Across the Fruited Plain: Where the Fight for Shall-Issue Still Rages

Editor's Note: This article has also been published at

By Chad D. Baus

In my last column, "The People Fighting for Your Gun Rights", I lamented the fact that more state gun rights organizations had not responded to my invitation to help keep USCCA members up to date on the current battles that they face, what specific activities they are engaging in on each battle, their sense of the morale of gun owners in their state, etc. In the weeks since then, I've heard from three more state organizations, bringing our group to a total of nineteen states.

For many persons who carry concealed on a regular basis, any memory of the fight that secured them that right is fading quickly. But in more places than many are aware, the battle to restore the right to bear arms for self-defense is still raging.

The roots of the nationwide concealed carry revolution were established more than 20 years ago, in the mid-1980's, when Florida gun rights activist Marion Hammer set about to change Florida from "may-issue" to "shall issue." The hand-wringers were horrified. Florida, they said, would become a new Wild West. There would be shoot-outs at fender-benders. The streets would flow with blood.

In 1987, Hammer, who once served as the NRA's first female president, and her United Sportsmen of Florida prevailed. Within twelve months, law enforcement officials who had opposed the concept were readily admitting there had been no problems. And thus the way was paved for so many others.

Having served on the front lines of the battle to get concealed carry passed in my home state of Ohio, I've always had a deep amount of respect for the battle Hammer waged. To be certain, the fight was never easy - not in any state. Legislation had been proposed and considered in the Buckeye State for several sessions before a bill was finally passed into law in 2004 (and that only after a Supreme Court decision and subsequent "open carry" protest from gun-owners forced the legislature's hand). But ever since Florida, activists could always defend against the "Wild West" claims in their state by pointing south. The hills we climbed just never seemed quite as steep, because we had that warm wind of truth blowing up from the Sunshine State.

After a hard-fought battle is won, it is easy to breath a sigh of relief, get on with your life or get focused on making improvements to the law, and forget that, for our brothers and sisters in a few remaining states, the fight is far from over.

Illinois and Wisconsin have no Right to Carry laws whatsoever, though legislative battles have repeatedly been waged.

Surprisingly, in Wisconsin, which has come the closest to passing a shall-issue law, there currently is no CCW legislation pending. A recent opinion by the state Attorney General that open carry is legal[1] could certainly be used by activists in the Badger State to the same ends as Ohioans used them in late 2003.[2]

Wisconsin's southern neighbors, however, in Barack Obama's home state of Illinois, have 2009 legislation in the pipeline.

Democrat State Rep. John Bradley has introduced a bill to establish statewide standards for licenses to carry concealed firearms in Illinois, and for the first time ever, Illinois CCW legislation has won the backing of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association.[3]

"Forty-eight states have some form of concealed carry and it is time Illinoisans have the right to better defense themselves and their property," Bradley said in a news release announcing the legislation. "Illinois needs to catch up with the rest of the nation. Responsible gun owners deserve the right to protect themselves and their families."[4]

Beyond these two non-issue states, there are others, including California, Iowa, Maryland and Rhode Island, where "may-issue" is the law of the land. There, too, the fight for shall-issue rages on.

The Hawkeye State's Sean McClanahan, President of, says that despite the long fight, morale is holding steady.

"Iowa Carry is still a fairly new organization, and we are still getting organized ourselves," McClanahan admits. "But we have made some fairly significant strides this year, and we will be using the remainder of the year to capitalize on what we've learned in order to become a much stronger organization going into 2010.

McClanahan says that while there are actually several pieces of legislation currently introduced, all appear to be without life for the remainder of 2009.

"There are some political games that could still be played to resuscitate one or more of them," he adds, "but the chances of success with those moves are slim."

The good people at don't plan on taking that reality sitting down. According to McClanahan, the group plans to visit with each of the 99 Sheriffs in Iowa and speak directly to them before the end of the year.

"We learned from previous discussions that some Sheriffs cannot get past the word 'Shall' when they read new legislation," McClanahan remarks. "They get to that word, and they immediately shut down, ignoring the rest of the legislation.

"They need to understand that we are still advocating a system that provides for proper training (to be uniform statewide), and for proper denials should an applicant be unable to meet the qualifications to obtain a permit."

The group is also looking ahead to 2010. They hope to expand a "phone blast" program they conducted this year in specific Iowa House districts and also to do targeted mail campaigns.

"Since current Iowa law regarding the Permit to Carry Weapons is left totally at the discretion of the local Sheriff - and there are 99 of them - there is no one standard to which we can compare the current situation," McClanahan notes. "We are reviewing the laws in several other states and we plan to model our legislation for 2010 after the best points of those states blended together. Plus, there are actually some good points in our current law that we don't want to lose."

One of the challenges continues to face is a lack of awareness among gun owners, even those to carry concealed under the may-issue law.

