States Where Anyone Can Carry a Concealed Weapon

07/08/2016 03:28 pm ET

Each year, roughly 117,000 Americans are shot, and nearly one in every three of those shot die. Some Americans have responded to the problem of gun violence by advocating for stricter gun laws, while others have armed themselves. Allegedly, the victims of the recent fatal police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana each had concealed weapons, presumably for protection.

There has also been an alarming number of high-profile mass shootings in the last decade, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Orlando. Each incident prompts cries for wide-ranging gun reform on a federal level, with advocates calling for stricter background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on who can own a gun, and where a gun can be carried.

At the moment, gun control laws are primarily determined at the state level. While some states, such as California and New York, have moved to strengthen regulations, others allow practically any adult to obtain a firearm with little trouble. Perhaps just as contentious, eight states currently allow most adults to carry a concealed weapon in public, including Maine and Kansas, which passed laws permitting concealed carry in 2015.

Based on gun laws compiled by the advocacy group Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states where just about any ordinary citizen can carry a concealed weapon. To be considered, a state needed to meet the following criteria: States needed to allow their residents to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public without a permit.

An individual purchasing a gun in these states can do so without first obtaining a permit, submitting to a background check, or undergoing a waiting period.

Gun laws are extraordinarily complex and vary considerably between states. The nature of these regulations depend on a state’s legal and political climate, as well as its culture. While studies are near universal in their finding that more guns lead to more gun violence, rural U.S. states are often exceptions. Vermont and Maine, for example, have some of the nation’s ― if not the world’s ― most lenient gun laws, but they also have some of the nation’s lowest violent gun death rates.

The relationship is not always clear, but there does appear to be a higher incidence of gun violence and firearm death in states with more relaxed restrictions on gun ownership. Of the eight states on this list, seven have above average rates of firearm death, including suicide. Two states on this list ― Alaska and Wyoming ― have double the national firearm suicide rate.

One possible explanation could be that in states with relaxed gun laws, gun ownership tends to be higher, which might lead to higher death rates. In six of the eight states on this list, adult gun ownership is higher than the national percentage of 29.1% of adults who own firearms. In four of these ― Alaska, Idaho, West Virginia, and Wyoming ― more than half of adults own a firearm, each among the top five in the country by this measure.

The potentially greater risk of violence in states with fewer restrictions on purchasing and ownership of firearms is not limited to those states alone. Guns can be purchased legally and in bulk in one state and trafficked to another. In this way not only are firearms sold illegally, but the transactions become extremely difficult to monitor.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a report estimating that nationwide, an average of 14.1 guns for every 100,000 residents are moved across state lines and eventually used in criminal situations. All eight of the states on this list are major sources of guns recovered from crimes committed in other states, including West Virginia, which exports 46.8 crime guns for every 100,000 residents.

To identify the states where anyone might have a gun, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states where permits to carry concealed weapons are not required. All data on state gun policy, including concealed carry regulations, came from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. We also reviewed 24/7 Wall St. also examined 2014 firearm-related deaths data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gun ownership rates for each state as of 2013 were obtained from a study published in 2015 from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The number of licensed gun sellers per 1,000 business establishments for each state are as of 2015 and came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

1. Alaska
> Background check, concealed carry permit, permit to purchase, gun license required?: No
> Gun ownership rate: 61.7% (the highest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 19.7 per 100,000 (the highest)

Few states have more relaxed gun policy than Alaska. The state allows residents to carry a concealed weapon, and requires no background check, waiting period, or license to own a gun. It also does not require firearm dealers to obtain a license, and does not prohibit domestic abusers from buying or owning a gun. Given the state’s very relaxed gun laws, it is no surprise that a nation-leading 61.7% of Alaskans own firearms, more than double the national gun ownership rate of 29.1%.

Higher gun ownership rates tend to coincide with more gun-related violence. This is certainly the case in Alaska, which has the worst annual firearm death rate in the country at 19.7 for every 100,000 residents, nearly double the national rate of 10.3 gun deaths per 100,000 Americans.

2. Arizona
> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 32.3% (25th highest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 13.8 per 100,000 (17th highest)

Arizona prohibits some individuals from owning a gun, including convicted felons, those convicted of domestic violence, and those found by a court to be a danger to themselves or society. However, for those outside those groups, the state is one of the most permissive in the country when it comes to gun laws. In addition to allowing residents to carry a concealed weapon in public, the state requires no background check, waiting period, or license to buy a gun. It does not prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, .50 caliber weapons, or large capacity magazines.

Like many of the states with the least restrictive gun policies, Arizona has a higher than average firearm-related death rate. Also like many of these states, Arizona is a major source of guns used illegally in other states, ranking as the 15th largest exporter of crime guns to other states.

