Arizona Goes Vermont

It has been another astonishing month for the right to carry.  Arizona effectively “went Vermont.”  The state legislature repealed the requirement that those over 21 have a concealed weapon permit, with one apparent exception: you still need a permit to carry a concealed handgun into a place that serves alcohol.  If the establishment has a prohibition of guns, you still can’t enter while carrying.1  It appears that Arizona will continue to issue concealed carry permits, both for carrying in bars, and so that Arizonans can carry concealed in the more than thirty states that recognize Arizona permits.2

I’ve written before that I have some concerns about abolishing the requirement for a concealed carry permit.  One of those concerns is political; opponents of shall-issue permit laws may use the passage of such laws in Alaska and Arizona as evidence of a deep dark conspiracy to repeal all gun laws.  My flippant response is, “Only in states whose names start with A.”  The more thoughtful response is, “You mean slippery slopes really do exist?  Not just in the direction of more restrictive gun control?”  Since there are only a few states left that do not have shall-issue concealed weapon permit laws maybe I don’t need to worry too much about this.

My other concern is that there are people for whom carrying a gun may not be wise.  These are people who are not prohibited from owning a gun, but who are short-tempered, or who get drunk and stupid in public places, or are mentally unstable.  They have not crossed the line into a prohibited category—and yet if we could find some way to discourage such a person from carrying a gun, it might be a good thing.  I think most of my readers know at least one person in this category: not quite irresponsible enough for the law to prohibit owning a gun, but someone who might benefit from a slight encouragement to not carry a gun.

Obviously, serious criminals are not going to let a permit requirement get in their way.  Someone who intends murder, rape, or robbery, isn’t going to let a concealed weapon permit stop them.  But those are not the people that a concealed weapon permit law discourages from carrying a weapon.  It’s the guy who isn’t a criminal—but who is not terribly responsible.  If 20% of the population is in this category, and 10% of that 20% decides not to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, this could still be a net gain for civilized society.

In the last twenty years, concealed weapon permits have gone from very difficult or impossible to get to pretty easy.  The biggest obstacle in most of the U.S. now is the training requirement.  While states that do not have those training requirements seem to do just fine, I confess that it does not bother me that someone has to sit in a classroom for a few hours and learn the legal requirements for use of deadly force.  If this requirement, or having to fill out some paperwork and wait a few weeks for a background check is a big obstacle, perhaps this will cause some reflection about why you are carrying a gun.

All that said, this was the decision of the Arizona legislature to make.  If they conclude, in a few years, that too many irresponsible persons are carrying concealed weapons to the detriment of public safety, I’m sure that they will change their law.  I do find it interesting that Alaska made a similar decision to repeal its requirement for a permit several years ago, and has shown no signs of regret.

As I write this column, Iowans are waiting to see if Governor Culver is going to sign SF 2379.  Iowa for many years has had a discretionary concealed weapon permit law.  Iowa Sheriffs have largely unlimited discretion about issuance of concealed weapon permits—and predictably, some sheriffs have issued permits quite readily, while others have been quite restrictive.

SF 2379 takes away that discretion.  It still allows a sheriff to deny a permit if “Probable cause exists to believe, based upon documented specific actions of the person, where at least one of the actions occurred within two years immediately preceding the date of the permit application, that the person is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or in such other manner as would endanger the person's self or others.”3  A number of states have similar provisions.  If the sheriff can provide specific examples of reasons to believe that this person is a danger to himself or others—say, because he spends a lot of time screaming at Martians—the sheriff can still deny a permit.  But, “I don’t think you need to carry a gun” isn’t going to cut it.

The new law also defines what disqualifying actions prohibit receiving a permit, including any “serious or aggravated misdemeanor” as defined in existing Iowa law, and the usual prohibitions on gun ownership, such as felony convictions.

Permits are good for five years, and cost $50.  A variety of classes meet the training requirement, including “any national rifle association handgun safety training course,” an honorable or general discharge from the armed services, completion of basic training in the armed services, and a variety of security guard and law enforcement classes.  The bill specifically prohibits sheriffs from requiring serial numbers or model numbers of weapons to be carried.  In addition, the bill recognizes permits issued by other states for non-residents.4
I suspect that by the time you read this column, Governor Culver will either have signed or vetoed this bill.  Since it passed both houses of the Iowa legislature with huge majorities (81-16 in the House, 38-4 in the State Senate),5 I expect that at some point, either this year or next, this is going to become law.

Twenty-five years ago, when I first became involved in the gun rights movement, I worried that we were engaged in a losing battle.  No more!

UPDATE: As we went to press, Iowa Governor Culver announced that he would be signing the shall-issue concealed weapon permit law.6


Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian. His sixth book, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie (Nelson Current, 2007), is available in bookstores.  His web site is

1 Senate Bill 1108, Arizona 49th legislature, 2nd sess. (2010), available at, last accessed April 25, 2010.

2 Tim Steller, “Dealers cite pros, cons of concealed weapon law,” Arizona Daily Star, April 17, 2010,, last accessed April 25, 2010.

3 Senate File 2379,, last accessed April 25, 2010.

4 Senate File 2379,, last accessed April 25, 2010.

5 “Current Bill History,”, last accessed April 25, 2010.

6 Governor Chet Culver, Press Releases,, last accessed April 27, 2010.