Shall-Issue, May-Issue, No-Issue and Unrestricted States
In thirty nine states, issuing authorities can not deny a concealed-carry application based on nebulous, undefined criteria or personal agenda. Although the state of Washington began the practice of issuing to applicants who met a well defined, objective set of criteria as early as 1961, the practice became legislatively popular following Florida's enactment of objective "shall issue," in 1987.
Generally speaking, "may issue" (or "discretionary issue") laws require that the applicant demonstrate a specific "need", to justify the granting of a license or permit. Within the range and scope of "may issue" states, Alabama and Connecticut are as forthcoming with the issuance of permits and licenses as to be practically "shall issue". In New York, Massachusetts, and California (where rural counties tend to issue permits, but urban ones rarely do), the best descriptor seems to be "at the whim of local officials". Maryland, New Jersey and Hawaii have laws that provide for the issuance of licenses, however, so rarely do officials actually grant a license or permit that they could be classified as "almost non issue".
Vermont allows citizens at least 16 years old, with no felony history, to carry concealed without need of a license or permit. (This right is recognized for both residents and non-residents, within the borders of Vermont.) Similarly, Alaska and Arizona each allow the same to those at least 21 years of age. Optionally for Alaskans and Arizonans, the state offers a permit granting reciprocal carry privileges in certain other states. The permit also exempts a citizen from the NICS background check.
Two states (Wisconsin and Illinois) and the District of Columbia, have no provision whatsoever, for legal concealed-carry.
States with these systems require a license or permit to carry a concealed handgun, issuance of such is at the discretion of local authorities, the issuing authority "may" issue a permit if the citizen meets certain criteria, and the likelihood of issuance within a may-issue state can range, for all practical purposes, from no-issue to a sure thing, for qualified applicants.
California and New York county authorities are given a lot of latitude in determining whether a license or permit will be issued. California ranges from a no-issue in areas like San Francisco, to nearly shall-issue environment in rural counties.
Connecticut law provides authorities very limited discretion in the issuance of a permit.
Maryland law allows citizens to apply for a permit, but if you don't have law enforcement or political connections it is extremely rare that one will be issued (making it effectively a non-issue state).
Alabama, by law, is a may-issue state, but Alabama county sheriffs issue permits to almost all qualified applicants. Thus, in practice, Alabama is very close to being "shall-issue."
States with "shall issue" systems require a license or permit to carry a concealed handgun, and applicants must meet meet certain well defined objective criteria. However, unlike "may issue" systems, a "shall issue" state removes all arbitrary bias and discretion, compelling the issuing authority to award the permit. These laws require that the empowered authority “shall issue” a permit to applicants who meet the criteria defined by law.
Generally, the criteria for issuance of a license include proof of residency within the state, a minimum age, fingerprints for a background check, no record of mental illness or adjudication of mental defect by a court, proof or certification from an acceptable handgun safety class (including live-fire range qualification exercises to demonstrate safe and acceptable proficiency), and submitting the required application fee. Ohio is an example of a state with a "shall issue" system of licensing. The details of the requirements differ from state to state. Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Washington do not require any certificate of firearms training.
Shall issue states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
While Alaska and Arizona are states without mandatory licensing (to carry within the borders of those states), they do provide a "shall issue" system of licensing, in order to allow residents to take advantage of reciprocity when traveling to other states.
Alabama and Connecticut are, as defined in their laws, "may issue" states, as their laws provide a governing party with some measure of final discretion. In practice, however the policies of the issuing authorities direct them to approve the applications of citizens who have met the requirements for licensing.
"No issue" states have no provision in law to allow a citizen to carry a concealed handgun. Likewise, these states will NOT honor a license or permit issued by any other state. Illinois, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia are no-issue jurisdictions.
In a state with unrestricted concealed carry, no license is required, in order to carry a concealed handgun. Alaska, Arizona and Vermont are the only states in the union to allow the general public to carry concealed, without need of license or permit. Alaska and Arizona are simultaneously unrestricted, and "shall issue." They will issue permits so that their residents can legally carry in states that recognize permits from Alaska and Arizona. Vermont alone, requires no permits or licenses to carry concealed, for neither a resident nor a non-resident. Vermont has no law either for or against concealed carry. In the absence of law prohibiting concealed carry, it is legal in Vermont.