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Are Concealed Carry Permits Public Record?

If you are applying for a concealed carry license for the first time, there are many things to consider. States vary in how they decide who is allowed to carry and who gets to "see" if you're carrying. You may be wondering, will getting a permit to carry make your personal information available for the public record?

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Concealed carry permits are not public record. Of the forty-nine states that offer a concealed carry permit, California is the only state that makes this information available to the public. For more information, it is best to check your state’s freedom of information laws.

Read on to learn more about concealed carry law and the debate surrounding public access to concealed carry information.

Who Can See My Permit Information and Why?

As a rule, most states have made exemptions for CCW permits in their freedom of information laws. There is also no federal database of CCW permit holders.

California is the only state that still provides this information in the public record. That being said, it is important to note that certain information is expressly exempt. 

These redactions are for the safety of the individual carrying. Some items include times and locations when the person would be vulnerable to attack, mental health status, and information regarding other parties (i.e., lawyers, judges, court officials) involved in the licensing process.

Although CCW permit information is generally not public knowledge in the US, that does not mean carrier information is completely private.

While laws vary by state, here are some common examples of who can see your concealed carry permit information:

  • Law enforcement & public safety: While CCW permits are not public knowledge in most states, this information is available to law enforcement. Connecticut also allows the Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services access to this information.  
  • Court order: Court orders can also be made to disclose permit information across several states. This is often for the purpose of providing information to law enforcement or another government entity.
  • Personnel files: This clause is more specific and only applies to two states. In Georgia, any permit holders permitted to carry a gun within a school zone by the Board of Education is in the public record. Additionally, although permits are not in the public record in Delaware, firearm qualifications are included in personnel files.

If you do feel obliged to make your permit public information, certain states allow you to give permission to do so. For example, applicants in Maine can waive their confidentiality by expressing written consent to the licensing authority.

Considering this is a broad summary of CCW permit exemptions, it is important to do your research. Some states have specific stipulations that you may not have considered.

For example, in Indiana, as long as personally identifying information is redacted, CCW permit information can be provided for scholarly or journalistic research. 

Therefore, whenever you apply in a new state, always check the freedom of information laws.

Public Access to CCW Permits: The Debate

In the aftermath of mass shootings involving legally acquired handguns, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, public access to CCW permit information has become a hot button issue. Here is a quick look at both sides of this debate:

In Favor

One of the most prominent arguments in favor of public disclosure of permit information is to provide a check on issuing authorities. 

In 2015, democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray, of Merced County, California, was heavily criticized for composing Assembly Bill 1154 by the Sacramento Bee.

In this bill, Gray proposed to remove addresses and phone numbers of permit holders from the public record, as was currently done for prosecutors, justices, and other public officials. His justification was ensuring the safety of legally abiding gun owners from personal harassment or attack.

However, the Sacramento Bee’s counterpoint stated that hiding this information would only make it harder to determine whether government officials have been granting permits fairly.

Considering law enforcement has a lot of discretion in this decision in California, it may be open to unfair influence.

In fact, there have been multiple accusations in Orange and Los Angeles counties of an unjustified permit granting by government officials in the past.

These accounts include instances of campaign donors who have no “demonstrable” need for carrying a weapon receiving permits. Other instances include highly connected applicants receiving permits without living in the same jurisdiction.

In this case, the issue is not so much who has guns as it is how these decisions are being made. There is a serious concern about the abuse of power at hand. As the Bee states, if “your sheriff had handed out concealed weapons permits like candy, wouldn’t you want to know it?

This would not be an issue if all states were “Shall-Issue”, but that’s a topic for another article.

Opposed

On the other hand, those opposed to CCW permits being public record cite safety as the biggest issue. After all, if someone dangerous knew you had a weapon, could that make you a target for crime?

This became a huge source of contention in 2012 when New York’s The Journal News published an interactive concealed carry permit map of Rockland and Westchester counties.

The map was highly detailed, including blue dots that indicated permit holders who purchased a firearm or updated their license in the last five years. Upon inspection of these dots, one could find every permit holder’s name and address in both counties.

As expected, the release of this information received a huge backlash.

Criticisms include this comment, “So should we start wearing yellow Stars of David so the general public can be aware of who we are??

While some may feel the comparison is overblown, it states a valid concern that has plagued legal gun owners for years.

The National Rifle Association’s legal position is that “Gun owners’ information should be protected, as these are individuals who are simply exercising a constitutional right. Publicly disclosing this information would only be used to harass lawful people.

The harassment of lawful citizens is only one concern. Other, more dangerous possibilities include the potential for a home invasion to steal guns.

In fact, one commenter critiquing the Journal News’s decision inquired why they would publish a map that could be useful to criminals instead of investigating who had possession of guns illegally.

The Journal News’s interactive map was also subject to journalistic criticism by Poynter Institute faculty member Al Tompkins, who stated:

Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule. It is journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege, just as it is to air 911 calls for no reason or to publish the home addresses of police or judges without cause…Unwarranted publishing of the names of permitted owners just encourages gun owners to skip the permitting.

Al Tompkins

The incident highlighted a major consequence of public access to concealed carry permit information. In fact, it moved New York state to provide the option for its CCW permit holders to redact their names from public record.

The move for concealment occurred in February of 2013, only two months after the Journal News debacle.

Final Thoughts

In short, almost all states of the union exempt concealed carry permit information from their freedom of information laws. Since these exemptions vary by state, it is important to research local laws thoroughly. 

Lastly, while it is a hotly debated topic, it is ultimately your business whether you decide to divulge your permit information or not.

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