The election of Donald Trump, endorsed by the National Rifle Association and cheered by gun owners who were skittish over Hillary Clinton, has sparked an aggressive new effort to force liberal states to take down their barriers to concealed carry permits and gun ownership.

National gun groups — such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Second Amendment Foundation and the U.S. Concealed Carry Association — are eyeing legal challenges to some 10 states that make it difficult for citizens to get a carry permit and buy weapons such as AR-15s, decried as "assault weapons" by critics.

The emerging fight was sparked by Trump's surprise victory over gun control advocate Clinton and increased concerns among Americans, especially women and millennials, about crime and terrorism.

"It's pure self-defense that's driving many," said Tim Schmidt, president of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, based in Wisconsin. "They see these terrorist attacks, and they put themselves in the shoes of those being targeted."

His group provides training, insurance and legal defense for some 200,000 members, and is considering merging with the Second Amendment Foundation to form a pro-gun legal giant to take on so-called "may-issue" states, those such as Massachusetts where granting concealed carry permits are partially at the discretion of local authorities.

Schmidt believes that is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and the 2007 Supreme Court Heller case.

He also plans to urge Trump's Justice Department to target states that make it tough to get a permit or buy a gun and ammunition. "I want the attorney general to go after 'may-issue' states," Schmidt said.

John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center that charts concealed carry permits, told the Washington Examiner that they have reached a new record of more than 15 million, well more than the 14.5 million in his last report.

In that report, he said the eight states and the District of Columbia that have "may-issue" rules have handed out 494,547 permits, or about 3.4 percent of the 14.5 million. However, he added, they represent 26.4 percent of the U.S. population.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation also is moving against states and has sued Massachusetts, where the Democratic attorney general is expanding gun control by trying to limit the types of guns sold.

Schmidt said that leading up to the November election, polls suggested that Americans were dropping their opposition to legal gun ownership and that there was a growing acceptance of self-defense.

"Something happened," he said. "There was a new awareness to carrying weapons. It's more socially acceptable."

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com