A History of U.S. Handgun Carry, 1976-2021

by Larry Arnold, TxHGA Legislative Director, larry@talonsite.com

 

The 2011 version of this history is cited in “the Amici Curiae Brief of The States of Arizona, Missouri, And 21 Other States” for the Supreme Court case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Keith M. Corlett.

United States

Over the past five decades the idea that an ordinary American should be able to carry a self-defense handgun in public spread across the U.S. For a graphic illustration of the expansion see http://www.gun-nuttery.com/rtc.php.

1976 to 1986: Getting Started

In the United States the history of modern licensed carry started with Georgia. In 1976 that state’s lieutenant governor, Zell Miller, introduced what became the model for later laws. His effort was inspired by an NRA director and former border patrolman, Ed Topmiller. The heart of the law was that the job of administering the shall-issue permit process was given to a non-law enforcement, elected official, the Probate Court Judge.

Georgia joined a handful of other states allowing the carrying of handguns, including Vermont, where no license has ever been required; New Hampshire, with a 1923 law; Washington, which made issuance almost mandatory in 1961; and Connecticut, where in 1969 a Handgun Review Board was established to minimize arbitrary denials.

The Indiana Sportsmen’s Council, assisted by the NRA-ILA, passed a mandatory issuance law in 1980, then had to sue the state police and other agencies and elected officials into compliance.

A trend started, with license laws passing in Indiana in 1980, Maine and North Dakota in 1985, and South Dakota in 1986.

1987 to 1988: Florida, the Media Storm

The national media ignored handgun carry until 1987, when Marion Hammer tackled Florida. Anti-gun folks were horrified. “Concealed carry would turn Florida into the Gunshine State.” “Blood would flow in the streets.” “Fender-benders would turn into firefights.”

The fight was tough, but the Unified Sportsmen of Florida succeeded. The dire predictions? A year later the president of the police chief’s association, who had opposed the bill, was asked if he had kept track of all the problems the law caused. “There aren’t any,” he said.

1989 to 1998: CHL Sweeps the U.S.

Florida opened the way. License laws swept through Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 1989; Idaho and Mississippi in 1990; Montana in 1991; and Alaska, Arizona, Tennessee and Wyoming in 1994. Then came 1995, with Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, Utah, and Virginia. In 1996 Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina passed laws, and West Virginia passed it again, their state supreme court having struck down the first one. Alaska, in 1998, had to override a governor’s veto to remove restrictions from their law.

1999 to 2001: Columbine Puts CHL on Hold

In 1999 several more states were considering licensed carry, including Colorado. Then, on April 20, two students at Columbine High School killed a teacher and twelve students and injured twenty-four students. Experts predicted the anti-gun backlash would reverse the spread of handgun carry, and indeed it did result in a delay.

2002 to 2007: Picking Up Stragglers

In 2002 New Mexico passed the first licensed carry bill since Columbine, only to see it struck down by a judge. Anti-gun forces had added a provision allowing cities to opt out, and an anti-gun judge used this anti-gun provision to invalidate the law, saying that the New Mexico Legislature could not cede this authority to cities. The next year the New Mexico Legislature responded by passing legislation without the provision.

Also in 2003 Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri passed shall-issue laws. Kansas and Nebraska went shall-issue in 2006, with Kansas having to override their governor’s veto.

Alaska amended its carry law in 2003 to join Vermont by allowing no-license concealed carry. However, the state retained a shall-issue handgun license for purposes of reciprocity and National Instant Check System exemption.

Gun owners in Wisconsin had a long road. Concealed carry legislation passed their assembly in 2004, 2005, and 2006 but they were unable to override their governor’s vetoes. They were one vote short in 2006.

2008 to 2011: The Supreme Court Speaks

Then the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in, first with District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, confirming an individual right to keep and bear arms. In 2009 McDonald v. Chicago applied that principle to the states.

Congress passed two laws, one expanding concealed carry in national parks, and the other allowing firearms to be checked on Amtrak trains. They went into effect in 2010.

