NRA members are seen examining handguns and other merchandise during an exhibition in Indianapolis, Indiana.
CNN  — 

Pro-gun legislation that would allow citizens to legally carry concealed guns in public without firearm training or a license is advancing in several states, as law enforcement officials and advocacy groups nationwide continue to raise the alarm about the policy’s safety risks.

The controversial “constitutional carry,” or permitless carry, legislation has gained momentum during this year’s legislative sessions in at least seven states, including Georgia, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Nebraska.

The push comes as a rise in gun violence and homicides continues across the country. Homicides rose in 2020, a year marked by a global pandemic and the murder – and subsequent unrest – of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In its 2020 Uniform Crime report, the FBI noted that about 77% of reported murders in 2020 were committed with a gun, up from 74% in 2019.

For many cities, the elevated rates of homicide continued into 2021, but at a slower pace. In 13 cities with available data, there were 109 more gun assaults in the first three quarters of 2021 than during the same period in 2020, according to a Council on Criminal Justice report.

As of March, 21 states do not have a policy that requires a permit to carry concealed guns in public, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit that focuses on gun violence prevention.

Law enforcement officers nationwide undergo hours of firearm training as part of the profession, and they train for the “totality of the circumstances” in encountering citizens, according to Teresa Ewins, police chief of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Nebraska legislation, according to Ewins, raises significant questions: Is this going to make concealed carriers more emboldened to act themselves when they see a crime? Or will they call 911 and let the police do their job? How will officers differentiate between a criminal with a gun and a concealed carrier?

“As a police officer, you’re putting the pieces together as you get on the scene and you only have seconds to make a decision,” she said.

Officers responding to an active shooter scenario are forced to make split-second decisions to stop the imminent threat to public safety, but a bystander on the scene who is carrying a weapon only complicates the encounter, Ewins said.

“If someone feels the right to go into a business or a coliseum or an arena [while concealed carrying], then there’s going to be an argument,” Ewins said. “Then law enforcement will have to respond and try to deescalate. This is just another layer of difficulty for them because it’s hard to understand who has a gun, who doesn’t have a gun and then having people who are not trained.”

Gun shop owner attends to customer in Chuy's Gun Shop in El Paso, Texas.

Law enforcement officials nationwide have argued that the permit requirement is vital to upholding standards of public safety. Without it, they say, officers face an even greater challenge in combating gun violence, further complicating their encounters with citizens.

While the processes to obtain a permit vary, the 29 states that currently authorize the policy largely require people to go through education and training on how to responsibly handle, use and securely store firearms before they can legally carry a concealed gun in public spaces. Permit issuers typically conduct a background check of any individual seeking a permit to ensure that they don’t pose a danger to the public.

Permitless carry has been a leading priority of the gun lobby over the past decade, with 19 states weakening their permitting systems since 2012, according to Everytown.

In 2021, Texas joined several other states – Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah and Wyoming – by passing legislation that allows some form of permitless carry as gun violence incidents continued to rise across the country since the onset of the pandemic. Before the law went into effect in September, Texans could carry handguns only with a license and were required to complete training.

But permitless carry laws and other efforts to weaken gun laws have been shown to increase deaths by guns, studies show.

A recent study by Everytown found a direct correlation in states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings, CNN reported exclusively in January.

The study determined that California had the strongest gun laws and Hawaii had the lowest rate of gun deaths nationwide, while Mississippi led the country with both the weakest gun laws and highest rate of gun deaths.

Lack of training puts gun owners in ‘jeopardy,’ expert says

A key element of permitless carry involves removing the educational component in obtaining a permit or license. That not only has implications for the safety of officers and the public, but it puts gun owners in “jeopardy,” says Warren Eller, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

As part of the education to obtain a permit, gun owners are instilled with the knowledge of reciprocity laws that vary from state to state. These laws determine whether a person’s concealed carry permit that was issued in one state is valid in another state, which could have vastly different gun laws, Eller says.

“The thing that you lose without a permit is if you’re traveling between states, you no longer have the right to carry a firearm with you,” Eller said. “It’s self-defeating on two sides.”

“It’s not just simply more people might get shot or might not get shot, it’s whether you are going to get pulled over and wind up in jail if you mistakenly carried a greater than 10-round magazine into New Jersey from Pennsylvania,” Eller said. “The lack of knowledge of all the intricacies of interstate commerce on these things is hugely important.”

