As of last week, 24 states have decided to let law-abiding adults carry handguns in public without a license. That policy, known as “constitutional carry,” strikes critics as self-evidently reckless, while supporters think it improves public safety.
Both sides in the long-running debate about the practical impact of reducing legal barriers to public handgun possession can cite studies to support their position. But beyond that empirical question is a moral and constitutional issue that may render it moot: If people have a fundamental right to armed self-defense, should they need the government’s permission to exercise it?
Because the proliferation of constitutional carry laws is a relatively recent development, research on its consequences is nascent. But there is a substantial, decidedly mixed body of research on an earlier shift: from “may issue” laws, which give government officials broad discretion to grant or deny applications for carry permits, and “shall issue” laws, which give licensing authorities little or no discretion as long as applicants meet a short list of objective requirements.
Only nine states still have “may issue” laws, one of which (New York’s) is the focus of a case that the Supreme Court will decide this term. The rest either do not require permits or make it relatively easy to obtain them.