Arizona passed a no-license carry law in 2010, like Alaska retaining their shall-issue license. Iowa also made its CHL truly shall-issue, effective January 1, 2011.

In 2011 Wyoming passed a law allowing unrestricted carry for residents, which went into effect July 1. They retained shall-issue license.

Wisconsin elected a new governor. Scott Walker signed their licensed carry law in 2011, and it went into effect November 1.

In Illinois state legislators voted 65-32 in favor of a shall-issue handgun license. Unfortunately, the state required 71 votes to pass legislation restricting local communities’ regulatory power, so Illinois remained the only no-carry state. Passing handgun carry laws was never easy.

2012: Sandy Hook and School Faculty Carry

A December, 2012 school shooting in Connecticut reignited the gun-control issue, but this time the results were split. Sandy Hook Elementary School was a textbook “gun-free” school zone, with just-updated security and rapid law enforcement response, and Connecticut had strict gun control. Yet 26 innocent people, most of them children, died.

The states that already favor gun restrictions, including Connecticut, hurriedly passed new ones, in some cases resulting in mistakes that had to be re-legislated. Many of these new laws were challenged in court, and in Colorado, for the first time in the state’s history, two state senators were recalled in a voter backlash.

In a number of gun-rights states the reaction was to rethink the “gun-free school zone” philosophy. Larger city school districts moved toward more armed school resource officers or police departments, while many smaller districts, for the first time, allowed faculty to carry self-defense handguns.

2013: The Last Holdouts

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December, 2012, that it was unconstitutional for Illinois to ban licensed carry. After much debate Illinois passed a shall-issue carry law. The first Illinois concealed carry gun licenses-about 5,000 of them-were printed and mailed March 1, 2014. As of the first day of 2015, there were more than 90,000 active concealed carry license-holders in the Land of Lincoln.

February of 2014 saw the 9th U.S. Circuit Court rule that California’s “show good reason” requirement for a carry license was unconstitutional. That ruling also affected Hawaii, and the U.S. Territory of Guam. Guam passed a shall-issue law March of 2014. California and Hawaii are still appealing.

Then the nation’s capital was called on the carpet. In 2014 Palmer v. D.C. struck down that city’s ban on handgun carry outside the home. After much wailing the City Council passed a restrictive discretionary-issue law similar to New Jersey’s. On January 27, 2015, D.C. Police announced that they had issued eight licenses and denied eleven, out of 66 applications. Their procedure headed back to court.

Also in 2013, with Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming no-license carry successful, Arkansas passed their version, in what became a preview of another wave.

2014-2021: No-License Carry

Maine and Kansas passed no-license carry in 2015. In 2016 the trend spread to Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi and West Virginia. North Dakota and New Hampshire came on board in 2017; and Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Kentucky in 2019.

With the inauguration of an openly anti-gun administration after the contentious 2020 election, five states passed no-license carry, including Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. The Louisiana Legislature also passed a law, which Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed.

The current handgun carry status, as of 2021, is 41 shall-issue states, 20 unrestricted carry states (19 also shall-issue), no states with concealed carry banned, and eight with restrictive discretionary carry.

Looming on the 2022 horizon is a Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Keith M. Corlett. This case asks whether the requirement of “Good Cause,” where the state can decide that a qualified applicant doesn’t need a carry license and arbitrarily refuse to issue one, is a violation of the Second Amendment. A favorable 2A ruling would affect the eight “discretionary issue” states, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

Nationwide, every state that has adopted a shall-issue handgun carry system has maintained it, loosening initial restrictions instead of tightening them, establishing a national standard for public safety.

Texas

The first Texas law against concealed and open carry was “An Act to Regulate the Keeping and Bearing of Deadly Weapons, Law of April 12, 1871, Ch. 34, §1, 1871 Tex. Gen. Laws 25” passed as part of the Reconstruction. That law was not substantially modified until 1995.

