National Concealed Carry Reciprocity

Most states in the United States require citizens to acquire a concealed carry permit to legally carry a concealed weapon, typically a pistol.  Some states, such as Florida, have permits that allow citizens to carry a range of weapons, while other states limit concealed carry to handguns. Some states allow citizens to conceal carry without a permit. While there are some similarities between the state requirements for a concealed carry permit, they do vary. For example, Florida requires applicants to undergo fingerprinting for a background check. Maine, in contrast, does not (or did not, the last time I got my permit). As it now stands, states do not always accept permits from other states. For example, Maine does not have reciprocity with Florida. However, many states do accept permits from other states, although this can change quickly.

Because not all states have reciprocity, the NRA has been backing legislation that would mandate concealed carry permit reciprocity across all the states. Laying aside the stock appeals to the Second Amendment, there are a variety of arguments that can be advanced in favor of this legislation.

One of the standard approaches is an argument from analogy comparing the driver’s license to the concealed carry permit. The gist of the reasoning is that just as states do (and should) accept drivers’ licenses from all other states, they should do the same for concealed carry permits. The analogy can be unpacked into more specific reasons.

It is contended that having reciprocity would create a consistent system in which a person licensed to carry in one state would be licensed to carry in another state and they would not need to worry about having to check to see if such reciprocity existed. A person who needed to carry in multiple states would also not need to go through the hassle and expense of getting multiple permits. Currently, when states lack reciprocity a person needs to do just that and the permit process can involve considerable paperwork and the cost can approach or even exceed $100. I had to go through this process to get a permit for my adopted state of Florida and my home state of Maine. As such, I find the convenience, consistency and cost savings based arguments appealing. There are, however, some reasonable arguments against such reciprocity.

One stock concern is that the reciprocity law would set the requirements for concealed carry permits to the weakest requirements in the United States. In general, states do allow non-residents to acquire permits, so a person in a strict state could bypass those strict requirements by getting a permit from the most permissive state. The strict state would then be required to honor the permit.

One easy counter for this would be to do away with non-resident permits and thus require people to follow the rules of their state (this would make permits analogous to driver’s licenses). Because states would have reciprocity, there would be no reason to have non-resident permits anymore—they would be rendered pointless by the law. Except, of course, as a means of bypassing the requirements of specific states.

The elimination of non-resident permits would not be without problems. One concern is the matter of fairness. Suppose that New York had very strict requirements and Texas had very loose requirements. While New Yorkers would not be able to bypass the requirements by getting non-resident permits from Texas, Texans could come to New York and carry using their Texas permits.

A counter to this would be to require that all states have comparable requirements. The obvious problem with this is that it leads back to the original concern about the state with the weakest requirements setting the standard for all states. This could be addressed by developing a uniform national standard that all states accept. This would presumably increase the requirements for some states and weaken them for others, but this would be a matter of practical politics and could be worked out.

A second concern is based on stock conservative arguments about state rights and local control. As it now stands, states have the right to set their own permit requirements and to decide which states they will grant reciprocity to. The reciprocity law would rob the states of this power and take away local control, presumably replacing it with rules imposed by the federal government.

This imposition on the state could be ideologically problematic.  Gun right folks tend to also profess a commitment to states’ rights and local control while expressing a dislike and distrust of federal power. One way to get around this problem is to note that gun rights folks are fine with the Second Amendment and this is a national law. This could provide the basis for a principled rejection of state and local rights in favor of imposing a national concealed carry reciprocity law. Of course, the principle used to justify this could also be used to justify other laws that many gun rights folks might not like. But, that is a common problem with principles: following principles means that one does not always get what one likes.

Another way around the problem is to take the usual approach: people want what they want and consistency is irrelevant. Principles are just rhetorical points to be used or ignored as needed to get what one wants. People who like what is being done tend to forget such inconsistencies and easily lay aside principles until they match up with what they want. Then they pull these principles from the trash and insist on their absolute importance. As such, there is usually little practical cost for such an approach. And who really worries about ethics?

From a purely selfish and practical standpoint, I am fine with having such reciprocity. If it becomes law, I will only need to renew one permit, thus saving me money and time. However, I can look beyond my own selfish interests and recognize that there are legitimate concerns about such a law. From an abstract standpoint, my main concern is the imposition on state’s rights and local control. From a more practical standpoint, I am concerned about potentially harmful unintended consequences.


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  1. G’day Mike. Once again, I find a thoughtfully catalytic bookmark in your offerings to reflect further upon. By coincidence, I just wrote a personal blog installment yesterday on this subject, but including a wider range of relevant considerations than the proposed interstate CCW reciprocity. You might find it of interest. It may be read at my writing website here:

    Cheers, Kalikiano

  2. 😀 outstanding AND well done.

  3. If guns were registered and regulated in the same way that cars are, with gun owners being required to take both a written and practical test and carry liability insurance, then yes it would make sense to have each state honor licenses issued by other other states. However this is not the case. The NRA has successfully resisted any national registry of gun ownership or any other efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who use or store them recklessly or commit crimes. The analogy between reciprocity in diver’s licenses and concealed carry permits fails because the other laws relating to ownership and operation of cars and guns differ in so many relevant ways.

    The practical effect of requiring states to honor other states’ concealed carry permits would be a race to the bottom. People would get permits in states that made little or no effort to ensure that gun owners did not have a criminal record or a restraining order and charged the lowest fees for the permits. The permit owners would then take their guns wherever they wished. The state where any gun accidents or gun crimes committed by this people occurred would not even have the revenue from concealed carry permits to offset the increased costs. Although the lack of reciprocity imposes additional costs and inconveniences on the few people who have legitimate reasons for carrying a concealed weapon in more than one state, such costs and inconveniences seem a small price to ask them to pay in order to save lives.

  4. Reciprocity sounds like a good (rational) idea. I am beginning to think, however, that there are few individuals who would benefit from this. That is, I used to think that of the >300 million guns were owned by at least three quarters of the population. It is likely that fewer than 15% of Americans probably own more than one gun, or least one that they would be concerned with registering in more than one state.

  5. True, most people tend to stay within the bounds of their state.

  6. Getting a concealed carry permit does, in most states, require completing a basic gun safety course. In most cases, this is about 4 hours with only a few minutes of actual shooting. But, as you note, there is already a race to the bottom.

  7. Read your piece; California does seem very strict-in Florida, permits are good for seven years and the safety class requirement is fairly basic (mine was 4 hours in total).

  8. Why can’t gun bans be reciprocal too? What about personal tanks? Personal nuclear weapons? You are not being consistent about this.

  9. They could be, if there was reciprocity of gun bans law. But, I was focused on discussing the NRA’s proposed reciprocity for concealed carry.

    While I would like to have my own tank and nukes, I recognize the potential harms of allowing this sort of thing. I do accept that rights can be justly limited to prevent harm. So, just as I should not be free to incite crimes with my words or spread harmful lies, I should not be free to own a nuke. I’d be totally responsible with it; but that fellow down the street…

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