By David Link

So you’ve decided to investigate concealed carry options in your state. Just searching “concealed carry” on the web can lead to a myriad of different sites, some good and some that will throw you off track. What if you just want the story of concealed carry right now, like which states allow what, and what may-issue means vs. shall issue means? Well this guide is just the first step in your concealed and carry journey, and soon after you’ll need to decide which firearm to choose, what carry method suits you best, and which self-defense ammo is right for the job. Let’s take the first step in CCW or carrying a concealed weapon by examining the licensing aspects.

The State Of Concealed Carry Today

You might be surprised to hear that concealed carry laws allow law abiding citizens to carry in every state, but this wasn’t always the case. Even up until the mid 1980s, over 15 states didn’t allow their citizens to carry concealed weapons, but over the past 20 years or so every single state has released their citizens from stringent regulation of CCW permits. Today several states have even reverted back to unrestricted policies where a permit is not needed to carry a concealed weapon. The last state to loosen its laws on CCW was Illinois, and the state’s long running policies against CCW was found unconstitutional in 2013. The state began issuing permits for concealed carry soon after in 2014, and that marked a change where every state offers CCW permitting is some form or capacity. As expected, the laws and regulations governing CCW vary wildly from state to state. They are generally defined with one of four terms: unrestricted, shall-issue, may-issue, and no-issue. Understanding these terms will be key to determining your next steps in the concealed carry process.

Unrestricted, Shall-issue, May-issue, No-issue

We’ve listed these terms from least restrictive to most restrictive, and note that some terms like “may-issue” are not absolute. But even just a quick glance at which term your state utilizes can help you determine the process involved in carrying a concealed weapon in your state.


This classification is as simple as it sounds: any citizen (excluding those disqualified by The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, i.e. felons) can carry a concealed weapon without needing a permit. The states that currently allow unrestricted carry are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont and Wyoming, but Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Utah are currently evaluating unrestricted carry laws as well. Vermont is an interesting case because it is the only state to never pass any concealed carry permit laws of any kind while the other unrestricted states once had stricter laws in place before reverting back to unrestricted carry.


Vermont is the only state to never pass conceal and carry laws.

There are few exceptions or clarifications that should be noted for those who live in unrestricted states. Those who carry in an unrestricted state and don’t have a permit cannot be within 1000 yards of a school zone as outlined in the The Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990. There are exceptions to this, and it can be hard to tell if/when an individual is in breach of this act, so we recommend seeking more clarification if you feel like this may be an issue. Reciprocity, or the honoring of permits by other states, also comes into play with unrestricted states. Simply put, if you live in a unrestricted state but plan to travel over state lines while carrying a concealed weapon, your unrestricted carry status will not be honored by they neighboring state, and you will have to examine permit options within the neighboring state.


Shall-issue states require everyone planning to carry a concealed weapon to file for a permit before doing so. Shall-issue states give out CCW permits based solely upon the qualifications laid out by the state law. If a person meets the state’s specific criteria, then they will be awarded a CCW permit as long as they follow all the proper procedures. Examples of requirements may include fingerprinting, age requirements, proof of state residency, background check, firearms safety training, and handgun proficiency certification. The exact requirements for shall-issue permitting varies from state to state, but you can expect a fee related with the filing of paperwork in conjunction with any or all of the above requirements. Most states are shall-issue states by practice, and excluding the aforementioned unrestricted states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont and Wyoming and may-issue states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, every other state is a shall-issue state.


Illinois is the most recent state to transition to shall-issue conceal and carry laws.


The requirements in a may-issue state aren’t all that different from a shall-issue state with one major exception. The state has no requirement or obligation to issue an individual a permit for carrying a concealed weapon. There are usually two elements that come into play when you apply for a permit in may-issue states. The first is the requirement that any applicant demonstrate “good cause” to carry a concealed weapon, and no, unfortunately most may-cause states do not accept self-defense as a valid cause for concealed carry permitting. The second factor in play is usually the policies of the local law enforcement agency near you like the Sheriff’s office. Depending on how local law handles permit requests, you could be denied based upon their discretion.

In effect, you have to make a case for CCW licensing if you live in a may-issue state. This is not to say that it is impossible to receive CCW licensing in a may-issue state, but you should definitely plan your application carefully before submitting it to set yourself up for the best chance of success. One could argue that may-issue states are unfair in their requirements because they are so subjective and many times require a substantial amount of money to complete the process. We do expect the may-issue process to encounter increased legal scrutiny in the coming years, so if you are denied then hold tight, change may be on the way for your state.


Regular range practice is a big part of staying sharp in CCW regardless of your state’s policies.


No-issue states do not allow for individuals to carry a concealed weapon, but at the time of this article, there aren’t any states with no-issue policies in place. No-issue policies do allow for select exceptions of conceal and carry licensing, but generally speaking no-issue states do not allow concealed carry at all. The most notable example of a no-issue state is Illinois until the recent overturning of their policy in 2013.

How Reciprocity Might Effect You

As we mentioned earlier, certain states have established agreements with one another where your conceal and carry permit may be honored even when you cross state lines. Once again, since state laws and agreements vary significantly, we suggest you investigate reciprocity before ever planning to carry a concealed weapon in any other state.


Printing is another concept to be aware of as a new concealed carry applicant. Even though a firearm is concealed, if it prints, or has a visible outline through clothes or other apparel, then it is not considered conceal and carry and is illegal in many states. Do your research on effective carry styles before deciding upon one so you don’t end up printing as a new CCW licensee.

Locations Where Your Permit Or Unrestricted Carry Is Forbidden

Finally, there are certain locations of every state that conceal and carry is forbidden and for good reason. Government and state institutions, schools, public events like parades or fairs, sporting events, public transit, hospitals, churches, airplanes and ships, most bars, and private property. These restrictions aren’t universal, and each state has their own set of forbidden locations. If you’re not sure, be sure to do your research before entering into an establishment with a concealed weapon. Certain businesses also have the right to refuse entry for those who carry a concealed weapon, but a notice must be placed at the front of the establishment notifying any who enter.


This is just a basic guide to the regulations that exist in some regard or another in every state. Carrying a concealed weapon is a big responsibility, and it should always be approached with the utmost respect and appropriate research. You can start with this guide, but then seek out other forms of information as you apply for a permit, or in the case of unrestricted states, begin the process of selecting a handgun and conceal and carry holster. In our next article about conceal and carry, we will cover the process of selecting the best firearm for conceal and carry purposes.

Thumb image, and one, two and three images all courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.