Texans' demand for concealed handgun licenses rises
10:44 AM CDT on Tuesday, July 8, 2008
By DANIEL MONTEVERDE / The Dallas Morning News
The jerk of the handgun knocked Pam Denman back a bit.
Before recently she had never held a gun much less fired one.
She's not alone.
REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor
REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor
D. V. Ing, a concealed handgun license instructor gave some pointers to state Rep. Vicki Truitt during a recent class in Ft. Worth.
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Mrs. Denman is one of more than 52,000 people in the state who have submitted an application for a first-time concealed handgun license or renewal since the beginning of the year, according to figures from the Texas Department of Public Safety. That is an almost 5 percent increase over the first six months of 2007.
The crunch which some say is spurred by concerns about rising crime, the state's new castle law and uncertainty about future gun laws has created a ballooning backlog of applications for the department and angered gun proponents.
"Can you imagine if it was a driver's license and someone says you just can't drive?" said Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association.
Graphic: Concealed handgun licenses issued
On average, new applicants are waiting between 80 and 90 days for their licenses; renewals are taking about 70 to 80 days to process, said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman.
By law, new applications should take no more than 60 days and renewals 45 days to process unless a required background check raises any flags.
"We're still hacking away at those numbers," Ms. Mange said.
She said the DPS is paying overtime and has hired an additional 11 temporary employees to help expedite processing. The department says it will be playing a game of catch-up for the foreseeable future.
"We believe we're going to be able to get a handle sometime in the next couple of months," Ms. Mange said.
Gun proponents say the ongoing delays are unacceptable especially for those seeking renewals.
Larry Arnold, director of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association, said he's hearing regular complaints.
"They [DPS] need the assets and they just don't have them," he said.
D.V. Ing, owner of Gunsafetx Consulting Services and a concealed handgun license instructor, said he noticed his classes filling once the state's castle and traveling laws took effect last September.
The castle law authorizes residents to use deadly force to protect their property in some situations without requiring them to retreat first. The traveling law allows those without a license to ride with a gun in their vehicle.
"The traveling law gave them a taste of what it's like to protect yourself," Mr. Ing said.
That feeling, he said, is becoming more common among his students, many of whom say crime is creeping closer to their doorsteps. One of his students said he found people in his driveway one night siphoning gas from his car.
"In the past, people just wanted credit cards," Mr. Ing said. "The chances for a person to become a victim are pretty good. People are becoming more bold."
Daniel Potts, who owns and operates Safe Gun Academy, agreed that crime concerns are a motivating force.
"Crime is in places there wasn't crime before," he said.
First-time applicant Leslie Phillips said she now feels physically and legally protected thanks to the new gun laws.
"This way I can't get in trouble," she said. "This is for my personal safety."
Mr. Potts said that other applicants are afraid of anti-gun laws that could come on the heels of the upcoming presidential election.
"They just want to have it [a license] just in case anything changes," he said.
While Republican candidate John McCain supports gun rights, Democratic candidate Barack Obama favors individuals' right to bear arms but also a government's right to regulate them.
But a Supreme Court decision last month that struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., could potentially loosen restrictions.
Gun safety advocates say the court's decision shouldn't be a free pass to rewrite gun laws.
Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, the successor organization for Americans for Gun Safety, said existing Texas laws appear to be "responsible."
"We're worried legislators will hold up the Supreme Court's opinion as a way to change laws that don't need changing," Mr. Bennett said.
Under current law, Texas allows private businesses to ban weapons, and guns are prohibited in certain places, such as government buildings and college campuses.
Gun advocates hope those with concealed-weapon licenses eventually will be given the right to carry their guns on campuses and to secure areas at their workplaces.
Additionally, a petition seeking to change the concealed-carry law to open-carry has picked up some steam in recent weeks, with almost 18,000 people having electronically signed it.
Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, chairman of the House Law Enforcement Committee, has said the concealed-carry changes have a possibility of coming to fruition, but no immediate effects are expected until the Texas Legislature reconvenes in January.
"We just feel like it's a natural progression for people to protect themselves," he said.
Many first-time applicants, such as Mrs. Denman, are just looking for an immediate feeling of security.
"You're not expecting that big kick," Mrs. Denman said, minutes after she pulled the trigger for the first time. She hopes she won't have to do it for real anytime soon.
But working with her husband at their impound lot in Haltom City, she said she needs to be prepared for anything.
"Things have been kind of crazy around there with people breaking in," she said. "I hope I'll be a little more protected."