Is the Person Next to You Carrying a Gun?

Rights, Crime

Imagine that you’re sitting in a diner, eating your hurried workday lunch of turkey and Swiss on rye, when a bad guy rushes in, pointing his jacket pocket at the cashier as if he has a gun. “Everybody down!” he yells. But before anyone can move, the man in the booth next to yours whips a gun out of his own pants, points it at the robber, and saves the day.

Undoubtedly you’d feel relieved that someone prevented a robbery and possibly your own death or injury, but would you feel a little weird that a random stranger enjoying the meatloaf special three feet away has a gun in his pants? What if the situation had been more ambiguous, or your head was between meatloaf guy and the robber? Are people who carry concealed weapons required to have good aim?

Gun laws have become significantly more lax in nearly every state since the early 1990s—as of 2011, only Wisconsin, Illinois, and the District of Columbia ban concealed weapons, where it was once the norm nationwide. So in what states are you most likely to be among a bunch of people with guns?


Given the enjoyment with which Alaska’s former governor wields firearms, it is no surprise that Alaska is one of the four states to legalize concealed carry without a permit. The law in Alaska currently states that if you are 21 and older and may legally carry a firearm, you can hide a handgun on your person without a license. Thankfully, this law does not count for bars, schools, courthouses, or domestic violence shelters, but it still has something of an Old West flavor to it. Alaska is like the last frontier, however, and statistics show that most gun owners live in less-populated areas. Perhaps they need them for the moose and bears.



Arizona also allows unrestricted concealed carry without a license—a law that has only been in effect since in July of 2010. Arizona is significantly more populated than Alaska, which makes it somewhat more alarming that anyone who has avoided felony conviction can tote a gun. But, Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, thought it an important right for her constituents and successfully got it passed. As in Alaska, Arizona residents who want to carry out-of-state will be given a license on a “Shall Issue” basis, which essentially means the carrier must meet minimum requirements, and that the permit issuer has no ability to deny a permit if the requirements are met, even if the person is twitching and muttering threats under his breath.



Though Wyoming has the lowest population of any state, that handful of residents will be allowed to carry concealed weapons without a permit, beginning July 1, 2011. Of course, Wyoming already allows unrestricted open carry, so instead of a belt holster, the people of Wyoming can more fashionably keep their guns under wraps.




Vermont is a little bit of a wild card when it comes to concealed weapons. Vermonters enjoy unrestricted, non-licensed concealed carry, but only within the state. Unlike Alaska, Arizona, and Wyoming, Vermont does not issue permits to its residents for concealed carry in reciprocating states. Vermont residents wishing to travel out-of-state with their handguns can get around this law by applying for a license in a state that gives permits to non-residents, such as Florida.



Speaking of Florida, although the state does not allow unlicensed concealed carry, it is probably the state where you are most likely to have secretly armed citizens around you. Not only is it a densely populated state, but it’s also a Shall Issue state for residents and non-residents alike. Florida has issued more concealed weapons licenses than any other state, according to available information, with nearly 800,000 active permits as of January 2011. Florida also happens to be the state with the highest number of people killed by those with licensed concealed carry weapons between May 2007 and the present.

Gun advocates argue that the 2nd Amendment guarantees them the right to carry a weapon for protection, and many feel vulnerable without one. They also argue that gun owners are responsible, trained individuals who are the least likely people to cause unwarranted death. Clearly, lawmakers in many, if not most, states are listening. Meanwhile, everyone else may want to be extra polite to strangers—you never know what they might be hiding.