Right to Carry - An Overview


by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

November 20th, 2003




In 1987, Florida bucked a national trend by passing legislation based on the principle that the great majority of the citizenry should be able to obtain a license to carry concealed weapons.  There would be no requirement to demonstrate special need, celebrity status or political connection.  The applicant, upon demonstrating basic firearms capability and knowledge, would receive a license unless the State could prove ineligibility due to criminal behavior or diminished capacity. At that time, less than ten states had this type of “Shall Issue” laws on the books and the great majority of states prohibited concealed carry altogether.

That same year, a concealed handgun bill was laughed off the floor of the Texas legislature. The major media outlets treated the entire idea as a joke.  Eight years later, the smiles froze, the Democrat governor was history and the Texas Right to Carry bill was law.  By 1995-6, the domino effect was in full swing with numerous other states following with initial legislation or shall-issue reform. In no small part, the rapid spread of Shall Issue States was fueled by heartland reaction to the election of Bill Clinton and his success with anti-gun legislation. By late 2003, the number of States with Right -To -Carry programs has reached the mid-30s and the growth in reciprocity among the states is almost impossible to track or even fathom. 

The actual number of current licenses is unclear. Florida reports an active license count of just under 334,000. Texas is approaching the 237,000 mark.  Several states appear to have no clear idea how many licenses are in effect, or do not make the figures readily available.  I was able to find six state web sites with reasonably current statistics and added up a conservative 1.1 million active licenses among them (Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Alabama, California-restricted issue 38,000?) . While the overall number of active licenses is obscure, it is evident that the growth rate is profound.  

*In 2003, Florida has reciprocal license recognition with 23 States. Texas Reciprocity covers eight states. Several states afford full faith and credit to out of state licenses regardless of reciprocity.  Alaska has adopted the Vermont Model of Unrestricted carry.*

The Florida-type Right to Carry Laws, while they vary considerably in training requirements and restrictions, have a number of features in common that distinguish them from licensing laws in the more restrictive states.  Successful applicants must have no significant criminal history, full mental capacity and freedom from any evidence of chemical dependency.  Training programs are designed to assure basic knowledge of applicable laws and the capacity to safely handle firearms.

*In 2001, 35,070 unlicensed Texans were convicted of major and/or gun related crimes. In the same period there were 180 convictions among Concealed Handgun License holders*

The Texas program is not atypical.  Instructors, depending upon prior credentials, receive twenty-six to forty hours of training for a lesson plan that includes teaching methods, applicable weapons laws, the legalities of use of force, safe handling and storage and basic marksmanship.  Considerable emphasis is placed upon non-aggressive dispute mediation, interaction with law enforcement, and child safety issues. The course takes a minimum of 10 hours and follows a curriculum guide developed by the Texas Department of Public Safety Concealed Handgun Licensing Bureau.

The prospective licensee may expect to complete a standard application, submit affidavits affirming understanding of relevant laws; allowing contacts for a background check; and a checklist affirming specific aspects of eligibility.  Two color passport pictures are necessary as are two fingerprint cards (State and FBI) .  Many instructors are now set up to notarize, take the photographs and prints but if they are obtained outside of the training, the entire process takes about twenty minutes excluding driving time.  

The shooting demonstration is a minimal law-enforcement model with timed fire at three, seven and fifteen yards.  If the shooter is familiar with the mechanics of his firearm, the course of fire is undemanding.

An unrestricted license requires shooting the course with a semi-automatic pistol of .32 caliber or above.  Those who choose to qualify with a revolver are then restricted to carrying a non-semi-auto. 

The fifty question final exam is more an affirmative review of the material than a barrier to passing the course

Between January 1, 1996 and January 1, 1997, approximately 65,000 Texans obtained licenses with the number reaching 101,000 by October 1997.  The first wave of applicants consisted of a large number of handgun enthusiasts, competitors and outdoors people with most of the participating women (17- 20%) taking certification classes with their husbands.  These trends continued in later years but the numbers of non-recreational enthusiasts and single women increased over time. The same is true of ethnic minorities. The first statistical reports in Texas revealed that the number of licensees increased steadily from age 21 through age 48 with 48 being the modal age of license holders.  In 2003 the modal age is 56, representing a substantial increase from the same age group  (7,773). Other states show a slightly younger licensed population but it is evident that the great majority of license holders are 40 + years of age.

