A new report this week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office confirms that the number of Americans exercising the right to carry firearms for personal protection is skyrocketing.
GAO investigators gathered information from state authorities nationwide about the number of permits issued, eligibility requirements for those permits, and the extent to which states recognize permits issued by other states. The researchers also conducted a more in-depth review of nine selected states. While information on eligibility requirements and reciprocity is easily available online (for example, on NRA-ILA's "Gun Laws" page), some of the statistical information in the report is remarkable.
With hard numbers or estimates from all but three of the 49 states that have laws allowing for issuance of carry permits, the GAO reports that there were about 8 million active permits in the United States as of December 31, 2011. That's about a million more than previous estimates by scholars.
The report also includes calculations of permit holders as a percentage of the population. Although the numbers for some states are skewed by issuance of nonresident permits, the GAO's figures show that in two states--Georgia and South Dakota--more than one in 10 adult residents have carry permits. Several other states come close; five percent or more of Kentucky, Tennessee and Wyoming residents have permits.
Of further note is the report's discussion of how law enforcement officials can verify the validity of permits. As the report explains, many states make permit information easily available to law enforcement in other states, either directly or through information sharing networks. This should help ease concerns raised by some lawmakers during last year's debate on H.R. 822, the "National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act."
Nothing, of course, will ever ease the concerns of one of the lawmakers who requested the study. Anti-gun Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has blocked Senate consideration of national right-to-carry legislation, and seized on minor aspects of the report for a predictable attack on the proposal.
First, Sen. Feinstein claims that people disqualified from getting permits in one state could obtain them elsewhere. Of course, it's no surprise that the 50 states have different laws. But the report makes clear how minor many of those differences are.
Second, she claims "it is nearly impossible" for state authorities to know if a permit holder commits a crime somewhere else. In fact, the report also makes clear that authorities in the nine selected states would learn of such crimes during background checks for renewals, if not sooner--and also mentions that the FBI is developing a national "Rap Back" service that will allow states to be notified of arrests anywhere in the country. That system should be available by 2014, and will make Sen. Feinstein's concern obsolete.