Alan Gottlieb, president of the Second Amendment Foundation, says the movement to carry guns, has been a grass-roots drive.

As he built his Bellevue, Wash.-based organization from its start in 1974 to its membership of 600,000 today, he constantly polled members for direction. Each time, he said, they responded with a clear message: “‘I want the right to carry.’ That was the single biggest thing everyone wanted.”

When Gottlieb’s foundation got its start, just four states allowed regular citizens to carry concealed weapons simply because they wanted to.

Some other states were known as “may issue,” meaning concealed weapons permits were dispensed at the discretion of state or local law enforcement officials. That system often was dogged by charges of political favoritism, and it continues to be in states such as California and New York, where it is still in place.

…Publicity had a snowball effect, according to Gottlieb. By 1990, there were 15 “shall-issue” states and by 2000, there were 30. 

The NRA’s Arulanandam said the movement gained even more momentum in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“People saw it live, they saw people taking trash cans and throwing them through store windows right in front of TV cameras,” he said. “People processed these images, and they processed these events, and they realized that when the unthinkable happens, they want to have an effective means of defending themselves and their loved ones.”

While gun-rights and gun-control activists argue about what led to the loosening of concealed-weapons laws, they agree that the lobbying prowess of groups like Gottlieb’s and Arulanandam’s helped make it happen.

“We are tenacious and we work hard to pass whatever our legislative agenda is,” Arulanandam said.

“Tactically, they’ve been brilliant on a lot of issues,” agreed Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, perhaps the nation’s best-known gun-control advocacy group, which opposes “shall-issue” concealed-weapons laws but does not advocate a ban on handguns.

The concealed-carry movement also has been aided by a fractured opposition, said Jim Kessler of the progressive think tank Third Way, who has been advocating gun-control measures for years. “The gun safety movement is splintered. … They have different issues and they fight each other.”
Indeed, gun-control advocates are often at odds over such basics as the effect of relaxed concealed-carry laws on crime.