Age Distribution Texas Concealed Handgun Licensees –Late 2003

Age 21-29


Age 30-39


Age 40-49


Age 50-59


Age 60-69


Age 70-79


Age 80-89


Age 90-100 (1 license)


Extrapolated from Texas CHL Statistics 236,809

Age Distribution Florida Concealed Handgun Licensees

Age 21-35


Age 36-50


Age 51-65


Age 65 –up


From Florida Handgun license statistical abstract, mid-2003 325,851


Age Distribution Arizona Licenses June 2003

Age 21-29


Age 30-39


Age 40-49


Age 50-59


Age 60-69


From AZ Department of Public Safety  (female licensees = 19.5%)

Racial / Ethnic Makeup of Texas Licenses 1997/2003

White & Hispanic






Oct. 1997  94.6%

214,580    90.58% 




Oct 1997 - 2.7%

12,191 - 5.14%




Oct 1997 - 1.18%

5,179 - 2.18%

Asian / Pacific Islander



Oct 1997 - 1.4%

 3,301 - 0.24%




Oct 1997 - 0.24%

960 - 0.41%

American Indian



Oct 1997 - 0.23%

696 - 0.29%

African-American participation has steadily increased from just under 3% to 5.14% by late 2003.

Arizona - Current Active Licenses and Actions since 1994

Arizona June 2003


















Arizona Department of Public Safety

Texas –Current Active Licenses and Actions since 1996

Active Licenses


Denied 1996 –03






Instructors Trained


Instructors 2003


Revoked 53

Denied 35



Tennessee –Current Active Licenses and Actions since  Inception

Active Licenses


Denied 1996 –03






Tennessee Concealed Handgun Authority

Trends and Tribulations

Such statistics as are available and reasonably trustworthy indicate that the proliferation of legally armed citizens either reduces violent person-on-person crime or, at the very least, has no negative effect on the crime and accident rate.  Nevertheless, Right to Carry remains under concerted attack by the social and political left.   Positive progress is chiefly aided by the removal of Liberal Democrats from the power structure.  The passage of the Texas CHL coincided with the election of George Bush as Governor.  A number of appointees of the previous governor attempted to weaken the law and were put in their place by a conservative and eventually Republican legislature.  The director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage agency attempted to rule that licensees committed a felony by carrying in any establishment that sold beer, wine and liquor.  The legislature rejoined by clearly stating that the intent was that the prohibition is specific to bars and open saloons; that liquor store proprietors are authorized to carry weapons.

The state Attorney General ruled that city, county and state agencies could post public buildings against concealed handgun licensees.  In 2003, the legislature revoked this authority.

·        From 1996-2003, No concealed handgun licensees were arrested for Penal Code 30.06 “ Trespass By Holder of a Concealed Handgun License.”

In 2003, Texas legalized the unlicensed carry of handguns in recreational vehicles (defined as vehicles containing sleeping quarters).  Alaska legalized concealed carry without the requirement of a license.

By contrast, states with entrenched leftist political machines are fighting an uphill battle, both for initial passage and incremental improvement.  New Mexico met with much opposition in the legislature and even after a CCW law was passed and signed by the Governor, leftist activities have managed to block implementation in the courts.  The same trend threatens the recently passed and signed Missouri law where judges appointed by a former governor openly subvert the state constitution.

Change is the only predictable constant and we can’t know what direction it will take. Nevertheless there are some encouraging trends:

Ø      The longer the concealed handgun laws are in place, the greater the participation - and the greater the acceptance of Right-To-Carry by the public;

Ø      About 62% of the population are in favor of licensed, shall issue concealed carry even though the same group supports gun registration, assault weapons bans and waiting periods

Ø      The number of gun owner who own handguns has met and surpassed the number who own rifles and shotguns (Gallup poll)

Ø      The gun culture is growing and diversifying – Pink Pistol now joins the NRA in Second Amendment court cases. There is a slow but steady growth in numbers and percentage of minority licensees.

Ø      There is a growing realization that an ungoverned judicial system is exercising dictatorial authority in many aspects of American life.

Finally, recent events clearly demonstrate that the government cannot protect everybody and is not particularly effective at protecting anybody at all.  Such a realization does much to counteract the bombast put forth by the enemies of individual freedom.

Mike Cumpston

Ed. Note:

For the latest info on Concealed Carry (CCW) laws and state-to-state reciprocity, click the button below to visit Packing.org.

Boge Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Training Certificated Revolver montage



Map- Status of Shall Issue / discretionary concealed carry licenses prior to 1987



Map Status of Shall Issue/ etc license laws in 2003



Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors must take a refresher course and re-qualify every two years, demonstrating proficiency with revolver and auto pistol In September 1996, there were 2992 active instructors. By 2003, the department had trained a total of 3702 and 1411 retained active certification.



Kathryn Schmidt is an atmospheric science major at a Texas university.  She is a superb shot with the heavy revolvers and enjoys sport shooting with her husband. Many Handgun licensees are recreational shooters but a growing number are non gun enthusiasts.



Kathryn shot her proficiency demonstration with an alloy frame Kimber .45.  She is looking at a Kahr 9mm as a potential carry gun.



Kathryn's Kimber .45 in full recoil.



Husband Jared scores the target.  Licensees must score 75% on the proficiency demonstration.  Kathryn’s score comfortably exceeds the 90% standard required of Instructors.



A handgun school SUV.



Instructors provide the initial 10-15 hours course and the 4 hour re-certification and review required for license renewal each 4 years.