Right-to-Carry Summary

Posted on May 16, 2011

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Self-defense is a fundamental right. The constitutions of the U.S. and 44 states, common law, and the laws of all 50 states recognize the right to use arms in self-defense. In Beard v. U.S. (1895), the Supreme Court approved the common-law rule that a person "may repel force by force" in self-defense, and concluded that, when attacked, a person is "entitled to stand his ground and meet any attack made upon him with a deadly weapon." Courts have ruled that the police aren`t required to protect you, and cannot be held liable for failure to protect you.

In U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court recognized that the right to arms is an individual right, stating that it "is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence." In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Court ruled that "the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right," and that the amendment protects "the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation."

Before 1987, only 10 states had laws that did not impose arbitrary obstacles to the legal carrying of concealed firearms for protection. These laws are still in effect. Vermont law does not require a permit to carry a firearm openly or concealed; it prohibits carrying only with criminal intent. Seven of the 10 states have "shall issue" laws requiring firearm carrying permits to be issued to applicants meeting fixed, statewide standards, and two states fairly administer "discretionary-issuance" laws allowing permit-issuing authorities to approve or reject permit applications of qualified applicants.

In 1987, Florida adopted a "shall issue" law that became the model for laws adopted in 29 states thereafter. Thus, today, there are 40 Right-to-Carry (RTC) states. Of the 40, 37 have "shall issue" laws; two fairly administer "discretionary issuance" laws. Alaska, Arizona and Vermont do not require a permit to carry. (Alaska and Arizona also have "shall issue" permit laws, for individuals who wish to carry in states that honor out-of-state permits.)

Of the 10 remaining states and the District of Columbia, eight states and D.C. unfairly administer discretionary-issuance laws; Illinois and Wisconsin prohibit carrying entirely.

RTC laws have worked as intended. Since 1991, during which time 23 states have adopted RTC laws, violent crime has declined by 47 percent; in particular, murder has declined 51 percent. Those trends are through 2009, and the FBI has reported that total violent crime and murder dropped more than six percent during the first half of 2010. Permit-holders are more law-abiding than the rest of the public. For example, Florida, the state that has issued the most carry permits (having a large population and having had its RTC law since 1987), has issued nearly two million permits, and revoked only 0.008 percent (eight one-thousandths of one percent) of them due to gun crimes by permit-holders.

Criminologist Gary Kleck analyzed National Crime Victimization Surveys and concluded, "robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all." A study for the Department of Justice found that 34 percent of felons had been "scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed victim," and 40 percent of felons have not committed crimes, fearing potential victims were armed.

H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), proposes that any person with a state-issued carry permit may carry in any other state, as follows: In a state that issues carry permits, its laws would apply. In states that don`t issue permits, a federal standard would permit carrying in places other than police stations; courthouses; public polling places; meetings of state, county, or municipal governing bodies; schools; passenger areas of airports; etc.

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