For the first time since Dr. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center started keeping tabs on the number of active concealed carry licenses across the country, he’s seen those numbers decline. According to Lott, this year the figures dipped half a percentage point from 2022’s record high of 21.8 million. At first glance that seems surprising given that eight states that were formerly “may issue” have now moved, however reluctantly, to a “shall issue” regime (at least in theory), but according to Lott there’s a simple explanation for the decline: the rise of permitless carry.
There are now 27 states where lawful gun owners can carry without the need for a government-issued permission slip, though every one of those states still offers a carry license. In some states, like Texas, a license to carry allows the license holder to carry in certain “sensitive places” off-limits to those without a permit, but licenses are also needed in many cases for those who want to carry in other states that require a license and recognize an out-of-state permit. As Lott explains, the decline in active carry licenses across the U.S. can be attributed to those states where permits have now become optional.
Because of these Constitutional Carry states, the concealed carry permits number does not paint a full picture of how many people are legally carrying across the nation. Many residents still choose to obtain permits so that they can carry in other states that have reciprocity agreements, but while permits are increasing in the non-Constitutional Carry states (317,185), permits fell even more in the Constitutional Carry ones even though more people are clearly carrying in those states (485,013).
Interestingly, five of the six states that have more than 1 million active carry licenses are permitless carry states; Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas. Pennsylvania also has more than 1 million concealed carry holders, but with a Democratic governor and a closely divided state legislature permitless carry is off the table for the foreseeable future in the Keystone State.
Though Alabama is one of the 27 permitless carry states, Lott found it also has the highest percentage of active concealed carry holders based on population, with more than 25 percent of residents possessing a carry license. Indiana isn’t far behind, with 23 percent of the population holding carry licenses. I was surprised to see Colorado in third place, with 16.5 percent of the population possessing a carry license; by far the highest rate of carry found in blue states.
According to Lott, excluding New York and California, about 10 percent of the adult population of the U.S. has a permit to carry. If you include those formerly “may issue” states, which have erected numerous barriers to lawful carry in the wake of the Bruen decision, the percentage drops to 8.4 percent; still a healthy number but evidence that the right to carry is being artificially suppressed in both states.
Lott also found that active concealed carry licenses rose in Oregon and Michigan this year; both states that have seen a major push for gun control. In Oregon, voters narrowly approved a “permit-to-purchase” law and magazine ban last November; laws that have been put on hold by a judge in Harney County but have still spurred interest in gun ownership in general. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, signed several gun control bills into law this year after Democrats took control of the state legislature last November, and while the new laws are meant to crack down on legal gun owners it looks like they may have prompted some Michiganders to start exercising their right to bear arms for the first time.
If you just look at Lott’s top line number there’s cause for concern, but when you delve a little deeper into the details there are actually a lot of encouraging signs in his latest report. Slightly fewer Americans may be carrying with a concealed carry license, but that doesn’t mean that the overall number of Americans bearing arms in defense of themselves or others has declined at all.