More than half of the states now allow residents to carry concealed guns without a permit, leading to a sea change in gun habits, according to a study by the leading researcher on the issue.
John R. Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said the result is that fewer people are obtaining permits but more people are likely carrying concealed weapons.
It is happening in new areas and demographics. Lower barriers to carrying means more racial minorities and women are carrying in high-crime urban areas, which should lead to dropping crime rates, Mr. Lott said.
With the addition this year of Alabama, Florida and Nebraska, 27 states now allow concealed carry without a permit — or what is known as “constitutional carry.”
“What that means is it’s a lot less costly, a lot less difficult, for people to carry, and that primarily impacts poor people that live in high-crime urban areas,” Mr. Lott said. “If you want to reduce crime, you have to make it that the likely victims of crime will be carrying. That’s what constitutional carry does.”
In his study, Mr. Lott calculates that 8.4% of American adults have concealed-carry permits. That is down half a percentage point from 2022.
The drop would seem counterintuitive, given the Supreme Court’s ruling in early summer 2022 in a case that struck down New York’s restrictive concealed-carry law requiring residents to prove they needed a permit. The justices said the requirement violated the Second Amendment’s grant of a personal right to possess a firearm and the ability to carry it outside the home.
The ruling nullified similar laws in a handful of other states.
Mr. Lott said the number of permits issued in states where permits are still required rose by 317,185 over the past year. The number of active permits in constitutional carry states dropped even more, by 485,013, leading to the half-percentage-point drop nationwide.
Mr. Lott sponsored a poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates that found 15.6% of general election voters carry concealed handguns.
Florida has the most permit holders at 2.56 million. Alabama has the highest rate of concealed carry permits at 27.8% of its adult population. Indiana is second at 23%, and Colorado is third at 16.5%.
On the other side are California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island, all with less than half a percentage point of the population permitted.
Mr. Lott said the difference between Indiana and neighboring Illinois, where less than 5% of adults have permits, is stark. Illinois residents must pay more than $400 for fees and training required for a permit. In Indiana, the cost is zero.
That, he said, affects not just the number but also the mix of people getting permits.
“So in Illinois, it’s primarily wealthy Whites who live in the suburbs who go and get permits. In Indiana, it’s a lot more poor Blacks who live in high-crime urban areas who go and get permits,” he said.
He said it also has political implications because gun rights devotees may be seeping into some demographics that traditionally skewed Democratic in voting.
Mary Yatrousis, press secretary at gun control group Giffords, called the rise in permitless carry “alarming” and said it would lead to more gun violence.
“Studies show that weakening public carry laws is associated with a 13-15% increase in violent crime rates, as well as an 11% increase in rates of homicides committed with handguns,” she said. “States need to be strengthening their permitting laws, not weakening them.”
The 27 states with constitutional carry cover about 44% of the country’s population. Mr. Lott said South Carolina and Louisiana may join the ranks next year and North Carolina could follow soon afterward, depending on the outcomes of next year’s elections.
He said that is reaching a critical mass and is affecting people’s permit decisions. In particular, people who lived in a constitutional carry state may have obtained a permit to take advantage of reciprocity from a neighboring state without constitutional carry.
Now, however, there is a good chance the neighboring state allows constitutional carry, so a permit isn’t needed for that purpose.
The change in behavior could hurt the work of researchers because permits were one point of “hard data” in a subject rife with fuzzy numbers and guesswork.
“Unlike gun ownership surveys that may be affected by people’s unwillingness to answer personal questions, concealed handgun permit data is the only really ‘hard data’ that we have, but it becomes a less accurate measure as more states become constitutional carry states,” Mr. Lott and his fellow researchers concluded.
The other researchers were Carlisle E. Moody, an economist at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and Rujun Wang, who works at Mr. Lott’s CPRC.
Among their other findings:
• Four states provide permit data by race, and they show the number of new Black permit-holders increased at nearly three times the rate of White permit-holders. Asians were about 2½ times the rate of Whites.
• In Texas, which has race and gender data, Black females obtained new permits at more than eight times the rate of White males.
• Concealed-carry permit holders are “extremely law-abiding” when it comes to their guns, the researchers said. In Florida and Texas, they said, permit holders are convicted of firearms offenses at one-twelfth the rate of police officers.
Mr. Lott said interest in concealed carry has been spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the politics of 2020, when the “defund the police” movement was growing. Many Americans sought to obtain weapons and permits as some police departments were shutting down their approval process.