The Cornered Cat

Before you read this article, please READ MY DISCLAIMER at the bottom of the page.

Please do not just take my word, or anyone else’s word, about any of these legal issues. I AM NOT A LAWYER and THIS ARTICLE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. You should look up your own state laws and do your own research about how those laws apply to you. If you do not understand anything, ask a qualified expert in your own state law to explain the statutes to you. This stuff is way too serious to simply trust the word of some chick on the ‘net. LOOK IT UP YOURSELF.

Let me start out by saying that there is absolutely no way I can tell you exactly what is legal in your jurisdiction, and what is not. There are roughly a gajillion federal gun laws in America, with another sixty kazillion state, county, and municipal laws beneath those. Every time Congress meets, every time your state legislature is called to session, every time some bureaucratic committee needs to interpret and refine existing regulation, the rules are likely to change.

My purpose in writing this article is to give you a very general overview of how you may legally carry a gun, and then point you to places where you can find the specific information you need.

What’s a Carry Permit?

Except for in Alaska, Vermont, Arizona, and Montana, if you want to carry a concealed handgun with you when you leave your own property, you will need a carry permit issued by your state, or by another state whose permits your state recognizes.

Carry permits have different names in different states. In Washington, a permit to carry a handgun is called a Concealed Pistol License (CPL). In Colorado, it’s a permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon (CCW). In Pennsylvania, it’s a License to Carry (LTC). In Texas, it is a Concealed Handgun License (CHL). The name varies with the state. 1

Not all states issue carry permits, although most do. As of August 2001, 49 states have some provision for citizens to carry concealed weapons (Illinois is the last remaining holdout). Four states allow concealed carry without a permit. Thirty-eight states have "shall issue" carry permit laws, equiring governmental authorities to issue a carry permit whenever a citizen has met a specific set of legal requirements. Nine states have "may issue" laws, leaving the issuance of a permit up to the personal discretion of an individual bureaucrat rather than by the applicant meeting specific, concrete requirements laid out by state law.

Some states require citizens to get a permit simply to own a firearm. This is not always the same thing as a carry permit, though permission to carry may be part of the ownership permit. In Massachusetts, for example, a citizen must get a permit to purchase a handgun, and permission to carry that handgun will be granted or denied depending upon the category of ownership permit which the state agrees to issue. In most states, however, ownership permits are not required.

How Do I Get A Carry Permit?

The requirements for obtaining a concealed carry permit vary from state to state.

Some states have very simple rules, requiring the citizen to pay a fee and perhaps have her fingerprints taken. Other states’ requirements can be more complex. Typically, the state will require a training class, a background check, fingerprints, and multiple fees which go to different agencies within the state and perhaps also to the FBI for the fingerprint check.

All states require that the applicant be permitted to own a weapon under federal firearms laws. Neither felons, nor involuntarily committed mentally ill, nor domestic batterers are permitted to own weapons at all, let alone carry them in public.

You can find your state’s specific laws at Handgun Law dot US.

How Much Does A Carry Permit Cost?

This, too, varies from state to state. The least expensive states are those where no permit is required anywhere in the state.

Among "shall issue" states, the least expensive permit is in New Hampshire, at $10. The most expensive may be Colorado’s, which costs $152 and also requires a separately-purchased class.

Among the "may issue" states, carry permits can become very expensive indeed. Issuance in these states may sometimes depend upon a sizeable donation to someone’s re-election campaign fund. 2

In addition to the raw cost of the permit itself, expect to pay fees for every additional requirement in the law. For instance, if your state requires you to submit fingerprints for a background check, expect to pay a fee to the government office which takes your prints, and another fee to the FBI for processing the prints and making sure your background is clean.

If your state requires a class, the class may cost only a nominal fee, or it may cost hundreds of dollars. The cost will depend upon how many hours of instruction the state requires, and will also depend upon the financial situation of the instructor you choose.

You can find your state’s specific laws at Handgun Law dot US.

What is a Training Class Like?

Not all states require training classes. Of those that require training classes, the specific classes may be quite different. Typical are 4-, 8-, or 12-hour classes, with 4-hour classes being perhaps the most common.

Some states have a very rigid curriculum laid out by law, and in these states there is little difference from one class to another. But in most states, there is no set curriculum and the content may be very different depending upon which instructor you choose.

Several states recognize NRA-certified classes, or require all classes to be taken from an  NRA-certified instructor. This is not surprising, as the NRA is the oldest and largest source for firearms safety training in the country.

A few states require applicants to qualify for carry permits by shooting a course of fire with scored targets. These qualification shoots are usually very simple. For the most part, these qualification shoots do not test for or require excellent marksmanship, and are only given so it is documented that the applicant can safely fire a gun.

Why do so many states require CCW classes, but don’t require students in those classes to prove they can shoot well? This is because the legislators are, by and large, not concerned with whether or not any individual citizen really has the ability to protect herself with the gun she carries. Most states require training simply because, when debating whether to pass a shall-issue law, a common concern is whether firearms-toting citizens will follow the laws governing firearms use, or will misuse their guns by shooting in situations when shooting is not legal. So the legislators often tack on a training requirement to be certain everyone who has a permit to carry a gun will be exposed to the laws about when not to use the gun. For this reason, those who are primarily concerned with learning how to protect themselves should definitely seek out additional training over and above that required by state law.

Once I Have My Permit, Where Can I Carry?

Your state law will spell that out very exactly. If you must take a class in order to obtain a permit, the class will probably cover this in some detail.

Typically, within the state you will be allowed to carry everywhere except places specifically prohibited by law. Commonly prohibited places include many government buildings, schools, bars, and sometimes churches. In addition, some states have laws allowing shopkeepers to post their places of business to prohibit concealed weapons.

The laws about where carry is and is not allowed are very specific to your state. Please look up the law for yourself, and do not take anyone else’s word for it.

You can find your state’s specific laws at Handgun Law dot US.

Will My Permit Allow Me to Carry in Other States?


Most carry permits are honored by at least a few other states in addition to the issuing state. No state has a permit that is recognized everywhere, though Utah and Florida’s permits are both recognized in many other states. If you have a permit issued by one state, you may not carry in a second state unless the second state also honors your permit.

The lists of which states honor which other states’ permits are constantly changing. Visit Handgun Law dot US.

When carrying in a state which recognizes your home state’s carry permit, you must follow local laws about where carry is and is not allowed. Your own state’s laws do not pertain.

Do I Need a Permit to Carry at Home?

Generally speaking, no. But if you live in a state with very restrictive laws, you may need a permit simply to own a firearm, including firearms you keep locked up at home.

For more specific information about carry permits in your home state, please visit Handgun Law dot US.

For more information about legal issues, please visit Cornered Cat’s Legal Resources page.


  1. The usual online acronym for a carry permit is CCW, no matter what your state’s official name for its carry permit may be.
  2. No, that was not a joke. It is the literal truth.