Constitutional carry and the art of skinning cats

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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23 thoughts on “Constitutional carry and the art of skinning cats”

  1. Thank you for reminding me of that aspect of the old controversy. I’ve long gotten into the habit of belatedly singing the praises of the state-level activists who often had to work so long and through such frustration to get concealed carry license laws passed in their states. Back in the day I thought they were beating their heads against a wall for no good purpose.

    And of course when some started talking about “Vermont Carry” expanding to other states, well, that was just nonsense, right?

    Yeah, I’ve eaten a lot of crow since then, and quite joyously. Never been so happy to be so wrong. And I forgot all about the people who thought the whole “shall-issue” thing was all a trap. Didn’t know at the time where to come down on that issue.

    I just knew – absolutely knew – that it was all pointless, and we should be bending our efforts to building the underground economy we’d need to keep ammo stocks up when everything was inevitably banned. I’m still not convinced that’s not a good idea, just in case…

    Thanks for the link, BTW.

  2. Great article, Claire. I’m still very much against any sort of “license” for self defenders, but I do appreciate the process we’ve been through to get to where we are.

    We’re working hard to eliminate the “resident” requirement here in Wyoming, as well as getting rid of all (or most) of the insane gun free zones.

    1. I think it’s a safe bet that anyone who is on board with TZP thinks licenses are bullshit.

      Which means the argument, if any, will be how best to go about getting what we want, which is “no steenkin’ licenses”

      I’ll take a license over, “No you can’t do that at all” backed up by force of force. I think one thing that may have helped license-free carry happen was people seeing no harm coming from *licensed* concealed carry.

      I don’t mind incrementalism *in our favor* so long as it doesn’t lead you to some place where further progress is impossible. And clearly licensed CCW hasn’t put us in such a dead end.

  3. Great article, as usual, Claire, and perfect timing. It seems like here in my state of MI, there is a serious movement going on to bring constitutional carry here as well. The group Great Lakes Gun Rights is the force behind it, and I wish them all the best, with my reserved support. I have not checked them out yet, but as soon as I do, I intend to help them in any way I can.
    Here in MI, we have shall issue, after a class, but after all is said and done, the cost of getting your first ccw permit is around 200$ plus. That is a high tax for the exercise of your freedoms.
    We also have open carry, with no permit. Schools like elementary schools are no gun zones, however, if you have a ccw, you are allowed to carry your gun, openly! This is about the dumbest thing I could have come up with, and of course, some agitator has tried to cause harm to the cause by carrying in a school a few times, just to prove how he has rights and all. It has only served to make the anti’s look at us with even more distrust, if possible. I know that some will disagree, but I just don’t think it is wise to poke sticks into bee’s nests when you are trying to get honey. Sometimes diplomacy is a better tactic.
    As far as New York, CA, and Mass? Never is a very, very long time. Patience may bring surprises that we can’t even anticipate.

    1. California’s best hope for even shall issue statewide, or, better yet, REAL carry, is a citizen’s initiative. If passed, and the late turnings give some hope of that, it could not be overturned easily like the sodomite marriage thing was. To claim that right as unconstitutional would be a wild stretch.
      It would take some origanisation, but may yet happen.

  4. The ONLY reason that our traitorous gov, (Butchie) signed the bill was that there were way too many votes that would override any veto he did.


  5. If it is possible to incrementally take your liberties away, it may also be possible to incrementally get them back. The Socialists are very patient and are happy to take our liberties one step at a time. Perhaps the liberty movement would be wise to employ the same strategy but be careful to always keep the end goal in mind along the way.

  6. Hooray! I can see it on the horizon now: the day when it is legal to kill someone as long as it’s with a gun!

    The next step is our great journey is the Gun Incident Tax. True responsibility for our constitutionally protected actions!

  7. I think it is wrong to say that ccw permits are bad. I agree that you should not have to ask the government for permission to carry a gun, but with ccw permits you are legally able to carry, and not having a permit and carrying will bring you a lot of punishment. So being able to carry without threat of punishment is better than carrying with the threat of a lot of punishment.

  8. I spent the first 55 years of my life living in New Jersey and then 2 in the Bronx, where there are no carry permits and truly the most repressive anti-freedom laws in the country. My last 2 in NJ were spent in a very violent gang banger inner city, then I moved in with my now wife in the Bronx which was much better than where I’d been. Then we both together moved to Northern New England where we both carry without permits. But the irony is this is one of the lowest violent crime states in the U.S. My point is I really don’t have the ‘need’ to carry here, but do anyway, just like I did ‘against the law’ where I came from….I never needed anyone’s ‘permission’ to protect myself and those who mattered to me, but the increasing movement towards more and more constitutional carry states is a great thing none the less.

  9. I think it’s a safe bet that anyone who is on board with TZP thinks licenses are bullshit.

    Not quite. I worked for Texas CHL legislation for the seven Legislatures (13 years) it took to get it passed. I’ve been teaching the class for the 20 years since.

    I think one thing that may have helped license-free carry happen was people seeing no harm coming from *licensed* concealed carry.

