Can You Conceal Carry in a Gun-Free Zone? Here’s the Answer

Individuals that possess a concealed carry permit are not able to carry a weapon in a gun-free zone as designated by law. However, the consequences associated with these acts of carrying vary by state and even the federal government. Some jurisdictions may be more strict, while others may be more lenient. 

This article will go into detail about what it means to conceal carry, talk about the types of restrictions and laws that are associated with it, provide information about gun-free zones, and describe the differences pertaining to state and federal laws. 

What Is Concealed Carry?

Carrying a Concealed Weapon (CCW), in short, is the practice of carrying a weapon in a concealed manner in public. Concealed Carry is different from open carry, which is the practice of openly carrying a firearm in public.

Concealed carry firearms are hidden from casual observers. All territories in the United States have legalized concealed carry, with Illinois being the last state to pass the law in 2014

However, although it is legal, quite a few states are very restrictive in who can carry a concealed weapon. In order to obtain a permit, there are required criteria that individuals need to meet. These requirements vary by state. 

License / Permit Policies and Restrictions

Each state issues concealed carry permits. But, as was mentioned previously, these permits and regulations vary by state. The Permitting Policies are as follows:


States with unrestricted policies means that individuals within the jurisdictions do not need any form of permit to carry a concealed weapon. In other words, it means an open-carry state.


The territorial states under this type of issuance require that individuals have a license to conceal a weapon. However, this is based on the individual meeting certain criteria as determined by the law. As long as the criteria are met, they can get their permit and do not need authority officials’ permission. 


Unlike shall-issue permits, states under may-issue permitting policies typically grant permits as determined by the granting of authority officials. Authorities are not required to provide any reasoning for the denial of a permit either. 


Territorial states with this type of permit policy do not allow private citizens to carry a concealed weapon in public. There are some exceptions, but it is rare. Some exceptions may include Law Enforcement Officials (LEO), armed forces, or even armed security. The only U.S. jurisdiction that practices no-issue is the American Samoa territory. 

So, depending on what state you live in, or even which part of a certain state, the laws are different for everyone. If you want to find out which permit policies your state follows, you can check out USCCA’s Concealed Carry Reciprocity Map and Gun Laws by State

In the next section, we’ll discuss the federal laws that take place and how they are different from state laws. 

Federal Laws Pertaining to Conceal Carry

Over the years, the U.S. has changed quite a few laws regarding concealed carry. Previously, concealed carry was banned in all states. However, by the late 1990s, there was a turnaround in some states enacting shall-issue laws.

Of course, it wasn’t until 2014 that all U.S. states had some form of a law allowing concealed carry. Below are a couple of federal laws regarding concealed carry that occurred throughout the years:

Gun Control Act of 1968

This act was passed by Congress in order to prohibit certain individuals from being able to purchase guns. Among the list are illegal immigrants and criminals. In order to prohibit these individuals from obtaining permits, they began conducting background checks. 

Furthermore, with this federal law, there were regulations within the firearms industry as well. Transfers of firearms were prohibited to travel interstate. Only licensed manufacturers or importers were given an exception to transfer these guns. 

Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act

This act became effective in 1990. It was authorized by Congress in order to prohibit individuals who knowingly believe they are in a school zone from possessing a firearm. It applies to public, private, and religious schools and a zone of 1000 feet in the surrounding vicinity. It should also be mentioned that this act does not include universities or other colleges. 

The acts listed that were passed by Congress are certainly not the only laws that were enacted; however, these are two of the most relevant to the question at hand. These have led to the reasons as to why conceal carry is not allowed in gun-free zones. 

What Are Gun-Free Zones?

Technically, there is not a standard, agreed-upon definition of what a gun-free zone is. But, in an overall assessment, a Gun-Free zone is, well, an area that prohibits firearms by law. No matter how you look at it, if a person is caught with a firearm in a gun-free zone, they can be charged with the crime. 

These gun-free zones depend on state and federal laws. Federal law applies nationally in the U.S., so federal law will go into effect if there are conflicting cases between state and federal laws. 

As per the federal law in regards to gun-free zones, there are specific areas that definitely prohibit any firearms. For example, public, private, and religious schools per the Gun-Free School Zone Act (mentioned above).

