen when the permitting process and training is no longer required and what lawmakers should consider before adopting these policies or when drafting laws and implementation guidance.

Suspending the training requirement may impact views of public safety

The 8-hour training required of permit holders covers handgun safety while carrying, safe storage of firearms, basic marksmanship, and live firing exercises. Stakeholders stressed the need for the training because they believe it promotes responsible gun carrying and storage. They were concerned that because the new law does not require training it may lead to accidental shootings or increased firearm thefts if guns are not secured.

In terms of wider impacts on public safety, others speculated that there has been an increase in fear of safety among community members, particularly in urban areas, because the law allows for the open carrying of guns.

Permitless carry laws could affect gun safety training enrollment rates

A recent survey of a national sample of gun owners found 61 percent reported receiving formal firearm training, whether voluntarily or as part of a permitting process. With the legal mandate for training removed, five gun trainers we spoke with noted substantial decreases in attendance while two reported increases, particularly with women’s enrollment.

Beyond these anecdotes, we don’t yet know how permitless carry laws will affect training enrollment rates when training is no longer legally required.  

The law’s complexities could impact people who carry without a permit

Many who choose to carry don’t understand what these laws actually authorize. A certified trainer we spoke with in Kansas worried the removal of mandatory training requirements that teach people about the law’s nuances would lead to greater confusion about the potential consequences of carrying without a permit.

Stakeholders emphasized that permitless carry laws are complex, particularly when considered in context with other state and federal gun laws, rendering them difficult to interpret. When permits and training are no longer required, people who carry guns may inadvertently expose themselves to serious consequences if they inadvertently violate the law.

For example, a certified gun trainer in Missouri said that the consequences for bringing firearms into designated gun-free zones, such as school facilities, public transportation, and hospitals, vary based on whether the individual opted to get a permit, even though permits are no longer legally required.

The most severe consequence permitholders would face is a $500 fine and three-year revocation of their permit. By contrast, those who carry handguns without a permit in these locations may be subject to arrest for the unlawful use of weapons, a Class B misdemeanor charge which can result in much larger fines and jail or prison time. Stakeholders also discussed the lack of clarity about reciprocity agreements, or arrangements to honor permits issued by other states. They expressed concern that people may not understand that reciprocity agreements do not include permitless carry, and that gun owners must obtain a permit to carry in states that require it, regardless of the laws in their home states.

Permitless carry laws aren’t as straightforward as they sound

Removing permit and training requirements can have complicated and perhaps even unintended impacts. As policymakers across the country consider permitless carry laws, researchers can draw from the experiences of people in the growing list of permitless carry states to expand our understanding of the ripple effects of these laws. These effects may include increased public safety concerns, decreased enrollment in gun safety trainings, and a resulting difficulty in understanding the nuances of what permitless carry laws allow as well as what they don’t.

For states with existing permitless carry laws, policymakers should closely monitor the implementation and impact of the laws and strategize ways to ensure these laws are fully understood by those who choose to carry guns without a permit.

Photo of Topeka, Kansas via GettyImages.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.