One of the best things about America also produces one of the greatest challenges for gun ownership.
Individual states retain most of the power to regulate gun possession and use. This is in many ways likely preferable to entrusting a single federal governing body with the power to regulate gun possession but a difficult biproduct of the state held authority is a complicated patchwork of changing gun laws across the country.
As ignorance of the law is not a defense to legal charges today’s gun owner has the burden of researching individual state gun laws and ensuring complete compliance while traveling with a firearm for any purpose.
Given the enormous number of relevant legal topics, and the number of states; keeping track of them all is an impossible job for any single person. This is why the industry has come to rely on a small number of websites and tools that act as a reference tool to research and keep up with this important but ever changing legal landscape.
What follows is a closer look at 4 industry standard tools and some considerations of using each.
The Best Free Gun Law Reference Websites and Apps
BEST GUN LAW WEBSITES
|Label||HandgunLaw.us||ConcealedCarry.com||Legal Heat||USA Carry|
|Speed of Updates||A||A-||B||B|
|Ease of Use||B+||A+||B+||B-|
For an in-depth explanation for these grades, keep reading as I’ll break down why these areas are important and why these sites scored the way they did.
What Are the Critical Considerations When Relying On A Tool To Research Local Gun Laws?
Unfortunately, some folks will believe just about anything they read on the internet whether it’s out-of-date or flat out wrong. And that can prove to be very detrimental in some cases–especially when it comes to gun laws and rights. I’ve broken down different factors you need to consider when selecting your local gun law resources.
Accuracy of Information
The most important factor when choosing to rely on a random website for legal information is the accuracy of that information.
While many companies are well intentioned in forming a catalog of laws the greater challenge is the ongoing maintenance. Gun laws change all the time and often while a law may not change at all a decision from an Attorney General or a court decision can change the meaning of law overnight.
The other challenge with the accuracy of information is that sometimes accuracy requires detail and detail is often at odds with simplicity. For example, if you want to know if Open Carry is legal in Colorado ConcealedCarry.com says “Permitted by state but some local jurisdictions may have restrictions” while HandgunLaw.us has 3 long paragraphs on the topic. Both are accurate but one provides more detail.
On the flipside look at the question of carrying a firearm into a restaurant that serves Alcohol in Florida. On HandgunLaw.us you get one word “Yes” and then a link to the relevant state statute 790.06 but nothing more. ConcealedCarry.com provides a little more detail with: “Some dining areas may be allowed but establishments that primarily serve alcohol or bars are prohibited” but without a reference to the law.
The 4 tools we reviewed all have very high standards relating to accuracy. We failed to find any inaccuracies. HandgunLaw.us get a slighter higher score for providing such a greater amount of detail.
So in the subject of accuracy:
- ConcealedCarry.com: A
- HandgunLaw.us: A+
- Legal Heat: A
- USA Carry: A
Speed of Updates
As noted previously the laws do change. ConcealedCarry.com claims making over 100 changes to their legal reference material last year and HandgunLaw.us made at least that number of updates.
All of these tools have shown themselves reliable at keeping the information updated but is one faster than the other?
In this case they all seem fairly on top of it. One thing that could be noted is that HandgunLaw.us will often update their information when a new law is passed but before it takes effect. For example at the time of this writing, Utah has passed a new permitless carry law but that law has not yet gone into effect.
HandgunLaw.us shows “Permitless Carry State (Not Effective Until May 5, 2021) whereas the other 3 websites we checked do not list Utah on its list of permitless carry states and will likely not update it until May 5th exactly.
Legal Heat and HandgunLaw.us both provide changelogs so it is easy to see when they update any given piece of information. Legal Heat and USA Carry do seem to be a week or two behind HandgunLaw.us and ConcealedCarry.com but that isn’t a significant difference.
For that reason, we give these grades for speed of updates:
- ConcealedCarry.com: A-
- HandgunLaw.us: A
- Legal Heat: B
- USA Carry: B
Ease of Use As A Reference Tool
Sometimes you want to study the law, but most of the time you need fast answers as you are planning a trip, driving down the road, or trying to respond to a text message your buddy just sent you.
For that reason having answers that are easy and fast to find to common legal questions is very important. Of course it comes at a cost as discussed earlier. The simpler the presentation of the legal information the easier it is to digest and find but also means it may lack some degree of context or detail.
In addition, layout and easy to find and access the information matters. I don’t want to have to use my browser to search a webpage for the keywords I’m looking for. I want to quickly scroll and identify what I need.
Then of course there is also the technology question. The quality of the technology has a direct impact on how mobile friendly (more on this below), how easy to read, and how fast to load the information is.