As always, there are exceptions and laws are constantly changing as are seen with faculty and staff being armed at certain schools as well as universities allowing concealed carry.

Another example is military bases – any civilians or personnel are prohibited from carrying firearms on the premises. Military bases have recently become a bit more lenient, though. 

What Is the Purpose of a Gun-Free Zone?

The main purpose of gun-free zones is allegedly to limit the number of guns in the area. Proponents of gun-free zones cite studies that show a positive correlation linking increased violent crimes with an increase in guns. Stanford research professors collected data ranging through the years from 1979 to 2010.

They found evidence that “suggested” an increase in crime, by approximately 8%, was linked to an increase in carrying firearms and the law becoming more lenient in allowing guns in certain areas. 

Another study conducted by Harvard determined that there was a positive correlation between the increase of gun ownership and accidental shootings and domestic violence. The literature review associated more guns with more risk of danger with firearms. 

Some of these reasons are why federal and state laws were created to prohibit carrying firearms in certain locations. But, there are concerns about just how effective these gun-free zones are. 

As with everything, there are studies and evidence countering this research. Some interesting research to note, is as follows:

Noted criminologist John Lott found that, as a group, concealed carry permit holders are some of the most law-abiding people in the United States. The rate at which they commit crimes generally and firearm crimes specifically is between one-sixth and one-tenth of that recorded for police officers, who are themselves committing crimes at a fraction of the rate of the general population.

Between 2007 and 2015, murder rates dropped 16 percent and violent crime rates dropped 18 percent, even though the percentage of adults with concealed carry permits rose by 190 percent.

Regression estimates show a significant association between increased permit ownership and a drop in murder and violent crime rates. Each percentage point increase in rates of permit-holding is associated with a roughly 2.5 percent drop in the murder rate.

The Daily Signal

Concealed carry permit holders are often “the good guy with a gun,” even though they rarely receive the attention of the national media. Concealed carry permit holders were credited with saving multiple lives in:

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

Do Gun-Free Zones Work?

Gun-free zones have become a “go-to” solution to gun violence for some people. However, gun violence still exists, especially in the case of mass shootings, which has caused a sense of fear in a lot of people. 

The only way to further decrease the acts of gun violence is to rethink possible solutions.

There is evidence that suggests most mass shootings and gun violence actually occur in gun-free zones. In fact, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, approximately 94 percent of mass shootings, between the years 1950 to 2018, have occurred in gun-free zones. And while that percentage is very high, it actually used to be higher at 96.2 percent between 1998 and 2015. 

Mass shootings are one of the most significant reasons why there is a debate to keep gun-free zones or eliminate them. The argument for reducing gun-free zones is that individuals with permits to carry firearms would be able to defend themselves and others if a mass shooter were to appear. 

It should be noted, all three of the deadliest mass-shootings in the U.S. occurred in gun-free zones.

Examples of Mass Shootings in Gun-Free Zones

You will be hard pressed to find an agreed upon definition of mass-shootings, but overall it describes a mass killing of typically four or more individuals. The top three deadliest mass-shootings in the U.S. (since 1950) occurred in gun-free zones. They are listed below:

  1. Paradise, Nevada (2017). On October 1st, 2017, Stephen Paddock began opening fire during the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. That day, 58 individuals died. Further, 411 individuals suffered injuries from gunshot wounds as well. This is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. as of 10/2020, especially from a single gunman. 
  2. Orlando, Florida (2016). On June 12th, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire on Pulse Nightclub, an LGBTQ friendly nightclub. Approximately 49 individuals were killed in this shooting and 53 individuals were wounded from the gunfire. It should be noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deemed this shooting as an act of terrorism. 
  3. Blacksburg, Virginia (2007). On April 16th, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho stormed two buildings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech). The shooter had been an undergraduate student at the time. There were a total of 32 deaths from this shooting, along with 17 individuals with gunfire related injuries. 

How Accurate Is the Data?

Data from any study can shift and occur to be more significant, depending on many factors. In this case, the first study had a limited range of years, while their updated version had a much broader range.

Similarly, with the studies mentioned previously, they used a meta-analysis of different articles to come to similar points. It all depends on the information we see. No study is perfect. 

