Politics & Policy

Constitutional Carry Marches On

Sidearm at a Rocky Mountain Gun Owners rally in Aurora, Colo., 2013. (Reuters photo: Rick Wilking)
Its popularity keeps spreading inexorably across the country.

And so the train keeps rolling on. For years, advocates of the Second Amendment have fought tooth and nail to ensure that no American was left without the right to obtain a carry permit. Now an even more salutary standard has become fashionable: The abolition of the permitting system in its entirety. In 2015, three states added their names to the growing list of those that have adopted “constitutional carry” — states, that is, in which Americans do not need to obtain permits before legally carrying guns. Last year, another three joined their ranks. This year, the number joining could be as high as five. And after that? Le déluge.

Over at the Crime Research Prevention Center, John Lott Jr. notes that the number of “constitutional carry” states will reach 16 or 17 by the end of this year. Given that 15 years ago there was only one (two if you count Montana, which I’d classify as a “mostly constitutional carry” state) — and that 30 years ago most states had extremely restrictive permitting processes to boot — this is nothing short of remarkable. Elections, as it is said, have consequences.

Lott writes:

With Missouri, West Virginia, and Idaho enacting Con­sti­tu­tion­al Carry laws last year, twelve states allow people to carry without a permit in all or virtually all their states. This includes Mon­tana that allows people to carry in about 99.4% of the state. And 2017 is shaping up as a banner year for passing more of these laws. States that are about to pass these laws include: Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Tennessee is considering allowing “open carry” without a permit, though that is already quite common in most states. Other states that are considering this legislation, but are unlikely to pass Constitutional Carry, include: Colorado (won’t pass legislature and would be vetoed by governor), Minnesota (Governor would veto), Texas (unlikely to get out of the state legislature), and Utah (Governor would likely veto again).

To illustrate just how dramatic has been the change, I thought I’d first put this list into visual form and then do a little prognosticating of my own.

I’ll start by illustrating the status quo. These are the “constitutional carry” states as of today:

The states marked out in dark green have full “constitutional carry” — i.e., without any notable restrictions. The states in the lighter green have limited “constitutional carry” — i.e., with a few restrictions or kinks included (you can find the details of those restrictions here).

In 1990, some form of “constitutional carry” obtained in just 0.25 percent of the geographical area of the United States, and for only 0.22 percent of the population. Today, those numbers are 42 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Put another way, in a quarter of a century “constitutional carry” has expanded 168-fold and been applied to 81 times more people (relative to the size of the overall population).

These numbers are likely to grow. Here, in blue, are the states that will debate reform this year (as of today, that is — there’s a lot of time left in 2017).

As Lott notes, not all of these states will pass reform bills. But some will. Here, then, are the states that are likely to pass reform this year, added on top of those that already have:

Should this come to pass, “constitutional carry” will be the law in just under half of the geographical area of the United States, and for a smidgen under a quarter of all Americans.

There is a clear geographical trend here — a set of “clumps,” if you will. To some extent, that’s to be expected; similar states are likely to adopt similar policy. But I wonder to what extent this is a dynamic process, too. If Texas switches, for example, will a surrounded Louisiana follow suit? Vermont’s experience was certainly helpful to the effort in Maine, just as Wyoming’s was to the effort in Idaho. Why shouldn’t it be elsewhere?

Naturally, not every state is going to be inspired by its neighbors. If Indiana nixes its permits this year, one rather doubts Illinois will. But there’s a logic to the political geography that can’t be easily escaped.

Which is to say that we may eventually get a large, contiguous permit-free area in the middle of the country. Based on the makeup of their legislatures, the affiliation of their governors, and their political center of gravity, these are the states that I think could plausibly pass reform over the next four years:

If I’m right, that’ll make “constitutional carry” the law in 65 percent of the U.S., and for 35 percent of the population (add in Florida — which isn’t entirely implausible — and you get to 41 percent).

Not bad from a standing start. Not bad at all.

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