"We are also continuing to work gun shows across the state very hard, and to get the message out to the people that there is in fact a problem with the system as it exists today," McClanahan adds. "Many people we talk to do not even realize that the permit they are carrying can be denied or revoked at any time, and that those with odd restrictions or justifications are NOT the norm for others in the state."

Lack of awareness among gun owners is also a challenge back east, where Maryland Shall Issue President Paul Dembowski is also hard at work pushing for a "shall-issue" law.

"While there is a growing number of people actively involved in the process, we have a long way to go state wide with getting the masses engaged," Dembowski says. "Maryland gun owners have been metaphorically been beaten about the head for so many years without any means of defending their rights that many have the feeling that nothing can be done to change the current status of things and, thus, see no point in getting involved."

Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers at Maryland Shall Issue, however, Dembowski sees signs this is changing. "As younger gun owners become aware of our work and become involved, our membership meetings have more than tripled in attendance in the last year and readership of our email updates are at an all time high."

Maryland's may-issue system is even less helpful to citizens desiring a legal means of self-defense than Iowa's.

"Maryland currently has a discretionary system of permit issuance that leans towards denial," Dembowski notes. "Permits are frequently issued to those that can demonstrate that they engage in a cash business or who work in certain fields such as medicine where they may be handling pharmaceuticals. Permits are nearly always denied on the basis of self-defense unless the applicant can produce documentation of threats of bodily harm or actual assaults. Even then, issuance is not guaranteed."

Seeking to remedy the situation, Maryland Shall Issue worked with Delegate Dan Riley this session to submit HB470, which would have repealed the language in Maryland law that requires "good and substantial" reasons for the issuance of a permit.

HB470 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee with more than 40 co-sponsors (roughly one-third of the House). They've made it that far before, says Dembowski, but "in the past, this is where the bills have traditionally died."

"The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Joe Vallario typically 'desk drawer vetoes' the bill by refusing to even allow a vote on the bill. He will make the claim that by letting the bill to the floor of the House for a vote, we run the risk of the bill being 'Christmas-treed' with hostile amendments such as an [assault weapons ban], having the original language of the bill stripped and then having the bill approved.

"There is certain validity in this concern," Dembowski admits, while adding that "we count as a victory this year that there was at least an up or down vote on the bill within the committee. It was defeated, but it forced every member of that committee to go on record as either supporting or opposing the right to self-defense."

Dembowski says that Maryland Shall Issue is the only organization of its type that is working at the grassroots level for the passage of these bills as well as providing opposition to bills that work against the [right to keep and bear arms].

"In a state like Maryland where the anti-gun forces have traditionally had there way unchallenged for decades, our victories can be measured more by what hasn't happened," Dembowski observes, adding that "there has not been a single significant piece of anti-gun legislation passed since the formation of Maryland Shall Issue six years ago."

What's more, whenever possible, the folks at Maryland Shall Issue try to turn lemons into lemon-aide.

When legislation promoted by Maryland Governor that sought to seize firearms of subjects of temporary or permanent restraining orders, Maryland Shall Issue based their opposition on the fact that the proposal amounted to a seizure of property based on an accusation. When the bill was put on a fast-track, Dembowski's group worked with a friendly legislator to insert language that required receipts for the firearms that were seized, specified mandatory safe storage requirements, and specific language on how the firearms to be returned.

Additionally, the amendment Maryland Shall Issue sponsored "contained language that stated that the Maryland State Police must consider a person under relief from a protective order as having a 'good and substantial' reason for the issuance of a permit. Currently, the circumstances of a protective order are a consideration for the issuance of a permit, but HB359 would have made this a stand-alone reason for issuance."

While the amendment ultimately fell to a 17-29 vote, Dembowski says small progress was made:

"Three of the cosponsors are people who traditionally vote against us, but saw logic in allowing certain individuals to exercise their right to self-defense. We see this as an opportunity to continue to make inroads with these people since we will need their votes if we are ever to get a full-fledged 'shall issue' bill passed."

Dembowski says his group believes that an incorporation of the Heller decision against state and local governments via the 14th Amendment, which is one step closer to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling thanks to a recent decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California[5], will "provide us an avenue to press the cause toward passage."

"Maryland has a ways to go before we are in a position to pass legislation that is comparable to other states," Demobowski admits, "but we are confident that it will happen eventually, as it becomes more and more evident that Maryland is in the distinct minority of states."

I like to call that the Hammer effect.

Chad D. Baus is the Vice Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor.



[1] Open-carry ruling triggers gun debate, Kenosha News, April 22, 2009,

[2] Defense Walks Make History in Ohio,

[3] Illinois Sheriffs announce backing for concealed-carry of firearms, Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2009,

[4] Bradley introduces concealed-carry bill, The Southern, Jan. 31, 2009,

[5] FLASH: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules State and Local Governments Subject to Second Amendment, April 20, 2009,

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