The prediction from TTAG’s own Second Amendment Coalition member John Boch that Democratic Party intransigence will keep even the slightly watered-down Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill proposed in the Senate from passage this year is disappointing for many gun owners. Nevertheless, those yearning to tour the USA in their Chevrolets (or their Teslas,) needn’t wait to begin their road trips, as there are a few states that protect the right of non-residents to carry a firearm for personal self-defense without a license.
I started by looking at the database of firearms laws maintained at handgunlaw.us and then moved outward from there, checking local codes as I went. The project started out as an all-encompassing list of all states, but after the magnitude of the project became apparent, this article was pared down to just the top states.
These caveats apply:
(A) Getting firearms laws wrong can mean a truly life-altering period in jail, so the wise traveller will always check local laws, ideally by consulting with an attorney before traveling to a different jurisdiction.
(B) States have different laws concerning where firearms may be carried, and the age at which one may carry those firearms. it is your duty to know and respect those laws. In some states, places such as churches, sports arenas, and places that serve alcohol are considered off-limits even without a posted sign. When in Rome, you’d better do as Romans do, even if you’re a Carthaginian riding an elephant.
(C) This article is for general informational purposes, and is not a substitute for legal advice, nor is it intended to be comprehensive. Please report any errors or significant omissions in the comments below.
Below is a list of the states that protect the right of residents and non-residents to carry a firearm without a license. Some nominally Constitutional Carry states did not make the cut; Idaho and Wyoming only protect the rights of residents to carry sans license; Arkansas’ status is sufficiently muddled that it seemed best to leave it off the list as well. In addition, there are many states that protect the rights of all persons to openly carry a firearm, reserving licenses only for concealed carry, but these also failed to make the cut, since the highest honors only go to states that go above and beyond.
Despite my aspirations for simplicity, however, there are still a few nuances that needed to be mentioned; there is no section of the law where legislators love to slip in hidden landmines more than in the firearms law section, after all.
Travellers should also be aware that the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act (18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(B)) is of special concern in a Constitutional Carry state. The GFSZA requires a license for carriage of a firearm into a School Zone; the language of the law technically requires that the license be issued by the state in which the school zone is located, without allowance for reciprocity or “constitutional carry” status.
This has never been tested in court. As a result, if a state issues licenses to residents, but not to non-residents, travellers could theoretically run afoul of this. The wise traveller will avoid being a hero when it comes to federal firearms laws unless willing to deal with the considerable legal and financial consequences.
THE RECIPROCITY HONOR ROLL
Highest Honors: The Vermont Club
These states have gone above-and-beyond to equally protect the rights of both non-residents and residents to carry a firearm without a license equally. The states had to fully and equally protect the rights of both residents and non-residents to carry a firearm without a license, and treat residents and non-residents equally for any rules concerning licenses. The highest honor club is named after the one state that has consistently protected the right of the people to keep and bear arms since the earliest days of the Republic.
The list did not take into account differences in rules about where one could carry; to meet the cut here, the primary requirement was that (a) the state had to have Constitutional Carry and (b) there could not exist any inequities in how the state treated residents vs. non residents.
(1) Arizona Home to Col. Cooper’s Gunsite Academy, the Grand Canyon State has long been a place where gun culture has been strong. It enacted constitutional carry in 2012. Carriage of a firearm into places that serve alcohol for consumption on the premises is barred without a license. Arizona maintains its own licensing system for residents and non-residents, and recognizes licenses from all other states–however, residents of states with enhanced licenses should check to see which license is required. Handgunlaw.us reports that Arizona only honors Idaho’s enhanced permit. There may be others. Check before you go.
(2) Mississippi The Magnolia State enacted constitutional carry just last year, famously signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant while he had a holstered GLOCK, a Bible, and a copy of the Reagan Diaries on his desk. Mississippi continues to issue licenses to residents and non-residents.
Mississippi honors out-of-state licenses from all other states.
Travellers should be aware that Mississippi’s Constitutional Carry law requires firearms to be carried on the body, in a “sheath, belt holster or shoulder holster or in a purse, handbag, satchel, other similar bag or briefcase or fully enclosed case….” So no ‘Mexican Carry’ if you’re Biloxi-bound.
(3) Vermont The original Constitutional Carry State, Ethan Allen’s home state has protected everyone’s right to keep and bear arms since its founding by the elegant solution of not passing any law on firearms licensing in the first place.
Unorthodox, but it seems to have worked.