Damon Thueson teaches a packed gun concealed carry permit class put on by "USA Firearms Training" in 2015 in Provo, Utah.

The push for permitless carry laws is a “decade-plus old movement,” but it gained traction in recent years as part of the gun advocacy agenda, Eller says.

Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, told CNN in a statement that “one of the main reasons the NRA leads the constitutional carry effort across the country is to provide as many law-abiding Americans as possible with the right to defend themselves and their loved ones outside their homes.”

“Licensing costs can be prohibitive for those who don’t have the means - especially during these trying economic times. Self-defense should not be a luxury for a few. Instead, it should be available to every law-abiding American who wishes to exercise that right,” the NRA’s statement continued.

States are moving quickly to advance permitless carry

State legislatures have been moving quickly in recent weeks to advance permitless carry bills.

Republicans in both chambers of Ohio’s general assembly passed legislation on Wednesday that would remove the permitting, training and background check requirements for concealed carry, and it was sent to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk for consideration.

According to CNN affiliate WHIO, a spokesman for the governor’s office said in a statement: “We are reviewing the bill, but I would note Governor DeWine has long supported the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”

“There are a lot of different gun violence issues in our cities that are related to people carrying weapons that should not carry them,” said Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey of Hamilton County, Ohio. Last year, the sheriff said she revoked over 100 concealed carry licenses from individuals who committed a violent crime or had been accused of one.

While she and her colleagues support the second amendment, McGuffey said that having a credential to carry a firearm helps to inform officers that the individual had training and a background check before engaging them.

“As law enforcement officers, when we walk into an unknown situation, we are relying on as much information as we can gather prior to engaging with that person. It all counts,” she said.

In Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on Wednesday that would get rid of the permit requirements for concealed weapons, which include background checks. The legislation now heads to the full Senate for final approval before it can be sent to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for her signature.

Ivey was endorsed for governor by the NRA in 2018 and vowed to “always defend our second amendment rights.”

The Alabama Sheriff’s Association last month voiced their opposition to the bill, emphasizing safety concerns for officers and the public.

“Then they’d just be able to carry whenever they want. No one can stop them, no one can question them, and it’s just a bad deal all the way around,” said Baldwin County, Alabama Deputy Curtis Summerlin, CNN affiliate WSFA reported. “If we don’t know about it, we don’t know how to protect other people.”

Permitless supporters will ‘come to know the lives they didn’t save’

Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat who sits on the committee that heard the permitless carry bill in his state, told CNN that law enforcement leaders across the state have told lawmakers that it would “make their job much more dangerous and put their lives in danger.”

“When law enforcement from across the state and the political spectrum come to us and say, ‘this is a really dangerous policy and law,’ we have to step back and listen,” Morfeld said.

Morfeld, who is a gun owner and concealed carry license holder, said the permitting process is “really important from a training perspective in particular.” Nebraska requires eight hours of training along with a background check to obtain a concealed handgun permit.

Sen. Adam Morfeld speaks at the Legislature in Lincoln, Nebraska.

John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement to CNN that permitless carry laws “make gun violence worse, which is why law enforcement leaders have opposed them time and again.” Legislators who support the policy, he added, make officers “fight crime with one hand tied behind their back.”

The real impact of permitless legislation is that people with a criminal history as well as those who are untrained and unvetted can carry handguns in public, according to Monisha Henley, director of state affairs for Everytown.

“Law enforcement and their constituents and everybody united can help slow these policies now, but I also recognize that some of these states have been trying to do this over and over again and this may be the year, unfortunately, that they finally get it across the finish line,” Henley said.

Dalseide, the NRA spokesman, noted that permitless legislation does not allow known criminals to carry firearms, nor does it legalize the criminal use of firearms or allow individuals to carry firearms in localities where it is prohibited to do so.

“My concern is that as we support the second amendment, we get to a point here in our society that we’re ignoring the fact that it is not an individual freedom that is unlimited,” Sheriff McGuffey said.

The senators who support constitutional carry “will never know the lives they saved if they go in opposition to the bill,” McGuffey added. “If they pass this bill, there is a great likelihood that they will come to know the lives that they didn’t save because those names will live in infamy and those situations will be reported to the public by the press.”

CNN’s Priya Krishnakumar contributed to this report.