When the average citizen wants to carry a gun in public, there are four different ways for local governments to handle the issue.
The first system is one in which no carry permit is needed at all–no permission slip from the government required. If you can legally own it, you can legally carry it in public. This system is the only one that really jives with the Constitution, which means that it’s naturally the least common one. Only two states out of fifty have such an enlightened approach to their citizens’ exercise of Second Amendment rights: Vermont and Alaska. (Note that the blood is not running knee-deep in the streets of Fairbanks or Burlington, despite the dire predictions of shoot-outs over parking spots that, according to some, are inevitable when “everyone carries guns”.)
The second system is one in which no permits are issued to anyone. Local law enforcement has no discretion in the matter, and no amount of money and influence can get you a permit to carry, because the state and local authorities simply don’t issue any. This sounds terribly restrictive–and it is, no question about it–but it’s actually only the second-worst possible system. Illinois is an example of a no-issue state (and the crime rate in Chicago is a pretty good indicator of the effectiveness of a no-issue system.)
The third system is one in which the local law enforcement authority (county Sheriff, town/city Chief of Police, or State Police) can grant a permit, but have full discretion when it comes to approving or denying the application. This is the worst possible permit system for one reason: it makes the system corruptible. Historically, “may issue” permit systems have been used for leverage by the issuing authorities, especially when the office issuing the permits is an elected one (like County Sheriff.) More often than not, a “may issue” system is turned into a reward mechanism for political or financial support. An example of such a system is New York City, where the application process for carry permits is intentionally difficult, and where Joe Average has absolutely no chance of getting a carry permit…while the Intelligentsia (like Donald Trump and Robert DeNiro) have no trouble getting one. In practice, “May Issue” almost always means “I may issue you a permit if you’re rich or politically well-connected.” (Here’s a good object lesson on why “may issue” carry permits are always a bad idea.) Lastly, the original intent of “may issue” permit systems was to enable the local authorities to keep guns out of the hands of “undesirable” ethnic groups. In the South, blacks were routinely denied, and whites always approved. The Sullivan Law in New York City was originally enacted to keep the Italian immigrants disarmed.
The fourth system is called “Shall Issue”, and it’s the preferred way to go if one absolutely has to have a permit system in place. Under Shall Issue systems, someone comes up with an objective set of requirements for getting a carry permit, and then the issuing authority must issue that permit to any applicant who fulfills those requirements. Among the folks who dislike their fellow citizens being “allowed” to carry guns, the “Shall Issue” system is the second-least popular, right after “No Permit Needed”, because it gives no discretion to the sheriff or chief. That’s precisely the good thing about it, however: it sets an objective list of standards, and it isn’t arbitarily based on the whims of the person signing the permits. Many states with a permit system have adopted “Shall Issue”, among them my home state of New Hampshire.
Personally, I think that the only approach in harmony with the Bill of Rights is the first one, where no permits are needed. There’s no paperwork, no bureaucracy, no opportunity for graft or favoritism, and absolute impartiality. (Note that people who commit crimes with guns still get arrested and convicted in Alaska and Vermont.) It simply makes no more sense to require a permit for carrying a gun without criminal intent than it does to require a permit for reading a book or going to church…and if you can tie the exercise of one part of the Bill of Rights to a government-issued permission slip, you can do the same with the rest of those rights.
Whether you like guns, or dislike them, the right to keep and bear them is part of the Bill of Rights. If you value the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, you should be as appalled at the idea of having to ask City Hall for permission to carry a pistol as you are at the idea of asking for permission to speak your mind against the government, or attend the church of your choice, or receive a trial by jury. Otherwise, you have no leg to stand on when someone else starts requiring permits to exercise the parts of the Bill of Rights you do support.