As a result, Vermonters are a little out in the cold as a result, since they can only carry firearms in states that either protect the right of non-residents to carry without a license, or by obtaining a license from a state that grants them readily to non-residents that is honored in other states, such as Utah. Also, everyone in Vermont might be in technical violation of the Gun Free School Zones Act anytime they enter a school zone while otherwise legally carrying a firearm. So there’s that. But on balance, Vermonters seem to be okay with that trade-off. Efforts to enact laws banning private transfers of firearms in recent years have gone nowhere.
Despite the GFSZA flap, Vermont stays on the list, because it treats residents and non-residents equally. It’s not the Green Mountain State’s fault that the feds wrote a badly-worded law. Besides, what are they going to do? Arrest everyone in the state who carries a firearm while driving through a school zone?
Well, that’s the list. Only three of them. Every other state discriminates — even if only slightly — against non-residents when it comes to firearms.
These states offer full protection for the right of all persons to carry a firearm without a license, but there was some inequity in their treatment of non-residents related to firearms carry. They are still well ahead of the pack when it comes to the other states in the Union.
(1) Alaska. In addition to being within sight of Russia, Sarah Palin’s homeland has a libertarian streak. Accordingly, it became the second constitutional carry state in 2003. The Last Frontier maintains its own licensing system for its residents. It recognizes all other state licenses, but does not issue licenses to non-residents.
(2) Kansas The Sunflower State is a relative newcomer to Constitutional Carry, having only enacted its law in 2015. It continues its own licensing system for residents. Kansas only issues non-resident licenses to military personnel and their dependents stationed in the state.
(3) Maine The Pine Tree State joined the Constitutional Carry club in 2015. Licenses are still required in certain special circumstances. As of this writing, Maine.gov advises that a license is required to carry a firearm in certain places and during certain activities:
* Acadia National Park (Maine Permit required; 12 M.R.S. §756) NOTE: Pursuant to 25 M.R.S. 2001-A (2)(F), Maine will recognize a concealed handgun permit issued by another state to its resident if that state recognizes Maine’s resident concealed handgun permits. A resident permit from that state is valid for concealed carry of a handgun within Acadia National Park
* State Parks (Permit required; open carry not permitted; 12 M.R.S. § 1803(7))
* Regular archery hunting-deer only (Permit required; 12 MRS § 11403)
* Employees’ vehicles on work premises (Permit required; vehicle must be locked and firearm must not be visible; 26 M.R.S. §600)
Maine continues to issue licenses to both residents and non-residents. Maine’s official website states that “Maine will recognize a concealed handgun permit issued by another state to its resident if that state recognizes Maine’s resident concealed handgun permits. The website then lists fourteen states with which it has signed reciprocity agreements. Handgunlaw.us, however, says that Maine licenses are recognized in many more states, and lists twenty-seven states whose licenses — it says — should be recognized under that rule. Whether a traveller wants to risk the chance of a potential hassle, or simply obtain a Maine non-resident license if any of the above locations / activities are on the agenda is a judgment call. Finally, Maine only recognizes out-of-state licenses issued by the bearer’s state of residence.
While Maine does issue non-resident licenses, cost $60.00, while resident licenses only cost $35, which kills their Vermont Club membership, given that Maine requires a license for carry into certain areas, and given that they don’t recognize all out-of-state-licenses, this smells a little like fleecing the visitors.
(4) Missouri Clarence Thomas once said, “if you want to be deprogrammed from any kind of cult, go to Jeff City,” and just last year, the legislators in Jefferson City, Missouri showed signs that they were being deprogrammed from the gun control cult by enacting Constitutional Carry. The Show-Me State continues to issue licenses to residents; it does not, however, issue them to non-residents other than military personnel and their spouses present in the state. Missouri does recognize licenses issued by all other states.
(5) New Hampshire Despite its ambitious nickname, the “Live Free or Die” state only became a constitutional carry state in 2017. It still issues its own licenses to both residents and non-residents. New Hampshire, however, only recognizes licenses issued by states that recognize New Hampshire licenses. That plus the newness of the state to Constitutional Carry (it hasn’t been on the books for more than six months yet,) kept them from receiving the highest honors.
(6) West Virginia The Mountain State is another newcomer to the world of Constitutional Carry, enacting its law only over the veto of Governor Ray Tomblin last year. It continues to issue licenses to its residents, but not to non-residents. West Virginia only recognizes out-of-state licenses from states that honor West Virginia’s.
DISCLAIMER: The above is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice on this subject, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. Firearms laws change regularly, and you must always research the law before traveling to a different state, as what was legal there in the past may not be in the future.
Let Shaneen Allen’s story be a stern warning to everyone.