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Regulation of Public Carry of Firearms

Permissive open and concealed carry laws can increase gun violence in many ways including allowing individuals who have a history of acting violently to carry their firearms in public, providing more opportunities for armed intimidation and shootings in response to hostile interactions, and increasing criminals’ access to guns through thefts from motor vehicles. 

The Issue 

Concealed carry laws regulate who can carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public spaces. Open carry laws regulate who can carry guns that are visible to others in public spaces. Over the last several decades, states have deregulated concealed carry laws. As a result, millions of Americans carry guns in public every day. In addition, record numbers of individuals open carry firearms, some with the intent to intimidate others and stifle free speech. This change in public carry laws and practices has resulted in more violence and intimidation. To reduce gun violence, policymakers should strengthen concealed and open carry laws. 

Carrying firearms in public places poses a serious threat to safety. While some claim that lax policies which allow individuals to carry guns in public without undergoing any vetting process deters crime, this is far from the truth.  


Concealed Carry  

Over the last four decades, states across the country have weakened their concealed carry laws. In 1980, 19 states prohibited concealed carrying of firearms in public and 20 states issued permits only if the applicant demonstrated a good reason to concealed carry. Today, all 50 states allow for some form of concealed carry and in over half of U.S. states individuals can carry a loaded gun in some public places with no permit at all. 


Map of states that have state concealed permit laws in 1980 vs 2021

Open Carry 

In most states people can openly carry a firearm in public places without obtaining a permit. An increasing number of extremist groups have leveraged the country’s weak open carry laws to intimidate others and chill public discourse. Armed often with semi-automatic rifles, these individuals have taken advantage of weak open carry laws to gather outside of polling places, courthouses and government buildings to intimidate those who disagree with their beliefs.  

Stand Your Ground  

As record numbers of people living in the U.S. carry guns in public over two dozen states have simultaneously passed or strengthened stand your ground laws. These laws overturn centuries of jurisprudence, allowing people to avoid criminal prosecution for the use of deadly force even when the person could easily and safely retreat. These laws can escalate conflicts and are associated with increases in gun violence.  


Understanding New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen

In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the most consequential Second Amendment case since 2008, the Supreme Court struck down a piece of New York's concealed carry permitting law. In doing so, the Court specifically noted that the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a gun in public and reshaped the way all courts must evaluate gun laws moving forward. This panel discussion dives into the legal, policy, and public health implications of the Court's decision.

The Solutions

Research consistently demonstrates the harmful effects of public carry. States should strongly regulate concealed carry of firearms to help protect the public. States should prohibit open carry of firearms in sensitive places like polling places, government buildings, and regulate open carry in places where open carry can intimidate and chill free speech. States should repeal stand your ground laws.  

In 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that individuals have a right to carry a firearm for self-defense outside of the home. This ruling struck down the discretionary element of some concealed carry laws. Despite this ruling, states maintain the ability to regulate guns in public through robust concealed carry permitting requirements, restrictions on open carry, and self-defense laws that require a duty to retreat before using deadly force if safe retreat is possible.   

Regulate the Concealed Carry of Firearms

States should strongly regulate the carrying of concealed firearms in public by requiring a rigorous permitting process. States should additionally prohibit the concealed carry of firearms at protests, demonstrations, and in sensitive places such as schools, hospitals, government buildings, and polling places. Congress should oppose any legislation requiring concealed carry reciprocity between states given different permitting standards across states. 

Repeal State-Level Stand Your Ground Laws

States should repeal Stand your ground laws. These laws create a “shoot first, ask later” culture of violence. The proliferation of gun carrying by the public due to the passage of permissive concealed and open carry laws make stand your ground laws even more dangerous. 

Prohibit Open Carry of Firearms

 States should prohibit the open carrying of firearms in public places. In the absence of state prohibitions of open carry in all public places, states should prohibit the open carrying of firearms at protests, demonstrations, and in sensitive places such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings. This prohibition is the most equitable approach to preventing gun violence and political intimidation as it applies universally to the population. 

