Florida is preparing to issue its 1 millionth concealed-carry permit while a federal court ruling this week left the nation’s capital as the only place in the United States with a total ban on carrying concealed weapons — developments that have gun advocates feeling that momentum is on their side in the national debate over whether Americans can remain armed once they leave home.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Illinois legislature has 180 days to come up with some type of concealed-carry law, overruling gun control proponents in the final holdout among the states.
The ruling is considered encouraging for the plaintiffs in a similar lawsuit pending in the District, whose Democratic leadership has resisted attempts to loosen its gun laws, citing public safety and its role as the host to important leaders and diplomats.
“We’ve always believed he have a very strong case. The complete prohibition [in the District] is ridiculous,” said Alan Gura, a gun rights lawyer from Alexandria who litigated the Illinois case alongside a Chicago-based lawyer. “The court needs to rule.”
Mr. Gura sent a copy of the decision to the federal court that will decide Palmer v. the District of Columbia, which he also is handling. The case has been languishing since August 2009 and been argued twice, he said.
The Government Accountability Office reported in June that there were at least 8 million active permits to carry concealed handguns in the United States as of Dec. 31 last year.
Concealed-carry permit laws have sparked debate in state legislatures and the courts, driven by intense lobbying on both sides of the issue. Gun control advocates say public safety is at stake, while staunch defenders of the Second Amendment say the wind is at their backs in the fight for the right to carry a handgun in most public places.
“The Bill of Rights is not a smorgasbord. You can’t pick and choose the ones you want to respect,” said Dave Workman, senior editor of TheGunMag publication run by the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights advocacy group based in Bellevue, Wash.
While gun rights supporters argue that an armed society deters crime and can thwart mass shootings, groups such as the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence say a review of gun deaths shows “states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun-death rates nationwide.”
“Conversely, many states with the weakest gun laws have the highest gun-death rates,” according to a grading system the center released in November.
Although 49 states offer concealed carry in some capacity — all 50 states if the Illinois decision holds up — a state-by-state look at the permitting process reveals a patchwork of restrictions on whether guns can be carried in bars, churches and other specified places. Ten states employ a “may issue” or discretionary system in which the permit applicant must demonstrate a need for the gun or the issuer decides who can have a permit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The conference says 39 states have a “shall-issue” system, by which the applicant does not have to demonstrate a need or the issuer has to provide a permit if the requesting person meets certain criteria. People in Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming do not require permits to carry concealed weapons, according to the conference and the GAO.
On Capitol Hill, the House last year approved a reciprocity act that would allow states to recognize one another’s concealed-carry permits when a qualified person crosses state lines, unless that jurisdiction expressly prohibits the practice. In November 2011, Wisconsin became the 49th state to enact a concealed-carry provision, leaving only Illinois as the only one banning it.
City lawmakers in Chicago have threatened to approve an ordinance that would thwart the federal appellate court’s ruling — even if it results in a protracted legal battle — out of fear that concealed carry will increase gang violence, according to The Associated Press.
Conversely, the consumer affairs agency in Florida, a state with a population of about 19 million and the location of the racially charged shooting death of Trayvon Martin in February, announced that it was on the cusp of issuing its 1 millionth active permit to carry, among 2.3 million total permits the state has issued since it began the licensing program in 1987. States with less than onerous gun laws such as Louisiana and Kansas have issued tens of thousands of permits, and interest shows no signs of waning, according to news reports.