And then there were five.
With Missouri’s passage of concealed-carry legislation in September, only five states — Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio — still ban hidden guns. Laws among the 45 states that issue conceal-and-carry permits are as diverse as the states themselves, and Missouri falls on the more restrictive end of the spectrum.
“(These) statutes are so complex,” said Justin Marks, a research analyst studying the issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Everyone does it differently.”
Permit prices, age limits and training requirements are a few of the elements that vary from state to state. And differences among the states don’t end at the permit process. Just because someone is licensed to carry in one state doesn’t mean he or she can tote a gun across state lines. Some states won’t honor other states’ permits, while others allow anyone legally possessing a gun to carry it.
Where Missouri stands
Missouri’s law is permissive in that it allows permit holders from other states to carry here. But restrictions in other aspects of the law are a result of the circumstances surrounding its passage, said state Rep. Larry Crawford, R-California, who sponsored the bill.
“It is definitely one of the most restrictive and the most stringent of the shall-issue states,” Crawford said. “It’s because of the failure of Prop. B.”
A concealed-carry measure, which had languished in the legislature in some form for 13 years, was voted down by Missourians as Proposition B in 1999. It passed in September, when state lawmakers voted narrowly to override Gov. Bob Holden’s veto of the bill.
Missouri joins the “shall-issue states,” as Crawford said, meaning law enforcement officials must issue concealed-carry permits to those who qualify. The alternative is a discretionary-issue policy, held by nine states, which gives authorities more leeway in determining who can get a permit. Some of those states delegate authority to individual counties, which makes for a mixed bag of regulations.
Crawford said he aimed to “draw more support by having a restrictive bill.” To do that, he said, a series of compromises was needed.
Getting it passed
“The cost was higher than we wanted it to be,” Crawford said, adding that he wanted to address criticism from taxpayers about subsidizing the issuance of permits and from sheriffs’ departments about processing costs. He said the $100 fee should satisfy both.
The price of Missouri’s permit is on the high end — 10 times that of Alabama and Iowa. Several states charge less than $50, while others charge more than $150.
Some permits, however, last longer than others. Missourians get three years for their $100, while permit-holders in Alabama and Iowa get one year for $10. Those charges don’t necessarily include other costs incurred by permit-seekers, such as fees for training classes and fingerprinting, which vary from state to state. Instructors in mid-Missouri are setting their class fees at about $125.
Crawford said Missouri’s age requirement of 23 was a result of legislative bargaining. New Mexico’s age requirement is higher at 25, but most states set the age at 21. Some allow 18-year-olds to get conceal-and-carry permits.
Training classes also vary widely, and Missouri’s eight-hour class requires participants to demonstrate some shooting proficiency. To pass, one must hit a target with at least 15 of 20 shots.
Missouri’s background check is more restrictive than some states’. It includes some requirements in addition to checking for a criminal history — requirements that Mike Stubbs, a detective with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, said could get hairy.
“It’s difficult to get an accurate check on someone’s mental history,” Stubbs said.
Missouri’s law says applicants must prove they have neither been judged mentally incompetent nor committed to a mental-health facility. Applicants must submit “an affirmation” of those facts to authorities, according to the law.
The criminal history “is about all we can check,” Stubbs said. “The rest is about hit and miss.”
States on the extremes
On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and Alaska are the most permissive states. Both allow anyone legally possessing a handgun to conceal and carry — no permit is required. Alaska just changed its law in September.
“We have a lot of Second Amendment enthusiasts up here,” said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers. “It was a commitment from legislators to the public.”
Vermont refrained from regulating in the first place, said Lt. Bill O’Leary of the Vermont State Police.
“We’ve been dealing with it for over 100 years,” O’Leary said. “When we stop a car in Vermont, there’s a good chance there will be a firearm in the car. We’re used to that.”
Although O’Leary said he thinks concealed firearms pose an additional risk to police officers, O’Leary said Vermont’s crime rate is low. According to Vermont’s Department of Public Safety, the state had seven homicides in 2002.