The Evidence

Weakened Concealed Carry Restrictions Associated with Increased Firearm Assaults, Violent Crime, Shootings By Police, and Rates of Firearm Workplace Homicide
  •  Increased firearm assaults. A 2023 study conducted by Center faculty found significant increases in firearm assaults in states that relaxed concealed carry permit restrictions. The research team examined what happened when 34 states weakened restrictions on concealed carry and found that weakening of state concealed carry laws was associated with a 9.5% increase in firearm assaults. The study also found that allowing individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors to became eligible to obtain a concealed carry license was associated with a 24 percent increase in firearm assaults.1 

  • Increased violent crime. A widely regarded 2019 study debunked the theory that more people publicly carrying concealed firearms reduces violence. Using various statistical methods and analyzing changes to laws from the 33 states the authors estimated that 10 years after states enacted shall-issue laws, they experienced violent crime rates 13-15% higher than would have been expected if such a law was not enacted.2 

  •  Increased shootings by police. A 2022 study conducted by Center faculty examined whether lax public carry law were linked to changes in shootings by police. They found that these shootings increased by 12.9 percent in 10 U.S. states that relaxed concealed carry restrictions between 2014 and 2020.3 

  • Increased rates of firearm workplace homicide. A 2019 paper conducted by faculty at the Center examined the impact of permissive public carry laws on homicides that occur at the workplace. The authors found that state shall-issue concealed carry laws were, on average, associated with a 29% higher rate of firearm workplace homicides.4 

Concealed Carry Laws with Live Firearm Training Requirements and Violent Misdemeanor Prohibitions Reduce Rates of Gun Violence

A study conducted in 2023 by faculty at the Center found that concealed carry permitting laws, which required live firearm training, and allowed permits to be denied if the applicant was convicted of a violence misdemeanor, were associated with reductions in violence. The study found that when states adopted permitless carry and lost the ability to require live firearm training, they experienced a 32% increase in gun assaults; when states lost their ability to deny a concealed carry permit to someone convicted of a violence misdemeanor, they also experienced increases in gun assaults.

Open Carry Laws May Contribute to Armed Intimidation, Political Violence, and Insurrectionism

While there is limited academic research examining the impacts of lax open carry laws on armed imitation, there are a growing number of scenarios where open carry has escalated conflict at protests and rallies, contributed to intimidation of government workers and citizens, and promoted the agenda of far-right hate groups.

Stand Your Ground Laws Associated with Increased Gun Homicide Rates

A study examining 23 states that passed stand your ground laws found that passage of these laws was linked to an 8 to 11 percent increase in the monthly gun homicide rate, translating to an additional 700 gun deaths each year.


Defending Democracy

Read more about the threat open carrying and lax public carry laws pose:

Image of the Capitol Building, The events of January 6th showed the world that the threat insurrectionism poses to democracy in the U.S. is not hypothetical-it was foreshadowed by a long history of incidents connected by a common theme: a desire to disrupt a democratically elected government with violence.

Our Work 

The Center’s work in this area focuses on the growing body of evidence showing that the deregulation of civilian gun carrying leads to more violence, including firearm homicides and shootings by police. Center faculty have authored reports debunking myths that proponents of right-to-carry put forth and examining armed insurrectionism, researched the impact of campus carry (guns on campus) legislation, and conducted public opinion polling on concealed carry. 

“Over the past decade, we've seen an accelerated deregulation of concealed carry. States are increasingly abandoning the permit requirement in favor of permitless carry and some of the strictest laws face litigation. Our work highlights the risks of allowing permitless carry and the need for lawmakers to think critically about permitting mechanisms that might reduce that risk.” 

Alex McCourt, JD, PhD ’19, MPH
Assistant Professor  

Journal Articles and Reports

1. Doucette ML, McCourt AD, Crifasi CK, Webster DW. (2023). Impact of changes to concealed-carry weapons laws on fatal and nonfatal violent crime, 1980–2019. American journal of epidemiology.  

2. Donohue JJ, Aneja A, Weber KD. Right‐to‐carry laws and violent crime: A comprehensive assessment using panel data and a state‐level synthetic control analysis. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. 2019 Jun;16(2):198-247. 

3. Doucette ML, Ward JA, McCourt AD, Webster D, Crifasi CK. (2022). Officer-involved shootings and concealed carry weapons permitting laws: analysis of gun violence archive data, 2014–2020. Journal of urban health.  

4. Doucette ML, Crifasi CK, Frattaroli S. Right-to-carry laws and firearm workplace homicides: a longitudinal analysis (1992–2017).  (2019. American journal of public health.  

5. Doucette ML, Crifasi CK, McCourt AD, Ward JA, Fix RL, Webster DW. (2023). Deregulation of public civilian gun carrying and violent crimes: A longitudinal analysis 1981–2019. Criminology & Public Policy. 

6. Carey, T., Roskam, K., & Horwitz, J. (2023). Defending Democracy: Addressing the Dangers of 

Armed Insurrection (2023 Rerelease). Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

7. Degli Esposti M, Wiebe DJ, Gasparrini A, Humphreys DK. (2022). Analysis of “stand your ground” self-defense laws and statewide rates of homicides and firearm homicides. JAMA network open.  



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