In many ways the Texas process was typical. The push started with proposed laws in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989 (the Texas Legislature meeting only on odd-numbered years). The 1991 attempt came closer to passing, but failed to gain enough support in the Legislature, and was amended to death.

73rd Legislature, 1993

In 1993 CHL returned again, and this time the big state media let loose with the typical “blood in the streets” predictions, both in quotes of anti-gunners and echoed on the opinion pages. They called for the people to contact their legislators. The People did, and popular support for the law caught the media by surprise.

Then Governor Ann Richards weighed in with the news that she would veto any CHL law the legislature passed. Politically, that should have been the end, but popular support would not let the issue die.

Trying to find something the governor would sign, the 73rd Legislature ended up passing a law that only called for a statewide referendum on CHL, not authorizing anyone to actually set up any program. Governor Richards vetoed it anyway, saying that the people of Texas didn’t need to vote on something like licensed concealed carry.

74th Legislature, 1995

Two years later the 74th Legislature passed Senate Bill 60, and the new Governor George W. Bush fulfilled a campaign promise to sign the first Texas “Concealed Handgun License” bill.

Throughout the long struggle to get a concealed handgun law passed for Texas there were a number of people who risked their political lives to accomplish what many thought might be an impossible task. Two stand out.

One is Texas Senator Jerry Patterson, who sponsored and shepherded a number of the bills, including the successful 1995 effort and the equally important 1997 revision.

The other is Suzanna Gratia, who rose from losing both parents in the 1991 mass-killing in Killeen, to provide essential testimony at a critical time. As Suzanna Gratia-Hupp she became a Representative in the Texas Legislature and served several terms, always speaking up for gun owners.

The law went into effect September 1, giving the Texas Department of Public Safety about three months to write all the procedures, design the paperwork, and train enough Qualified Instructors to teach the required course DPS wrote. They did it.

About 2,000 newly-minted Qualified Handgun Instructors began teaching the ten-to-fifteen-hour CHL new-license class September 1, facing an initial flood of about 200,000 applicants. The new concealed handgun licensees started legally carrying January 1, 1996. It was anticlimactic, when the predicted bloodbath failed to materialize.

There was an initial surge in “No Handguns” signs on businesses that had been convinced the knuckle-dragging CHLs would invade in their camo clothing, tromping through stores in muddy boots spitting tobacco everywhere and running decent customers away. Instead, it was the decent customers who politely informed store owners that unless the signs came down their business would go elsewhere. Six months later “No Handguns” signs were an endangered species.

75th Legislature, 1997

The most important bill, House Bill 2909, addressed a loophole creating a conflict between concealed carry rules and alcoholic beverage license regulations. This made a revision of the law necessary. That was accomplished, and went into effect September 1, 1997.

HB 2909 also established the “30.06” sign as the only one property owners could officially use to ban concealed carry. More significantly, that same bill also effectively removed hospitals and nursing homes, amusement parks, places of worship, and government meetings from the list of places where concealed carry was automatically prohibited. However, it did so by adding Penal Code §46.035(i), “Subsections (b)(4), (b)(5), (b)(6), and (c) do not apply if the actor was not given effective notice under Section 30.06.” This became the most confusing part of the CHL law.

76th Legislature, 1999

In 1999 I tracked 95 pro and anti-gun bills through the Texas Legislature, of which 14 passed into law.

The anti-gun folks came back with bills to prohibit firearms anywhere on a school’s property, and to reinstate the prohibition on carrying in a place of worship. Both were handily defeated. A number of pro-gun bills also failed to pass, and would be revisited in subsequent sessions. These included an effort to clarify the definition of “travelling,” carrying in a car, lowering fees for veterans, securing the privacy of licensees, concealed carry on college and university campuses, and allowing military personnel to qualify for a CHL at 18.

Senate Bill 717 did become law, protecting legal firearm and ammunition manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits.

77th Legislature, 2001

In 2001 I tracked 71 bills, 8 of which passed.

