On "permitless carry" vs "Constitutional Carry"

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Recently a student of mine and reader of Bearing Arms reached out and asked me a question about permitless carry. With more and more states joining the ranks of those that don’t require any papers in order to exercise a constitutional right, the terms “permitless” and “Constitutional” get tossed around a lot.

The question he posed was rather simple:

My question is why do you use “permit-less carry” and not “Constitutional carry”?

Bringing this topic up is not to vilify, call out, or argue over semantics with any of my fellow writers, content creators, or advocates. But rather to at least put out there what the most accepted definitions and understandings are of the different terms. 

FYI “Permit-less” is permitless. Regardless of different spell checkers.

Truth be told, the guy that asked me the question very much so reminds me of a dynamic I saw a friend of mine was in during his early 20’s. He worked at a fancy wine store after doing some time at the liquor department at a supermarket. He read Sideways because the store was pushing the book through some promotion and wanted to embrace wine snobbery the best he could. Embrace he did (and pretty much still does today, kudos!).  Most relevant and similar to the person who asked me the question, he became the type of guy that would talk about Champagne.

Picture a bunch of people celebrating and someone declares “Get the Champagne” in a gleeful exclamation. Scene in that one guy that has to step in and say “Actually, that’s sparkling wine. Since it does not come from the Champagne province of France you can’t call it Champagne.”

My answer to the question about permitless carry was a quick one talking about what it really looks like if a state or jurisdiction actually followed the Constitution. In essence, that would mean very few, if any, infringements (requirements, prohibitions, etc.) on our right to keep and bear arms. The response I garnered in reply was being told that some content creator (not any Salem Media contractors or personalities) I know prefers “Constitutional carry” over permitless. I’m like “Great. That YouTuber uses that term. I generally don’t.”

But, ya know what? That really did tick me off. This is a teachable moment though, perhaps for both of us.

Words and terms do have meanings. Personally, I try to describe things the best I can, as accurately as possible (often with too many words). Even the most astute writers won’t please all people all the time. I was once accused by a reader, who took the time to write to me, of being “woke”, and caving to progressive ideologies because I used non-gendered pronouns to describe another person. The person I was describing in the article was an anonymous source. Call me old fashioned, or maybe too cautious, but I assumed the anonymous person should also have their gender masked as well. That explanation was not good enough for a followup response or even a “thanks”. Haters gonna hate.

In the spirit of meaning, we need to define what these two dynamics are the best we can. The United States Concealed Carry Association defines these two terms in a very specific way (the accompanying video on their page is worth a watch).

Although the terms constitutional carry, permitless carry and unrestricted carry are often used interchangeably, definitions of the terms differ.

Constitutional carry: Constitutional carry means that the state’s law does not prohibit citizens who can legally possess a firearm from carrying handguns, (openly and/or in a concealed manner) thus no state permit is required. Sometimes, constitutional carry may be conditional such as in those states that have no laws prohibiting the open carry of a handgun but which require a permit to carry the handgun concealed.

Permitless carry: Permitless carry includes constitutional carry states as well as states where an individual must meet certain qualifications, e.g., no DUIs in the last 10 years, in order to legally carry (Tennessee). Some states are fully unrestricted, meaning no permit is required for open or concealed carry. Others allow the open carry of a firearm/or handgun without a permit but require a permit for concealment.

The analogy would be that all Constitutional carry states are permitless, but not all permitless carry states are Constitutional. All men are humans, but not all humans are men.

US LawShield has their own way of discussing the nuance of the definitions.

Constitutional carry refers to the legal carrying of a handgun without a license or permit.

Stated differently, in a constitutional carry state, if you can legally possess a handgun, you can legally carry that handgun without the need for a license or permit. Keep in mind, even though constitutional carry states allow for permitless carry, age, location, and residency restrictions may still apply.

Those “age, location, and residency restrictions” are what separate these two terms.

Tennessee was mentioned as one state that has certain restrictions which would classify it as “permitless” v “Constitutional”, as does Maine. There are areas which one must have a permit in order to carry concealed in Maine, such as State Parks and Acadia. Handgunlaw.us covers Maine, noting:

The following locations are off limits to those carrying under Permitless Carry in Maine. You have to have a Maine permit or a resident permit from a state Maine honors to carry in the below listed areas. 

  • Acadia National Park (Permit required; (12 M.R.S. 209 §756)
  • State Parks (Permit required; open carry not permitted; (12 M.R.S. 220 §1803) (7)
  • Regular archery hunting-deer only (Permit required; (12 M.R.S. 915 §11403)
  • Employees’ vehicles on work premises (Permit required; vehicle must be locked and firearm  must not be visible; (26 M.R.S. 7 §600)
  • Allagash Wilderness Waterway (Park Rule 2.19D) Open Carry Not Allowed.

The reason I’ll personally use the term “permitless” over “Constitutional carry” is simply because I don’t know all the laws in all the states that are permitless. I’d rather be inclusive and accurate by describing the lack of a scheme as being permitless, instead of being super technical and accurate by drilling down the classification to “Constitutional carry”. The risk of being wrong or inaccurate is too high in my opinion, even if having just a casual conversation on the subject.

This is not to say that I’m going to go out of my way (or that I advocate for people doing the same) to correct or undermine someone that uses one term over the other. Or someone that uses the terms synonymously. I’m just stating the why I use the term that I do.

This is not my Champagne. My Champagne is calling magazines clips and .45 Colts .45 Long Colts. That’s a whole other fun debate we can have another day.

As freedom marches on in the United States, and more and more states adopt the policy of not needing a license to carry, just keep in mind, like a good sweepstakes, some restrictions may apply. The headlines may read Constitutional, but the devil would really be in the details of the law. Besides, true “Constitutional carry” would mean every man, woman, child, felon, criminal, addict, mentally defective person, etc. would be allowed to carry a firearm. No?