HandgunLaw.us is formatted into PDF documents. One PDF for each state. To access the PDF you visit their site and click on the state in question. It loads pretty quickly. The PDF document for most states is 15-25 pages long and while it does include a reciprocity map at the top and is broken into sections it is mostly just a lot of paragraphs and text.
ConcealedCarry.com and Legal Heat takes a different approach. From their legal reference page you click on a state and you get a simple easy to read table. ConcealedCarry.com has a convenient color code as well. The answers are color coded, white, green, or red depending on the answer’s desirability in terms of general gun rights positions.
For example, in the question of Permitless/Constitutional Carry if the state currently requires a permit to carry the answer will be “NO” and that part of the table will be highlighted Red. If the state does allow carry without a permit the answer will be highlighted in green.
Also, sometimes you aren’t researching laws for a specific state but instead want to research a legal topic and understand the implications in all the states. While HandgunLaw.us has a small number of “topic summary” pages ConcealedCarry.com really shines here with 12 total topic summary pages as of this writing. Neither Legal Heat or USA Carry have any topic summary pages.
For Ease of Use We Give:
- ConcealedCarry.com: A+
- HandgunLaw.us: B+
- Legal Heat: B+
- USA Carry: B-
For us we consider the ease of access, specifically from a mobile device, of paramount importance. Oftentimes it isn’t when you are at home in front of a computer that you are trying to get an important answer to a legal question.
Perhaps it is an example of poor planning but it seems like more often than not gun owners don’t think to research a topic until their car is quickly approaching a state line.
ConcealedCarry.com and Legal Heat both have a free mobile app which do a great job of presenting the information. Legal Heat’s legal reference material appears to be available in their app ONLY, while ConcealedCarry.com has a mobile friendly website and the mobile app (available for Android and iOS) that includes all the same legal reference material as the website. There are other mobile apps out there but many of them cost money and since we found such high quality resources in these free apps we chose to not include paid apps in this review.
HandgunLaw.us and USA Carry do not have mobile apps with their legal reference material included. It is worth noting that both of these websites can be accessed from a mobile device however in the case of HandgunLaw.us it still just loads the same PDF files when you access the information. That isn’t necessarily a technical issue for most devices however it does present the information in text too small to read for most people and does require storing PDF files on your device storage.
For Mobile Friendly We Score:
- ConcealedCarry.com: A+
- HandgunLaw.us: C
- Legal Heat: A+
- USA Carry: B
Legal Citations and References:
Sometimes you want more than just a summary written up by an industry professional. Sometimes you want to read the actual state law or court case decision in order to better understand the implications of a law.
This is where HandgunLaw.us and Legal Heat really shine. In many instances the entire text of a law is includes directly on HandgunLaw.us and other times it is linked so the user can click through to the government site where the statute can be reviewed. Legal Heat also consistently provides the reference or citation needed to do further research.
ConcealedCarry.com and USA Carry often provide a statute number but very rarely the full text of the law.
For Legal Citations and References We Score:
- ConcealedCarry.com: C
- HandgunLaw.us: A-
- Legal Heat: A-
- USA Carry: C
One last consideration we looked at when comparing these tools was comprehensiveness. Basically the volume of important legal topics that are covered.
Here HandgunLaw.us seems the most comprehensive covering even knife laws to some degree. ConcealedCarry.com is also fairly comprehensive with almost complete duplication with Handgunlaw.us.
Legal Heat is also pretty comprehensive though they feature an initial summary (which is limited) and then you have to scroll down and read in paragraph form to answers to a lot of other questions. So while they are comprehensive, only a portion of that information is really easy to reference.
USA Carry is very comprehensive on the topics of permits. How to get one, where they are valid, what training is required, etc. However they really don’t go very far beyond that into other more broad gun possession related laws.
For comprehensiveness, we score:
- ConcealedCarry.com: A
- HandgunLaw.us: A+
- Legal Heat: B
- USA Carry: C-
All of the reference websites and tools we’ve shared are good in their own right. The creators and companies have very different approaches. For circumstances where you want great detail and a high level of understanding (like your own state of residence) taking the time to read the full state summary PDF on HandgunLaw.us is likely a good approach.
However, failing to have the ConcealedCarry.com free mobile app on your phone would be a mistake. There is no faster and more reliable way to quickly get answers to almost any gun law question in any state.
This was a guest post written by Jacob Paulsen.
Jacob S. Paulsen is the President of ConcealedCarry.com. ConcealedCarry.com provides in-person and online firearm training for American gun owners. The Company is currently teaching in-person classes in 25+ states with a team of more than 55 instructors.
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