    1. Licensed carry was possible. If Marion Hammer had held out for Vermont carry we’d still be waiting for Florida, and we’d be lucky to still have Vermont.
    2. Licensed carry provided a visible cohort of gun owners who couldn’t be ignored, and who proved they could be more peaceful than non-licensed people.
    3. Licensed carry threw a spotlight on the HCI and Brady Campaign blood-in-the-streets predictions, showing anti-gun folks for the Chicken Littles they are.

    4. The process of getting licenses drew millions of gun owners deeper into the gun-rights side of the issue.

    IMHO the influence of licensed carry extends much further than just carrying. I believe it changed the direction of the whole gun rights argument.

    Are we likely to see constitutional carry in Massachusetts, New York, or California any time soon? Ha!

    Up until 2012 I told anyone who asked that Illinois would get concealed carry when Hell froze over.

    1. Not quite. I worked for Texas CHL legislation for the seven Legislatures (13 years) it took to get it passed. I’ve been teaching the class for the 20 years since.

      By “bullshit” I meant that requiring people to have them is bad. I also maintained it was less bad than forbidding carry completely.

      I didn’t get the sense that you approved of them (except as an alternative to no carry, when those were the sole two options on the table) so I think we’re actually in agreement.

    2. Interesting thought about the licensed carry helping the unlicensed carry. I had never thought about that. In any instance where ever a victory occures there have been some hard working dedicated folks doing most if not all for those who ride along and reap the benefits. It is that way in AZ. A small group of folks decided to make it happen and lo and behold they have. We have about 13,000 members in our AZCDL (Arizona civilian defense league) and even with the easies possible way set up by our group to help you send a ltr to your representative, only about 10% do it. Disgusting to say the least.
      Lynn McFadden
      Member, AZCDL

  10. The control of subjects by fedgov never ends… the feds have created rules with the powere of law, to register privately owned drones. That or 10 years in jail and/or a $27,000 fine !

    This tyranny will only stop when the people decide to confront the .gov people with threats to their well-being.

    The tyranny continues.

  11. Another big hope for freedom is the group Students for Liberty which was created in 2007 and now has about 3,000 groups around the world. In colleges here and maybe in the rest of the world in colleges too.
    One of the drop out students in Brazil led millions of people to protest against the corrupt government.

  12. The FAA’s Drone rules are in direct violation of a law passed by Congress forbidding them from licensing recreational model aircraft. There are several lawsuits over it and I refuse to license my quad-copter (a drone is a large, unmanned aircraft flown for surveillance or with weapons). When a government agency directly ignores a legally passed mandate, we have serious problems.

  13. Was Charles Curley in Wyoming by 1993? I thought he was still in Ft. Collins then. But, then again, that all seems so long ago that everything blurs.

  14. Yes, time blurs the movement, but I DO remember here in Colo that the Columbine fiasco made our POS governor at the time…….yeah, ol’ what’s his nuts….. to duck the shall issue concealed carry that was about to be birthed. RMGO, which was relatively virginal at the time, would schedule protests against the guv, and the Johnstown radio station would give a shout out for us warm bodies to protest at the venue where the guv was speaking or supposedly present : guv mansion in the snow, Holliday Inn in Ft Morgan in the snow, Marriott or whatever the name was then in Denver [17/Welton], The protest at the hotel in Longmont, etc, etc…… It is all fuzzy now, with the drama and infighting but we were way infuriated at our wheat-dick-governor and the Sheriffs who wanted to keep the “may issue” parameters: like sheriff Pat Sullivan in Arapahoe county, a pansy sawed off only one who later was convicted of liking boys and selling drugs and had preferential sentencing at his trial in the Just-Us-System. It was quite a ride then and THANKS to all who participated who are now flung to the far corners by the wind. Soapweed

  15. Claire briefly addressed a point which I believe warrants further expounding.

    One of the most potent effects of our enemies’ efforts has been to de-normalize gun ownership. If we win every legislative and litigative battle over the next 5 years but fail to instill an understanding and appreciation of the meaning and purpose of the 2nd Amendment, we will have lost, and any gains made will evaporate as those we’ve failed reach voting age.

    Every time we are too scared to talk to our kids about guns, too scared to let them see those 30-round mags in the safe, too scared to take them out shooting, or too scared to let them see us uneventfully and responsibly going about our day with a sidearm, that is a victory for those who want us extinct.

    This is the battle that CCW proponents have been fighting and winning… the battle to re-normalize the concept of owning and carrying a gun, not just at home but in every aspect of going about your daily life.

    This was the approach very successfully used by the gay rights movement, regardless of what you may think of their cause. The loud presposterously-flashy queeny types got a lot of flack from the “serious” activists, but ultimately it was they who moved the Overton Window such that the rest of the movement became perceived as normal and acceptable. We have much to learn from their tactics and success.

    The “new normal” is what we make it.


    1. * If we win every legislative and litigative battle over the next 5 years but fail to instill in the next generation an understanding and appreciation of the meaning and purpose of the 2nd Amendment…

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