On Friday, March 25, Governor Butch Otter signed SB 1389, making Idaho the ninth state to adopt constitutional carry (aka unrestricted carry or permitless carry).
Back in the day, we knew this as Vermont carry, after the one-and-only state whose residents were legally free to tuck guns in their pockets or purses or under their clothing without first asking their state government for permission. Vermont had been that way for generations. And for all those generations, they remained alone.
But now … oh my.
In some ways Idaho’s bill isn’t a huge change from its existing laws. Idaho residents already had constitutional carry outside city limits; SB 1389 merely extended it to cities — over the objections of police chiefs, Bloomberg’s Everytown, and the usual hoplophobes who cried the usual cry of “blood in the streets!”
In other ways, what a very, very big deal this is.
For one, the bill explicitly acknowledges the individual right to bear arms and that said people grant only limited powers to state governments:
The legislature hereby finds that the people of Idaho have reserved for themselves the right to keep and bear arms while granting the legislature the authority to regulate the carrying of weapons concealed. The provisions of this chapter regulating the carrying of weapons must be strictly construed so as to give maximum scope to the rights retained by the people.
Like all such bills, it’s full of legalisms that hardcore freedomistas won’t appreciate (for instance, permitless carry is only for those 21 or above; those 18 to 20 must still get permits, though those permits are “shall issue”).
But for some of us who’ve been around a long time … it’s a bloody miracle.
Let me take you back to the day
It was a dark day. 1993 and 1994. A rabidly anti-gun president held the White House. A Congress composed of rabidly anti-gun Democrats and wishy-washy Republican “leaders” like Bob Dole stood ready to give Bill Clinton more service than Monica Lewinski ever did.
Wham! They hit us with the Brady Law. Wham! They hit us with the Ugly Gun Ban. Over the next several years, they hit us with more laws to restrict guns, give more funding to anti-gun enforcement, and in general extend the powers of both the federal government and local police against We the People.
Dark days indeed.
In 1993, I used my smoking-hot 1200-baud modem to dial into a gun-rights bulletin board in Colorado — half the country away from my Pacific Northwest home. And for me, that’s where I first encountered hopeful change — though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
The Internet, though it existed in the scientific and academic communities, was not yet a thing for ordinary people. But we were reaching out to find each other, anyhow. Some via FidoNet bulletin boards (BBSes) like the one I mentioned, which had been set up by and for fans of writer and gun advocate L. Neil Smith. Or a bigger FidoNet operation, the Paul Revere Network (PRN — where I first met TZP co-founder Brad Alpert). Others gathered local friends and huddled around short-wave radios, where a handful of firebrands (some as crazy as moonbats, but that’s another story) were beginning to agitate against the looming federal takeover. Many began to gather in the real world to form militias.
I was soon running up $300-a-month phone bills dialing cross-country to various gun-rights and Bill of Rights bulletin boards. (My wallet and I were both so relieved when subscription Internet came along shortly thereafter.) But that first Colorado bulletin board remained my mainstay as long as FidoNet ruled the dawning e-world.
Quirky little Vermont and the people who saw bigger things
It was on those primitive BBSes that I first heard the term “Vermont carry.”
Maybe it was the term itself, which hinted at the quirk of one small and quirky state. Or maybe it was just the hopelessness of the times. But it never dawned on me that Vermont carry had a chance of slipping outside the boundaries of Vermont. If asked to give odds, I’d have put it at a thousand to one against.
The “shall issue” concealed carry permit movement was the only bright spot for guns at that moment. It had been gaining ground since the late 1980s. But for me that was no bright spot at all. I saw state-issued permits not only as unlawful government control, but worse, as a sneaky way to gather data on gun owners for eventual confiscation.
On that Colorado BBS, a Wyoming activist, Charles Curley, had a lively debate going on with L. Neil Smith. The two were friends, but on one issue they ardently differed. Charles was working with fellow activists to get shall-issue concealed carry permits in Wyoming, which Neil saw as a betrayal of true freedomista principles.
I was privately in Neil’s camp, but I liked Charles (with whom I soon had a seven-year romance) so I didn’t say much. But where Charles really made my head spin was with his claim — preposterous! — that he and his fellow Wyoming ccw activists were consciously and deliberately setting things up to move eventually from shall-issue to pure Vermont carry.
I simply didn’t see how giving state governments more control (as I viewed it) could ever result in less control, eventually. Just did not believe it possible. Especially in those dismal days.
But these steady, patient activists were beginning a major change. I just couldn’t see it. They worked. And they worked. And they got major court judgments in their favor. And they worked some more.
Today, seven states have permitless concealed carry for every lawful gun owner and two (Idaho and Wyoming) have it for their own residents, though visitors still require permits from their home states.
It began in 2003 with Alaska, and continued through Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, and Maine. Successes were far between at first, but the pace is picking up. This month alone, both West Virginia and Idaho got on the freedom train. The West Virginia legislature had to override their governor’s veto. Although Idaho’s Butch Otter signed without quibble, both houses of the Idaho legislature passed the bill with impressively veto-proof margins (27 to 8 in the Senate and 54 to 15 in the House).
And there’s more. Oklahoma allows residents of constitutional carry states to carry discreetly within its borders. Puerto Rico has constitutional carry (following a lawsuit), though that’s being appealed. Other states have permitless concealed carry outside of city limits or allow it if the weapon is unloaded or in an “enclosed case” (and a woman’s purse or a man’s backpack counts as an enclosed case). Or on a motorcycle. Or on horseback.
Yes, the laws remain quirky and imperfect. (There’s no such thing as a perfect law.) But virtually every change has been in the right direction. And activists continue the march toward constitutional carry in many more states.
Are we likely to see constitutional carry in Massachusetts, New York, or California any time soon? Ha! But I can tell you that a lot of us who were around in the dark old days of 1993 and 1994 never thought we’d see even this much, ever, in so many places.
And “this much” is a lot. A hell of a lot. Better yet, we’re going to see more.
Do I now approve of the “shall issue” permits that laid the groundwork for this? Nope. No way. But even I have to admit that the grassroots “shall issue” ccw movement gave birth to the constitutional carry movement. And constitutional carry is an unreservedly good thing.
Back in the day — those dark old days of seemingly unstoppable federal overreach — I thought we’d have to fight (real “blood in the streets”) to restore our gun rights. Of course, we may yet have to fight to preserve our freedom.
But thanks to the new and expanded gun culture across the land — a culture in part built and normalized by the very activists I doubted — We the People are becoming an ever more formidable power.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible. I wasn’t a part of making it happen. In my eyes it will forever remain a mystery of darned-near miraculous proportions.
It definitely goes to show that there can be a lot of ways to skin the proverbial cat.
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