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'Constitutional Carry' laws gaining popularity in last 7 years

In March, Indiana lawmakers passed a law allowing law-abiding Hoosiers 18 and older to open or conceal carry a handgun without a license.

INDIANAPOLIS — Some of the loudest opponents of permitless carry laws are the police. They spoke out in Indiana, Texas, and Kentucky but that didn’t stop lawmakers from passing “constitutional carry” laws.

Officer Jeremiah Fritz, with the Shively Police Department in Kentucky, was one of them when lawmakers did away with the conceal carry law in 2019.

“At first, it made me really nervous,” Fritz said.

Because he’s trained to spot guns, Fritz notices firearms while out doing everyday things.

“Being in the gas station, on calls for service, you started looking around, and you see a bulge in someone's jacket or under someone's shirt,” Fritz said.

It makes Fritz more alert as an officer, but Sgt. Patrick Allen says the small, rural department hasn’t seen a spike in gun violence.

"I was worried about an increase in crime, which really we haven't seen,” Allen said.

Allen stresses the law has not impacted investigations or the ability to trace guns.

According to data on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, statewide, the number of firearm-related deaths and the rate of those deaths dropped notably the year the law went into effect. The same happened with suicides. However, gun deaths and suicides went back up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gun violence data

David Hemenway, the Director of Harvard University's Injury Control Research Center, acknowledges almost anyone can find a study to fit their world view of the permitless carry issue.

But he thinks these laws do have an impact.

"There's a whole lot of good evidence that where there's more guns, there's more death,” Hemenway said.

He says it’s hard to tell if “constitutional carry” laws are responsible for gun crimes going up or down.

“These are not randomized control trials,” he said. “We're not holding anything else constant ... and so you change the law, and everything else is changing at the same time. And it's hard to tease out what the effect of the law is.”

However, the Rand Corporation, a research organization, reports the majority of studies show permitless carry laws "may" increase violence, and there's no evidence those laws reduce violence. 

RELATED: 1 month until gun permit requirements change in Indiana: What Hoosiers need to know

Hemenway thinks if there was more money put into researching guns the effects of these laws would be clearer.

"For 25 years, the federal government has not funded gun research, and so there's so much stuff we don't know that we should know,” Hemenway said.

Part of a 1996 federal spending bill limited the CDC’s ability to research gun violence. Years later, the rule also applied to the National Institutes of Health and prevented the CDC & National Institutes of Health from advocating or promoting gun control, which had a chilling effect on gun research going forward.

Push for more research in Texas

Victims’ advocates were part of the call against permitless carry laws in Texas before lawmakers decided to allow law abiding citizens 21 and up to carry without a license.

Nicole Golden, with Texas Gun Sense, couldn't stop the law's passage. It went into effect in September 2021; however, she and other activists did convince lawmakers to track the data.

Golden quotes the research from GV Pedia for why she’s worried about Texas’ future.

“It's been shown that states that pass a permitless carry law suffer a 22% increase in gun homicide for the three years after the law's passage, more than doubling the 10% increase for the country overall,” Golden said.

Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon told 13 Investigates he believes having that information over the years will be vital. Eight months in with “constitutional carry,” and he’s still against it.

“You'll have individuals that would openly carry and might be in an area where something happens,” Chacon said. “And they want to take action as a citizen, using their firearm. And as officers then arrive on that scene, you know, I've got potentially multiple people in plainclothes holding firearms. I don't, you know, as an officer, know who is my good guy, who is my bad guy. It’s very concerning. And I think it really makes the officers' job that much more difficult and that much more dangerous.” 

He said officers are already more nervous as more people carry firearms even at large events like the South by Southwest festival.

“It just made for, from my officers’ perspective, a little bit tenser kind of situation,” he said.

Chacon doesn’t like the law but can’t blame it on current gun violence.

“We have seen an increase in violent and gun violence over the last year, but, you know, we're seeing the same kind of increases as other states that don't have the same kind of laws,” Chacon said. “It's simply a rise in gun violence countrywide."

In May, the CDC reported 2020 saw the highest number of gun deaths in two decades. Out of the 13 states with the highest gun death rates, nine of them were "constitutional carry" states, including Kentucky. 

'Constitutional carry' states

Currently, there are 23 so called "constitutional carry" states, but the number keeps growing. Georgia’s law went into effect immediately after its law was signed by the governor. Ohio’s law is going into effect June 13, just a few weeks before Indiana’s in July. Alabama will allow permitless carry Jan. 1, 2023.

13 Investigates learned before 2015, only four states – Vermont, Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming – allowed permitless carry. Seventeen additional states passed “constitutional carry” laws between 2015 to 2021.

The laws aren’t the same, but very similar. The age limit varies. Indiana is part of a handful of states that allow adults younger than 21 to carry without a permit. North Dakota’s law only applies to state residents.

RELATED: Indianapolis gun shop owner reacts to controversial bill eliminating gun permit

Some Second Amendment advocates are fighting for even fewer restrictions. Stephen McBride, with the Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition, wants lawmakers to lower its permitless carry age to 18.

“We’re always working to remove restrictions on our gun laws,” McBride said.

He supports legislation to eliminate gun-free zones.

McBride's organization files lawsuits against Kentucky municipalities that try to prevent gun owners from carrying in their buildings. McBride said he first tries to educate local government about gun laws.

“Occasionally, we run across one who just refuses to accept state law,” McBride said. “When we find a government like that, we’ll take them to court.”

What will and may change?

Officer Fritz said in Shively, the law probably didn’t impact most Kentuckians, but it will impact police officers out on the beat.

"The biggest thing I would say is they're just going to have to be more prepared,” Fritz said. “Be more aware that everybody is possibly going to be armed or could be armed. Not always going to hurt you by any means — everybody has the right to carry guns."

While police won’t be able to ask the same questions about gun licenses, Fritz urges Hoosiers to disclose if they have a gun if an officer pulls them over to prevent an encounter from escalating.

“If they’re going to have a firearm, they have to think, they have to be responsible and have respect to law enforcement and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a gun in here, and it’s in this location,’” Fritz said.

There’s also a push for people to get educated on their gun and the state’s gun laws. “Constitutional carry” doesn’t mean you can take your gun everywhere. Firearms will still be banned from Indiana schools, courthouses and some private businesses.

To see how the law impacts the community, Hemenway suggests we keep an eye on gun deaths, suicides, gun thefts and road rage incidents.

NOTE: This article said there were 21 constitutional carry states at the time of broadcast. There were actually 22. Georgia’s law went into effect in April after the state’s law was signed by its Governor. The information has been corrected in the above written article.

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