3. Idaho

> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 56.9% (3rd highest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 13.0 per 100,000 (18th highest)

This year, Idaho passed a law allowing its residents to carry a concealed, loaded weapon in public anywhere in the state. This had previously only been legal outside of city limits. Idaho also imposes relatively few restrictions on gun purchases. Guns can be acquired without a license, background check, or waiting period.

Firearm dealers are also not licensed or otherwise limited by the state. Likely as a result, there are roughly 32 firearm dealers in the state for every 1,000 establishments, more than double the national proportion of 18 dealers for every 1,000 businesses and one of the highest proportions in the country. These limited restrictions also likely contribute to the state’s high gun ownership rate. About 57% of the state’s adults owns guns, the third highest such rate of any state.

4. Kansas
> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 32.2% (25th lowest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 11.3 per 100,000 (25th lowest)

In Kansas, guns are prohibited in mental health facilities, places of worship, and public sporting events. However, the state’s gun laws are relaxed in a number of other ways. The state passed a law in 2015 allowing adults to carry a concealed pistol without a license or permit. In addition, the state does not require a background check, license, or impose a waiting period on gun purchases, nor does it limit the number of firearms that can be purchased at any one time.

While the state has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country, gun ownership is only slightly higher than average ― 32.2% of the adult population owns guns compared to a national share of 29.1%.

5. Maine
> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 22.6% (12th lowest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 10.0 per 100,000 (16th lowest)

Maine is one of two New England states, along with Vermont, to permit its residents to carry a concealed, loaded weapon in public. However, unlike some other states on this list, Maine imposes several restrictions on ownership. In 2015, the state passed a law temporarily barring those convicted of domestic abuse from possessing a firearm. In many other respects, however, the state does not impose many of the basic restrictions other states do. No background check, license, or waiting period is needed before purchasing a weapon.

Maine is unusual among states with such lax gun laws in its relatively low gun ownership and gun death rates. Only 22% of Maine’s adult population owns firearms, the 11th lowest proportion in the country. There are 10 deaths for every 100,000 residents annually in Maine, compared to a national rate of 10.25 per 100,000.

6. Vermont
> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 28.8% (20th lowest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 11.0 per 100,000 (23rd lowest)

Vermont’s gun laws are exceptionally lenient even among other states on this list. Vermonters may carry openly or concealed firearms of all kinds anywhere in the state except for on school property or in a court house. There are also no screening processes such as background checks, quantity limits, or waiting periods required under state law. Those who have committed violent or gun-related misdemeanors, the mentally ill, and drug and alcohol abusers in the state are all legally able to purchase a gun.

Despite the lenient gun laws, the state is also exceptional as one of the safest in the country. Vermont’s violent crime rate of just 99 incidents per 100,000 residents in a year is the lowest of any state. The state’s firearm death rate of 11.0 per 100,000 people is also lower than the majority of states. While guns acquired in the state do not seem to be leading to higher levels of violence, Vermont is a major source of guns used in crimes outside the state, according to data published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

7. West Virginia

> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 54.2% (4th highest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 15.5 per 100,000 (13th highest)

West Virginia has scaled back its gun laws in recent years. The state removed in 2012 a requirement that firearm permit applicants be “physically and mentally competent to carry such weapons.” In a move qualifying the state for this list, West Virginia repealed in 2016 a law requiring residents 21 and older from obtaining a permit to carry a hidden, loaded weapon in public.

States with more relaxed gun laws tend to have higher rates of gun violence and deaths. West Virginia has one of the higher rates of gun deaths per capita in the country and nearly double the national rate of gun suicides. According to a report conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, there is another potential consequence to greater ease of purchasing and carrying a gun ― firearms are purchased relatively easily in-state, trafficked elsewhere, and used in crimes. For every 100,000 state residents, West Virginia is the the source of 46.8 guns that are eventually used in crimes in other states.

8. Wyoming
> Concealed carry permit required: No
> Gun ownership rate: 53.8% (5th highest)
> Firearm-related death rate: 15.9 per 100,000 (8th highest)

Wyoming allows its citizens to carry a concealed, loaded weapon nearly anywhere in the state except for in places of worship and bars and other establishments that serve alcohol. The state also does not require background checks, a license, or a waiting period before citizens can purchase a gun from a private source. Buyers can purchase as many guns as they like at any one time. They can also purchase assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, and large capacity magazines. Wyoming gun owners do not need to register their weapons or report when any are lost or stolen.

Like the majority of states with limited restrictions on firearm sales and use, Wyoming has exceptionally high gun ownership and gun violence rates. While 29% of American adults own a firearm, 53.8% of Wyoming adults do, the fifth-highest proportion among all states. The state’s firearm death rate of 15.9 for every 100,000 residents each year is the eighth highest in the country.

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