A meme making the bogus claim that wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic “REMOVES YOUR CONCEAL CARRY ability” is spreading widely online. Laws regulating concealed weapons vary by state, but sheriffs in many states have debunked the rumor.
Wearing a face mask can curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but their use has become political. One recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 83% of liberal Democrats said they usually wear a face mask, while 49% of conservative Republicans said that they do.
So it may not be surprising that the issue has crossed over to another politically divisive topic — gun laws.
Facebook pages and Instagram users are sharing a meme that falsely claims: “Know what else wearing a mask does??? Anyone?? REMOVES YOUR CONCEAL CARRY ability. That’s right!! Its in the rules. CCW licencees are NOT allowed to wear face coverings while carrying.”
But there are no blanket “rules” that apply to wearing a mask while carrying a concealed weapon. Laws vary by state, and sheriffs across the country have issued statements debunking the claim.
“Concealed carry is a state by state deal,” Warren Eller, chair of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice public administration department, told us by email. “With that said, I can tell you that none of the 8 states I have had permits in have any such rule.”
Provisions related to wearing masks or face coverings “are not necessarily in concealed carry statutes,” Anne Teigen told us by email. She covers state firearms policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those regulations are often found in separate statutes.
The NCSL compiled a list of 18 such state laws, plus one in the District of Columbia. Most of those laws address the use of a face covering during the commission of a crime or to conceal a person’s identity. None of the laws specifically reference someone carrying a legally permitted concealed weapon.
We’ll use North Carolina as an example since, as Eller pointed out, the state’s concealed carry law generated news after Gov. Roy Cooper announced on June 24 that everyone must wear face coverings while in public.
Nowhere in North Carolina’s concealed carry law does it mention the use of face masks or coverings. But an unrelated section of state law does. It’s titled, “Prohibited Secret Societies and Activities,” and when it was passed in 1953 it was referred to as the “anti-Ku Klux Klan statute.”
What’s relevant to the claim made in this meme is that the law specifies:
- No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, be or appear upon any lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this State.
- No person or persons shall in this State, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, or appear upon or within the public property of any municipality or county of the State, or of the State of North Carolina.
- No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing a mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, demand entrance or admission, enter or come upon or into, or be upon or in the premises, enclosure or house of any other person in any municipality or county of this State.
- No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall while wearing a mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, hold any manner of meeting, or make any demonstration upon the private property of another unless such person or persons shall first obtain from the owner or occupier of the property his or her written permission to do so, which said written permission shall be recorded in the office of the register of deeds of the county in which said property is located before the beginning of such meeting or demonstration.
- It shall be unlawful for any person or persons, while wearing a mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to place or cause to be placed at or in any place in the State any exhibit of any kind whatsoever, with the intention of intimidating any person or persons, or of preventing them from doing any act which is lawful, or of causing them to do any act which is unlawful. For the purposes of this section, the term “exhibit” includes items such as a noose.
No part of that law applies specifically to concealed weapon permit holders. Furthermore, each provision requires that the intent be to “conceal the identity of the wearer.” So the law doesn’t apply to face coverings for medical or public health reasons.
In addition, Cooper signed a bill in May that temporarily amended that law, specifying that those who are “wearing a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others” are exempt.
Responding to the broad claim in the meme, John Donohue, a professor at Stanford Law School who has done research in the area of concealed carry laws, told us by email, “This issue is largely the product of either the paranoid element that exists in part of the American gun community or the malicious element that also exists in part of the gun community that often seeks to divide Americans, which is particularly reprehensible at this stressful time.
“If you are lawfully carrying a concealed weapon, no one will know, so the mask will be a non-issue. If you are wearing a mask to protect your health or that of others, you cannot be prosecuted,” Donohue said. “The only problem that would occur would be if you are trying to conceal your identity to commit a crime, in which case you are a criminal and should be arrested.”
So, while laws vary by state, we were unable to find an example of a regulation that makes it illegal to carry a permitted concealed weapon while wearing a face mask for health reasons. And there is no nationwide rule that would broadly apply to all concealed carry permit holders.
Update, July 15: Readers have contacted us seeking information about the impact of wearing face masks on concealed carry laws in their states. This is what we’ve learned:
Indiana law permits its residents to carry weapons, but there is no law on concealed carry. “Under the law, a mask does not interfere with the ability to carry,” a spokesperson for Gov. Eric Holcomb told us by email on July 2.
Illinois State Police issued this statement after Gov. J. B. Pritzker signed an executive order in April mandating the use of face masks: “The Governor’s Executive Order regarding the wearing of masks or protective facial coverings in public settings during this serious global pandemic was not intended to negatively impact permit holders under the Illinois Concealed Carry Act while legally carrying firearms. The Executive Order does not require or suggest that law enforcement should arrest or criminally charge conceal carry license permit holders for wearing protective masks while in public as long as they are complying with the other provisions of the Illinois Concealed Carry Act and are not committing any other violations of Illinois law.”
Georgia has an anti-mask law similar to North Carolina’s; it was passed in 1951 in response to Ku Klux Klan harassment. Gov. Brian Kemp suspended the law in April with an executive order specifying that the law “shall not apply to any person wearing ‘a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer’ if that person is wearing such device for the purpose of complying with the guidance of any healthcare agency or to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Kemp’s press secretary, Cody Hall, confirmed to us by email that wearing a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic won’t affect the ability to carry a weapon.
Michigan law makes it a misdemeanor to wear “a mask or other device” that conceals a person’s face “for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a crime.” But that’s unrelated to the state’s law on concealed weapons, which says nothing about the use of masks. The sheriff in Roscommon County, Edward Stern, confirmed to FactCheck.org that there is nothing in state law that would prohibit the carrier of a permitted concealed weapon from wearing a face mask for public health reasons. Similarly, the sheriff’s office in Montcalm County posted on Facebook about the issue, saying, “Bottom line-you are not breaking the law if lawfully carrying a concealed weapon and wearing a mask.”
Tennessee has an anti-mask law geared toward stopping hate crimes, similar to the laws in North Carolina and Georgia. Tennessee makes it illegal to “wear a mask or disguise” while intimidating someone from exercising his or her civil rights. But its law on carrying handguns says nothing about wearing a mask. The executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association confirmed in an interview with a Fox News station in Nashville that it is legal to wear a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic and carry a permitted gun in Tennessee.
McDonald, Jessica. “COVID-19 Face Mask Advice, Explained.” FactCheck.org. 6 Apr 2020.
Igielnik, Ruth. “Most Americans say they regularly wore a mask in stores in the past month; fewer see others doing it.” Pew Research Center. 23 Jun 2020.
RAND Corporation. “The Effects of Concealed-Carry Laws.” Updated 22 Apr 2020.
Eller, Warren. Chair of the public administration department, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Email exchange. 25 Jun 2020.
Teigen, Anne. National Conference of State Legislatures. Email exchange. 25 Jun 2020.
North Carolina General Statutes – Chapter 14 Article 54B. “Concealed Handgun Permit.” Accessed 26 Jun 2020.
North Carolina General Statutes – Chapter 14 Article 4A. “Prohibited Secret Societies and Activities.” Accessed 26 Jun 2020.
Donohue, John. Professor, Stanford Law School. Email exchange. 24 Jun 2020.