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Terminology: The Debate Over Constitutional vs. Permitless Carry

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The US Constitution and a revolver acting as a paperweight.

Magazine versus clip. 9mm versus .45ACP. “Assault weapon” versus modern sporting rifle. As gun owners, we like to have these “discussions” amongst ourselves. These discussions can get heated. One of the discussions I’ve had with several people over the last couple of years is Constitutional carry versus permitless carry. I do think there is a difference between the two of them, and I’d like to get into it. It does make me a little unsettled when I hear someone say “Constitutional carry” when they’re talking about a “permitless carry” state.

One of my very good friends has said that Constitutional carry means he can carry a fully automatic GLOCK 18 pistol with a 33-round stick magazine into a school while he is stoned. While I agree that is a lot of freedom, I also see that all of these are infringements. That is what he believes true “Constitutional carry” means. And I’m cool with it. The NFA is an infringement. Magazine restrictions are infringement. Gun-free zones are infringement. Being under the influence, while it’s not a good idea, it’s also an infringement.

When we talk about carrying a firearm for personal protection, we’re often talking about carrying a handgun. Constitutional carry means there are no limits on what, where, and how you carry. In many states, open carry, carrying so others can see you have a handgun on your person, is legal. In some states, it’s legal but not used in practice. Sometimes, Constitutional carry means you can open carry without any prohibitions, but you may need a permit to carry concealed. Which isn’t “Constitutional carry.”

Usually, we talk about “permitless carry” because that is what most of the states have. You do not have to have government permission to carry a concealed handgun into places of business, and while you are out and about living your life. But you still have to follow the restrictions like “gun-free zones” or not carrying in a place that serves alcohol. There can also be restrictions on who can carry, too.

Obviously, there are several states where there is a required training component to getting a carry permit. Sometimes it requires live fire. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes you have to talk about the use of lethal force. Some courses do not cover that. There is a wide variety of what states think you need for their permission to carry a firearm. Some classes are four hours of lecture. Illinois requires 16 hours of class taught by a state-certified instructor. New York requires an 18-hour course to get a carry permit. Some states have approved courses and only accept the approved courses for carry permits. Some states have approved instructors who are the only people who can sign off on your permit or certificate.

As much as I like the thought of national reciprocity, I do not support a carry license granted by the federal government that would work in every state. If you have to ask for permission, you can be denied. If you don’t meet the requirements to make the government happy, then there’s a possibility you could not get the permission to get a permit. If you don’t meet the qualification, you could be denied. If you don’t pass a written exam, you could be denied. That’s not how Rights work. I graduated college in 1992 with a degree and a teaching certificate that was valid for life. When I started teaching in 1994, that “valid for life” certificate now expired in 1999.

I talked about this with New Jersey attorney Evan Nappen. Evan Nappen is the host of Gun Lawyer Podcast. It is one of my two requirements for listening on Sunday mornings along with the Gun For Hire Podcast. Nappen and I also talked about the difference between permits and licenses on Riding Shotgun With Charlie. He says we have a marriage license, but we do not get a marriage permit. His point was that permit means you need to get permission. A license does not. The license just means you pay a fee.

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I talked to another big-name YouTuber about this. He said that he likes to use Constitutional carry in place of permitless carry. His reason is it reminds the anti-gun crowd that we have a Constitution. It’s still in force. And it reminds them that we should be able to keep and carry guns without infringement or government permission.

Tennessee Firearms Association’s Executive Director John Harris has a great article on the TFA’s website about why Tennessee doesn’t have true Constitutional carry. But when we talk about the gun laws in the Volunteer state, we say they have permitless carry. Being in New England, it’s interesting to hear him say they have permitless carry and not Constitutional carry while I still have to please the state to get a license to carry.

Online and in many Facebook groups, people ask questions about carrying in permitless carry states. I completely understand that some people are not as into it as many others. I know that some people have more training than others. I also know that people are vicious on social media when someone asks a question. I do want to educate them and share links from informative websites. I do think we need to have these people on our side and get them up to snuff with their gun education and knowledge. I use and refer people to I know there are others out there but this is what I use when I travel with a firearm.

Recently, I saw someone post asking if they could carry their firearm from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and Maine, which are both permitless carry states. And another one where someone asked if they could carry on a drive from the northeast down to Florida. So let’s talk about the difference between carrying and transporting. Driving north from Massachusetts, you can carry lawfully in both New Hampshire and Maine. In New Hampshire, you do not have the duty to inform if you’re pulled over. But in Maine, if you’re carrying without a permit, you have to inform the police. If you have a permit Maine accepts, then you do not have to inform the police. Transporting through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland could bring up some issues. Of course, in New Jersey even transporting lawfully could get you arrested.

The definitions are pretty simple, but I know that like permitless carry and Constitutional carry, people use one to mean the other. Carrying means a firearm is on your body. To me, it means that the gun is on my hip, in my pocket, or on my ankle. Maybe your purse, fanny pack (I can’t believe they’re coming back), or tactical sling bag. It’s in your personal space and you have immediate access to it. Transporting means it’s unloaded and locked in a secure container. It’s somewhere that you do not have immediate access to. It means the gun is unloaded and there is no ammunition in the locked box or container.

I know this is shocking, but there are different definitions of a “loaded firearm.” In some states you can have a loaded magazine and a pistol in a locked secure container, but the magazine is not in the firearm. You can probably find a police officer that pulls you over and says that it is a loaded gun because the ammunition is in the magazine, and the magazine is in the same container as the firearm. There are some places that do not consider that to be a loaded firearm. There are some states that will allow you to put a loaded magazine into the magazine well, but not have a round in the chamber, and they consider that an unloaded firearm. If you press the trigger, and the gun goes click, they consider that an unloaded firearm. And of course, a loaded magazine with a round in the chamber is considered a loaded firearm.

When I talk about Constitutional or permitless carry, I tell clients that there is a difference. And you still have to follow the state’s laws. Things like the gun-free zone signs, carrying in a restaurant that serves alcohol, or has magazine restrictions. Or informing officers if you’re pulled over. Not knowing the law is not an excuse for breaking the law. If you’re going to be traveling with a firearm in other states, please do your homework.

There are a lot of terms that we use in the firearm community. It would be great if we used the same ones and they meant the same things. There are terms I’ve heard and like. I make them part of my vernacular. If the opportunity arises, I will explain to people what it is and why I use it over other terms.

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