We can say there is a positive correlation that indicates gun-free zones are more prominent in mass shootings.

What Places Can Post Gun-Free Zones?

From federal properties to state premises to private land – there are different laws for each. The federal laws are more significant and carry a heavier weighted crime than the state laws; however, you need to be aware of the differences. 

Federal Locations Banning Concealed Carry Weapons

There are many areas in which federal law has banned the carrying of firearms, whether open carry or concealed carry. The list is quite long; however, a few notable locations include:

  • Federal Building and Courthouses
  • Federal Prisons
  • Airports
  • Postal Facilities
  • Indian Tribal Reservations

Further, according to title 18 section 930 of the U.S. Code (Possession of Firearms and Dangerous Weapons in Federal Facilities), each federal facility or federal court facility is required to post public notices of the prohibition of firearms in order for the code to be effective. 

State Locations Banning Concealed Weapons

TSA security at St. Louis, MO, Lambert International Airport STL.

All states follow the 5 “Ws” (Who, What, Where, When / How, and Why) for people carrying guns in public. However, as was discussed before, some states are more lenient or strict, depending on the circumstances and the law in their jurisdiction. 

There are many areas where state laws, which vary state to state, ban the carrying of firearms. A few notable locations may include:

  • Airports
  • Government-owned Buildings
  • Courthouses
  • Police Stations or other LEO Offices
  • Public Transit
  • State Parks
  • Hospitals or other medical facilities

Of course, there are exceptions to all of these. For example, Oregon and Texas allow concealed carry in hospitals. Or Georgia and New Mexico allow concealed carry firearms in state parks. It all just depends.

Public and Private Businesses Banning Concealed or Open Carry

Businesses are where the law gets a bit tricky. Often you see businesses and buildings posting “No firearm” signs on their property. Now you’d think that if these signs were posted and someone continued onto the said property with, or without, the knowledge of conceal carry, that they would be breaking the law.

Consequences of carrying in a gun-free zone, as posted by the business, can range anywhere from a felony to a non-criminal ticket. 

So, do you have to pay attention to these signs?

The short answer is yes. Even if your state does not strictly punish crimes of concealed carry at public or privately owned businesses, you can still be charged with other crimes.

Keep in mind, a lot of states require signage to fit very specific requirements or the request may not be enforceable.

For example, if an owner were to ask you to leave because you were carrying a firearm, but your state law allows for concealed carry in public places, then you might still be charged with trespassing. Business owners do have a right to have you charged with trespassing on their property, but typically you have to be issued a trespass warning first. 

This might lead you to wonder about larger business chains like retail or restaurants or even movie theatres. While they do have the right to post policies or signage prohibiting the action of carrying a firearm, that doesn’t mean they can legally prohibit you from carrying at their locations. Again, you need to check your local laws. 

Below is a list of nationwide businesses that do not “support” the carrying of firearms in their locations: 

Retail Stores

  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Costco Wholesale
  • Kroger
  • Walgreens
  • CVS Pharmacy

Food and Restaurants

  • Waffle House
  • Panera Bread
  • Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba
  • Chili’s
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Hooters

Sate-Wide Movie Theaters

  • Regal Cinemas
  • AMC Theaters
  • Cinemark Theaters

This is just a shortlist of some nationwide businesses that do not support firearms or weapons on their premises. You can check out their policies via their respective websites. 

Again, these are just a shortlist of businesses that have expressed their disapproval of firearms. However, they do not necessarily say if you are able to legally carry, nor would the laws be the same in each state or jurisdiction. 

Final Thoughts

Carrying a concealed firearm was made legal in every U.S. territorial state as of 2014. However, the types of permit policies in effect vary by state and jurisdictions. The majority have restrictions limiting the issue of permits to individuals. 

Further, depending on the location in which you live, there can be a varying range of consequences associated with concealed carry in gun-free zones. It is illegal to carry a concealed firearm in a prohibited weapons area. 

Businesses, state premises, and federal properties can prohibit weapons from being in their vicinity. However, if the laws are conflicting, Federal laws will supersede state laws. 

Even if your state allows concealed carry, you can still be charged for carrying in a prohibited area. As the laws differ in each state, it is recommended that you research your own state’s laws to see what they say about concealed carry.  

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

Recent Posts