Weapons have allowed mankind to overcome the natural world, provide for self-defense, and wage war against enemies. They have also resulted in innumerable crimes, injuries, and deaths. And weapons that are concealed, as opposed to those that are in plain sight, often result in injuries and fatalities that would not have happened had the gun been obvious. That's because the participants in the confrontation, argument, or fight may have increased the hostility level based on the assumption that all that could happen would be a pushing match or fist-fight, and that one party could always walk away. Instead, one party pulls out a hidden gun and tragedy results.
In an attempt to prevent conflicts from escalating in this way, all states have made it a crime to carry a concealed weapon, with few exceptions. To learn more about the gun laws in your state, see Gun Control Laws, and click the link to your state under the section entitled “Gun Laws by State”.
Learn about the penalties for Assault with a Deadly Weapon.
Carrying a Concealed Weapon
While state statues differ (often significantly) on the types of weapons that are prohibited, they share the following characteristics. Known as the “elements” of the crime, these characteristics must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecutor in order to obtain a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon. These elements are explained below.
A carried weapon is one that moves with you, or one you have in your possession. Having a knife hidden in a pocket, for example, constitutes carrying a weapon because whenever you move, the weapon moves with you. However, actually moving is not required. You can, for example, carry a weapon if you have it in your pocket while you are asleep. Also, you can carry a weapon if it is not physically in your possession, but merely within easy reach or control. For example, you can carry a weapon if you have it hidden under your seat while driving a car or otherwise have it available for immediate use.
It's not enough for you to simply carry a weapon to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. The prosecutor must also prove the “concealed” part. Concealment means that a person would ordinarily not be able to view the weapon if that person met you on the street, or in the ordinary course of an interaction. Having a weapon that is only partially concealed, or one that is concealed from only a particular angle, is usually not enough to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, though state laws do differ on this point. For example, some states require that the entire weapon must be viewable by an ordinary person, and even partially concealing a weapon can be enough to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon.
Weapons Rights and Restrictions
The right to keep and bear arms is a federally protected right, and one that is also reflected in state constitutions and laws. The laws that criminalize carrying concealed weapons have to take these rights into consideration, while at the same time restricting weapons use to prevent harm. Because of these diverging interests, concealed weapons laws typically share the same limits:
- Specificity. Concealed weapons laws specifically limit the kinds of weapon prohibited, such as knives, firearms, or explosives. However, many of these laws are even more specific. For example, some states prohibit carrying a pocket knife, but only one with a blade longer than 4 inches.
- Location. When state laws prohibit carrying a concealed weapon, they often also allow for an exception when a person is on personal property or a place of business. Though state laws differ widely, you are generally permitted to carry a concealed weapon while you are in your home or your property Your home can be anywhere you live or property you own, though you do not have to be the legal owner to be able to carry the weapon. For example, you can rent an apartment and still have the right to carry a weapon. When it comes to a place of business, you can typically carry a weapon if you are protecting a business place you own, but that right doesn't necessarily extend to employees.
Concealed Carry Laws
Almost all states allow you to carry a concealed weapon (specifically a firearm) as long as you first obtain a permit. Each state has different requirements for what a person needs to do to obtain a concealed carry permit, but they usually involve similar elements.
- Age and ability requirements. Applicants must typically be at least 18 or 21 years old and must be of sound mind, meaning they must not have been judged mentally incompetent by a court.
- Residency. Applicants must be a United States citizen and be a resident of the state in which they apply for the permit.
- Application. Applicants must fill out a concealed carry application and submit it to a state government agency--often the local law enforcement agency—along with an application fee.
- Safety training. Applicants must complete a firearms safety or firearms training course conducted by a certified instructor.
- Criminal background. Applicants must not be under indictment nor have been convicted of a felony.
Additionally, if you are granted a concealed carry license you must carry it with you whenever you have the weapon. You'll also have to present the license to a law enforcement officer if the officer demands it or asks you if you have a weapon. In some states, if you're carrying a lawfully concealed weapon and come into any contact with a law enforcement officer, you must identify yourself as a concealed weapon carrier.
Defendants convicted of a carrying a concealed weapon can face significant penalties. Like other laws, carrying a concealed weapon can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the state's laws and the circumstances. A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by fines and up to a year in jail, while felonies have larger fines and prison sentences of a year or more.
- Fines. A conviction for carrying a concealed weapon can result in a fine. Fine amounts vary widely depending on the state.
- Jail. Jail times for carrying a concealed weapon can range from a few days in a local jail for a misdemeanor to up to 5 years in prison.
- Probation. Instead of sending you to jail, a judge can also sentence you to probation. A probation sentence requires you to comply with the court's specific rules for a year or more, such as maintaining employment and not committing other crimes. If you don't violate the rules, your sentence ends once the probation period runs out. If you violate the probation rules (called the “terms and conditions of probation”), you can be sent back to jail to serve the original jail sentence.
Research crimes and their punishments by state.
Talk To A Lawyer
Anytime you're facing a charge for carrying a concealed weapon, or want to know what your state's laws allow you to carry, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area. There is a lot of information out there about concealed carry laws, and not all of it is reliable. The laws surrounding weapons and your right to carry them are often very complex, and can change rapidly with new legislation or court rulings. An experienced, licensed attorney who knows the law and can advise you about your rights is the best way to ensure that you are protected at every stage of the criminal justice process.