2023 a tipping point for permitless carry?

Now that Alabama’s permitless carry law has officially taken effect, fully half of the 50 states no longer require pre-approval from authorities before legal gun owners can exercise their right to bear arms in self-defense. With lawmakers in several other states eyeing up permitless carry provisions of their own, the chances are good that within the next six months or so an outright majority of states will have adopted Constitutional Carry standards; a fact that has both the gun control lobby and their media allies doing their best Chicken Little impressions over the growing recognition of the importance of the right to bear arms.

“We’ve seen in the past decade a very concerted effort by the corporate gun lobby, especially the NRA,” said Nick Wilson, a gun violence researcher at the Center for American Progress. “It has been a very successful campaign for the gun lobby. It helps their bottom line… But it’s very concerning to anyone worried about public safety.”

The state legal changes have dovetailed with two other trends that auger well for gun advocates. First, the covid-19 pandemic unleashed an unprecedented surge in sales. And second, people of color and women made up a larger share of the buyers, diversifying a gun-buying public that has traditionally skewed male, white and conservative.

Gun violence has also spiked since the pandemic began, with firearm deaths jumping 20% from 2019 to 2021, according to a recent study published by JAMA Network Open.

With big-ticket gun reforms like the Assault Weapons Ban or universal background checks stalled in Congress, the spate of state laws marks a defeat for the reform movement, which views the trend as a public security threat.

Yes, but the gun control movement views gun ownership in general as a public security threat, which is why they’re so intent on passing laws that are meant to make it as easy as possible to deny someone their right to keep and bear arms for purely subjective reasons like “suitability” or “justifiable need.” While the Supreme Court has taken “may issue” carry laws off the table, the Court declared in the Bruen case that “shall issue” regimes that don’t allow for subjective and arbitrary denials are presumably constitutional in nature; something opponents of the right to keep and bear arms have seized on.

“The opinion made very clear that there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires permitless carry,” Skaggs said. “’Constitutional carry may sound good with its alliteration and the way it rolls off the tongue, but it’s fundamentally untrue and misleading. Guns in public have always been significantly regulated.”

Still, the Bruen decision could have major impacts on state-level gun debates, according to Mark Oliva, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry trade group.

“Left-leaning and right-leaning states will probably become more polarized,” Oliva said. “And you’re going to keep seeing them go to the courts and say, ‘what’s the truth here?’ And if the truth follows what came out of Bruen, they’re going to find assault weapons bans are unconstitutional, magazine restrictions are unconstitutional, age restrictions and background checks for ammunition purchases are unconstitutional.”

And while they’re getting their collective rear-ends handed to them by the courts, activists like Skaggs are likely to continue to fume as more states adopt permitless carry language. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled that he’d like to see a bill get to his desk this year, while the sponsor of a narrowly-defeated permitless carry proposal in Nebraska says he’s bringing the bill back for another go-round this year and believes the votes are there to finally get it across the finish line. Some 2A advocates even see a path to permitless carry in a couple of other states.

Nevada actually expanded its Democratic majority in the state legislature, so my hunch is that permitless carry isn’t going to get far in the Silver State this year.

South Carolina is a more intriguing possibility, but simply getting a bill allowing those with concealed carry permits to also openly carry through the legislature required a major lift back in 2021, and a similar push for permitless carry is also likely to meet with some resistance even within the Republican majority. Still, Rep. Shane Martin has already pre-filed a Constitutional Carry bill for the upcoming session, so it will be a topic of discussion, and Second Amendment advocates across the state will be lobbying their own legislators to back the bill and ensure that the right to bear arms isn’t subject to a state-issued permission slip.

Louisiana is another possibility, though Republicans will have to stick together if they’re going to override a veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards. In 2021, GOP lawmakers approved a permitless carry bill, but were unable to override the governor’s veto after a couple of key defections and some timely absences on the part of a couple of legislators during the veto override vote.

While permitless carry may face an uphill fight even in some Republican-dominated state legislatures, I think the odds are very good that by the end of this year an outright majority of states will have removed the requirement that legal gun owners first obtain a permission slip from the state before they can exercise a fundamental right. 2023 is shaping up to be another year of genuine progress when it comes to the right to carry… at least in those states that recognize the right instead of trying to turn into a criminal offense.