Much has been made of “open carry” in recent months. In April, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart conducted an interview on the subject and even Starbucks has weighed in. The debate about open carry is a relevant issue in every state, whether it is a state where open carry is the first step to exercising your Second Amendment right or a state where open carry protects the inadvertent display of a legally concealed handgun.
Whether or not your jurisdiction allows open carry, it seems that, if forced to chose, most gun enthusiasts lean towards concealed carry. Both is preferable: in North Carolina or Virginia, where concealed & open carry is legal, I don’t need to worry if my jacket briefly rides up over the butt of my Springfield XD(m). On the other hand, in Texas or Florida where open carry is illegal, the same unintentional exposure could land me in a world of legal troubles. And even where open carry is legal, it is not to say that it is completely accepted. Depending on your locale, you may get shocked reactions from passers-by, or worse, a police response. For example, in North Carolina, there is an old common law crime our friends in blue can pop you for if they’re feeling particularly ornery that day: ‘Going armed to the terror of the people.’ As the North Carolina Rifle & Pistol Association has said, open carry may be legal, but it’s also a very good way to get arrested. Largely for the advantage of keeping other people out of your business, carrying concealed is generally preferred.
Because concealed carry is regulated at the state level, almost every state has different laws: in Arizona, a concealed carry permit (CCP) may not be necessary, but in Manhattan it will be nearly unobtainable. Even the name will vary; you may see acronyms referring to the permit as a CWP, CFP, CHP, CCW, etc. In most jurisdictions, however, the application process will appear substantially similar and, if you live in a gun-friendly state, you can be carrying within a couple months.
Required: a relatively clean background, a couple hundred bucks, and a lot of patience
Optional but recommended: actually owning a firearm and a positive and cooperative attitude
1. Discover the Law: Go to Concealedcarry.net , click on ‘the Law’ in the banner at the top. This will give you a listing of states . Click on your state to find the existing law in your jurisdiction.
2. Get the Application: On the left hand side of each state-specific page, Carryconcealed.net offers a link to the local concealed carry permit forms (as well as how much the application should cost). Sometimes, the link will simply take you to the issuing department’s webpage, but the first step in this process will be to track down that application so you know what you will need to complete.
3. Learn the rules: In most states you will need to complete a concealed carry course in order to obtain your permit. Depending on your jurisdiction,this course may or may not require a live-fire component on the range. In Virginia, this requirement is fulfilled if you watch a one-hour video online! If there is a live-fire component, you will most likely need to produce a handgun, so if you don’t own one, borrow one or see if the business running your course offers rentals. In addition to learning some basic firearms knowledge, the most valuable element of this course is likely to be the short legal seminar included in most of these classes. The instructor should give you information about places that are always off-limits, whether the law requires you to disclose firearm possession to law enforcement, etc.
4. Get Inked: The next step probably bothers the most people: you will need to be fingerprinted. Yup, you gotta give up that rebellious life of bank-robbing: they’ve got your prints now! Most—if not all—jurisdictions will require this be performed by law enforcement; in some jurisdictions, you can do this when submitting your application at the sheriff’s office/police department. In other jurisdictions, it may be a different office, specifically for voluntary fingerprints, and only open for 2 hours on certain days of the week.
5. Turn it in: Submit your application (with your course certification and fingerprint cards attached). You may be required to swear an oath, at this time. With any luck, you will only have to return to this office one more time!
6. Hold it: This step is the hardest and the least fun: just wait. During this time period, law enforcement will conduct its background investigation. This background check will likely be more stringent than the NCIS check used to purchase your handgun; they may actually call your character references, or look into your medical history (if they got a medical waiver from you during the application process). If everything comes up clean, you “shall” or “may” be getting a permit (again, depending on your jurisdiction). If your background check turns up recent domestic violence charges, prior drug crimes, felonies, etc you probably won’t be getting a permit this year. Some states have a maximum waiting time period under the law, usually between 45-90 days. If the authorities exceed their statutory time limit, they may be required to issue you a temporary permit. During this waiting period, stick by your phone and check the mail in case they try to contact you.
7. Pass or Fail: When law enforcement is satisfied with their background investigation, you will usually get a phone call if you have passed muster, or an explanation in the mail if you have not. If you have not, don’t give up hope: there could be mistakes or old criminal charges that are set to roll off the back-end of their “look-back” period.
Now that you have obtained your permit to concealed carry, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Exercise your rights diligently and legally. Find a local attorney who specializes in firearms law: visit their office, shake their hand and ask for a couple of their cards. On the back of the cards, write down everywhere you know you should never carry (it varies under state law, but probably includes public schools, federal buildings, the courthouse, etc.) and then keep one in your car, one in your wallet, and one in your gun case. To get your feet wet, take the ritualized first trip to Wal-mart: you will probably be a bit nervous the first time you strap the cold steel to your belt and walk out the door, but you’ll get used to it. Now enjoy your newfound freedom: you are now one of a select percentage in this country entitled to both keep and bear arms!