The 77th legislature added one restriction, House Bill 1925, prohibiting possession of any firearm within 1,000 feet of a place of execution on the day of an execution.

House Bill 1837 added some noise-restriction lawsuit protection for shooting ranges.

A bill to deny concealed carry in a place of worship, but with a provision that the church or synagogue could allow carrying, failed, as did a bill prohibiting carrying in school parking lots and driveways. On the pro-gun side, bills reducing veteran’s fees and securing licensees privacy failed, as did a flawed bill extending the license period from four to five years, and a bill that would have kept cities and counties from using PC 30.06 to ban concealed carry in government facilities.

78th Legislature, 2003

In 2003 I tracked 56 bills, 13 of which passed.

The 78th legislature passed Senate Bill 501, banning government agencies from using PC 30.06 to exclude licensees from carrying, establishing the right to carry in public facilities.

House Bill 1704 effectively eliminated the six-month residency requirement for getting a Texas CHL.

Most importantly, House Bill 3477 eased the requirements for reciprocity, and made the elected Attorney General responsible for agreements. As a result, within two years the number of reciprocal states jumped from eight to twenty-seven.

Bills to assure licensee privacy, allow concealed carry on Lower Colorado River Authority property, and expand firearms possession on school campuses failed, but so did a proposal that would have extended CHL training and required a psychological evaluation for licensing.

79th Legislature, 2005

In 2005 I tracked 59 bills, 19 of which passed.

A number of pro-CHL bills passed the 79th Legislature. HB 225 extended renewal licenses from four years to five, and eased the requirements for states whose licenses Texas recognizes. HB 322 allowed military personnel to get a CHL at 18, and cut the new license fee for active military in half, while HB 1038 cut the renewal fee for seniors. HB 1483 allowed payment of CHL fees by personal check or cash. HB 1831 eased eligibility requirements for a person with an old deferred adjudication.

The most significant legislation, House Bill 823, attempted to change the definition of “travelling” to allow unlicensed carry in a personal motor vehicle. However, this law proved to be controversial, with several district attorneys claiming that it failed to actually accomplish its aim.

House Bill 582 started out by adding stun guns to the list of prohibited weapons, banning possession by almost everyone. However, it was amended to make it illegal to take stun guns and tasers from law enforcement officers, along with their handguns and pepper spray.

Bills ensuring licensee privacy and allowing concealed carry on LCRA property again failed to pass, as did a bill prohibiting concealed carry in school parking lots and an “assault weapons” ban. Also failing was the first attempt at restricting employer gun bans in parking lots.

80th Legislature, 2007

In 2007 I tracked 60 bills, 16 of which passed the Legislature, but one was vetoed.

The 80th Legislature passed HB 233, waiving the license fee for active and newly-discharged military and cutting the fee for all veterans in half. HB 991 passed, ensuring privacy for licensees by eliminating the procedure for anyone to find out whether a person is licensed.

In House Bill 1815 the Legislature revisited car carry, restoring the “travelling” rule to its former state and including a private auto as “premises under the control of the person,” solving the problem and allowing the carry of a loaded handgun, out of sight, in a car, truck, or motorcycle.

Most importantly, Senate Bill 378 removed the requirement to retreat before using justified force or deadly force, and provided an affirmative defense against civil suits for justified self-defense.

HB 1839 made the renewal class valid for ten years, with online renewal in between. SB 535 finally allowed concealed carry on LCRA property. Post Katrina, SB 112 prohibited seizing firearms during a disaster. HB 2112, which would have prohibited carrying in school parking lots passed, but was amended so it just prohibited exhibition of firearms.

An employer parking lot bill also failed, as did one that would have expanded the no-guns area of an airport.

The bill Governor Perry vetoed, HB 1503, would have extended to assistant district attorneys, assistant criminal district attorneys, and assistant county attorneys expanded carry options their bosses already have.

81st Legislature, 2009

In 2009 I tracked 55 bills.

