The Sandy Hook shooting has sparked a national debate about guns and gun laws. Alaska has one of the most liberal gun laws in the country. It’s one of four states that do not require a permit for carrying a concealed weapon.
The Alaska State Troopers issue optional permits for concealed weapons. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says, even though permits are not required , about 1,500 apply for and receive them each year, mostly because they want to make sure they can carry their guns across state lines.
“We have reciprocity with approximately 36 other states. Where if you have a concealed weapon permit in Alaska you can travel to those other states and they will honor Alaska’s permit. The same thing with people in other states – Alaska will honor their permits if they are on the reciprocity list.”
You have to be 21 to apply for the permit. Peters says there are certain reasons a permit may be denied.
“For example if they have a felony conviction they will be denied a permit. If they have two or more class A misdemeanors in the last six years they’ll be denied. Also if they’re not an Alaska resident, they cannot get an Alaska resident permit. Also you have to have a class, a handgun safety course before you are allowed to get a permit and that’s something we check for before issuing those.”
There is no question about mental illness on the application. Peters says state law prohibits it. Besides that, the state permit is optional. If you buy a gun in Alaska though, you must go through the FBI National Instant Check system or NICs, where all the background checks for Alaska are processed. The background check makes sure the person buying the gun has not committed crimes that would prohibit them from being a gun owner. There is no waiting period to buy a gun in Alaska.
So how did Alaska get the gun law that it has? Former Governor Tony Knowles remembers it was a big fight. He says, when he took office in 1994, a concealed weapons permit was required in Alaska. The law also limited the places that you could take a concealed weapon. But in 1996 all that began to change when legislators started pushing a bill loosening state gun laws.
“For instance, allowing concealed weapons into bars. Completely doing away with the basis for denying an individual the right regardless of their previous felony convictions or if they were adjudicated as mentally incompetent and allowing it into places that had programs for domestic violence and sexual assault and I vetoed the bill,” Knowles said.
But the next year, it came back around again, and he vetoed it again, concerned the bill could allow dangerous people to carry concealed weapons. Those more extreme provisions never passed. But an amended version of the law was enacted over his veto.
“Now, you’re not required to have any kind of permit. Anything goes really is the philosophy of, is the current philosophy of guns in the State of Alaska.”
More troubling Knowles says is the recent move to make it easier to pass an Alaska’s version of a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which eliminates the duty to retreat and supports using deadly force in self-defense if you feel threatened. House District 15 Representative Mark Neumen introduced House Bill 80 last session. It passed the house but died in the Senate. Neuman has said he will take the issue up again when lawmakers return to Juneau this session.
The National Rifle Association in Alaska was contacted for this story, but did not return phone calls by deadline.