(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.
'They will come to know the lives they didn't save': States forge ahead with permitless carry legislation despite law enforcement opposition
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.