The 81st Texas Legislature ended with a five-day Democratic filibuster over the voter identification bill, which left a legislative logjam of other major legislation and a last-day Senate meltdown. Much of the pro-gun legislation proposed in the 81st Legislature stalled out, including campus carry and employer parking lot bills.

But several bills were amended into the Department of Public Safety funding bill, which provided:

  • Licensees still have to display their CHL and driver’s license for law enforcement, but the penalty of suspension was removed.
  • Instructors will only have to go to Austin to renew their certification every four years. In the other legislative years they can renew online.
  • Instead of four-page carbon-copy TR-100 Class Completion Certificates assigned to individual instructors costing $5 apiece, instructors will generate or download their own CHL-100s.
  • All application materials were made available on the internet.
  • Delinquent school loans are no longer disqualifying for a CHL.
  • Any conviction that was set aside, voided, or any manner invalidated will no longer be a “conviction” for CHL purposes.
  • In order to be disqualifying for CHL purposes, a “conviction” must be classified as a felony both at the time it was committed and at the time of application for a CHL.

82nd Legislature, 2011

In 2011 I tracked 50 bills, seven of which passed, but one was vetoed.

There were two fierce battles in the 82nd Legislature, campus carry and parking lot storage. The parking lot storage bill, Senate Bill 321, passed. It keeps employers from prohibiting employees from securing legally-owned firearms and ammo in company parking lots, while it protects employers from liability for the firearms.

Six campus carry bills were proposed, and there were enough votes in both the Senate and House to pass House Bill 750, but parliamentary rules kept it from coming to the floor of the House of Representatives.

HB 25 legalized the carrying of handguns in boats the way they are in autos. HB 2560 allowed foster parents with CHLs to carry in their cars. SB 766 protected shooting ranges.

House Bill 242 started out making administrative changes affecting which law enforcement officers qualified for retired and off-duty carry. By the time it was vetoed by Governor Perry it had morphed into prohibiting texting while driving.

83rd Legislature, 2013

Because of a mass school shooting December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, gun rights became a hot topic in the 2013 Legislature. I tracked 114 bills, 19 of which passed.

In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy the Legislature passed three “school protection” bills aimed at faculty carry. Under Texas law, a school district could already authorize employees to carry handguns on campus by issuing a written policy, or giving individuals written authorization. The Legislature sought to codify the process.

House Bill 1009 invented a new category of law enforcement officer, the “school marshal.” These volunteers would have very limited authority, no pay, and would usually have to keep their handguns locked in a safe. School districts had a tight limit on the number of school marshals they could employ.

Senate Bill 1857 tasks Department of Public Safety with writing a training course to qualify CHL instructors to conduct school safety training.

The third bill, Senate Bill 17, would have required DPS to set up a no-cost training program for two teachers per campus who had CHLs, and additional training for districts willing to pay. To pay for the program, the bill would have established a state fund accepting voluntary gifts, with the Department making up any shortfall. The bill passed the Legislature, but given two much better bills, Governor Perry vetoed SB 17.

General campus carry for colleges was once again blocked, but SB 1907 does allow college students with CHLs to secure firearms in their cars on campus.

Senate Bill 864 shortened the initial license class to four to six hours, and House Bill 48 eliminated the renewal class.

The most welcome CHL change, House Bill 3142, eliminated the semiauto/non-semiauto handgun categories. Applicants can shoot any type of legal handgun, .32 cal. or greater, and carry whatever they want.

Travelers should have benefitted from HB 333, a new requirement for a hotel with a restrictive firearms policy to place that policy on their reservation website and include information about it in written confirmations. However, this law was generally ignored.

Under SB 299 licensees still had to carry so the average person doesn’t know they’re armed, but it will be harder to prosecute if, for instance, their gun prints through their shirt. Also, they may legally display the firearm if they are justified in using force, instead of waiting until deadly force was justified.

Switchblade knives were removed from the list of prohibited weapons by HB 1862.

84th Legislature, 2015

In 2015 I tracked 122 bills, 16 of which passed, but one was vetoed.

Senate Joint Resolution 22 was a Texas Constitutional amendment adding a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. It passed the Legislature, and was voted into effect by the People of Texas in the November, 2015 election. It added Section 34 to Article I, the Texas Bill of Rights.

House Bill 910 changed the Texas Concealed Handgun License to a License to Carry a Handgun, by adding an open-carry option for licensees. This law became effective January 1, 2016, and allowed open carry in a “belt or shoulder holster.”

Senate Bill 11 opened public college campuses to licensed concealed carry, but prohibited open carry. Private colleges were permitted to opt-out, and most did so. Schools were given a lead-time, with carry on four-year schools effective with the 2016-2017 school year, and two-year schools the 2017-2018 school year.

House Bill 905 added the possession and carry of knives to the Texas preemption law, ending county and city regulations.

Other laws relaxed some of the restrictions in the original school marshal law.

HB 3390, the law Governor Abbott vetoed, would have required written agreements if someone fired a projectile across a property line.

85th Legislature, 2017

In 2017 I tracked 144 bills, 14 of which passed.

The Charleston, S.C., Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, June 17, 2015, prompted House Bill 421, which was amended into Senate Bill 2165. It allowed volunteers with a license to carry, to join church protection teams while carrying.

House Bill 867 removed most of the remaining limitations on school marshals, allowing the schools more freedom to decide their procedures.

National sports venues started prohibiting off-duty law enforcement officers to carry into their venues, and Texas responded with House Bill 873, banning the practice.

House Bill 1935 redefined knives, removing the archaic list of prohibited knives in favor of simply defining a “location-restricted knife” as one with a blade longer than five and a half inches. Carry of such knives is protected almost everywhere licensed carry is allowed.

The licensing process was revised, with House Bill 3784 providing for online classroom instruction, Senate Bill 16 reducing the new and renewal fees to $40, and Senate Bill 63 eliminating caliber requirements for the Proficiency Test.

86th Legislature, 2019

In 2019 I tracked 157 bills, 24 of which passed, but one was vetoed.

House Bill 302 keeps property owners from prohibiting firearm ownership by condo owners or renters. House Bill 446 removed knuckles from prohibited weapons, and legalized carrying a club except in certain areas. House Bill 1177 expanded carry when evacuating or reentering a disaster area.

Most importantly, prodded by confusion after the First Baptist Church shooting, in Sutherland Springs, November 5, 2017, Senate Bill 535 removed the prohibition on carrying in a religious institution, eliminating the main source of confusion over Penal Code §46.035(i), which required PC 30.06 or 30.07 notification.

The confusing bill Governor Abbott vetoed, House Bill 1168, would have tweaked the definition of airport secured area to include runways, but strengthened defense while checking firearms.

87th Legislature, 2021

In the 2021 Regular Session I tracked 188 bills, 27 of which passed.

The most significant bill was House Bill 1927, which made Texas the 20th Constitutional Carry state, and substantially rewrote Texas law regarding carrying weapons. It legalizes the carrying of a firearm by a person who “is 21 years of age or older and not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing the firearm,” in most places persons who now have a License to Carry a Handgun can. Under the new law there are 14 listed locations where non-licensed carry is prohibited, with licensed carry allowed in a few of them.

The good news is that the revision did away with the PC §46.035(i) “does not apply” section which created so much confusion. The bad news is that it created five such sections, allowing licensed carry only, on several premises unless signs prohibiting licensed carry are posted.

The other 26 bills which passed are mostly limited in scope, for instance removing the “belt or shoulder holster” requirement, and allowing open carry in any holster.

Firearm-related bills, pro and con, filed in special sessions went nowhere, as Democrats opposed to voting-related bills fled the state to deny the House of Representatives a quorum.

Today

In the 25 years since the Texas CHL program started, more than 3,800 instructors serve more than 1,600,000 active licensees. As with all the other states where Americans can legally carry self-defense handguns, it’s working just fine.

 

Click here for the 2011 Version.