When Texas adopted the so-called “Concealed Handgun Law” in 1995, several restricted areas were created where it would be unlawful for a person with a Concealed Handgun License, now known as a License to Carry a Handgun, (“Licensee”) to carry their self-defense handgun. Over the following twenty-one years, Licensees have proven themselves to be the most law-abiding of Texans. Their track record is amazing and it is discussed in detail below.
Over the past two decades, any concerns about Licensees posing a threat to public safety if they carry handguns into statutorily-restricted areas have proven to be unfounded. We have also learned that these restrictions are not only unnecessary, they are actually dangerous to both Licensees and people without a License.
Rep. Drew Springer (R, A+) has filed HB560 that will change Texas law to remove unnecessary and dangerous restrictions on people who hold a Texas License to Carry a Handgun (LTC). These restrictions create illusory “gun free zones” that have long been the preferred hunting grounds for criminals. Here is a summary of the major points to remember about HB560.
Although a few concealed-handgun license laws were in existence prior to 1987, that year is of special significance in the history of citizens carrying self-defense handguns to protect themselves and their families. Florida passed its concealed-carry statute in 1987 and over the ensuing years that State became the poster child for responsible and law-abiding citizens carrying self-defense handguns.
Newspaper articles prior to the passage of the Florida law painted a dreadful picture of death and maiming on a Biblical scale. Fender-benders would become gun fights, husbands would kill wives by the truckloads and children would die in accidental shootings by the thousands. Even for a year after the law passed, some Florida anti-gun legislators warned, “it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming!” Of course, none of this came to pass, much to the dismay of those opposed to private ownership and use of firearms for self-defense. Finally, the strongest opponent of the Florida concealed-carry law, Rep. Ron Silver, admitted that he was wrong and that the law worked very well. He even apologized for coining the phrase “The Gunshine State” and vowed to do as much as possible to repair the damage he caused by that slanderous comment.
During the period between passage of the Florida law in 1987 and the passage of SB60 in Texas in 1995, a few other states passed laws very similar to Florida’s. The passage of SB60 was the culmination of a lengthy battle against gun-rights opponents that preached the same parade-of-horribles there were spewed in the Florida campaign. To this day, Texans owe a debt of gratitude to the NRA, Marion Hammer, and their efforts in Florida that showed the Country that law-abiding citizens are responsible, trustworthy and have the right to carry self-defense handguns.
Although the Texas “Concealed Handgun Law” was passed in 1995 and signed into law by then-Governor George W. Bush, SB60 was not the first such bill to pass. HB1776 passed in 1993 only to be vetoed by then-Governor Ann Richards who did so under false pretenses. George Bush campaigned for Governor on a pledge to sign a concealed handgun bill, if one were placed on his desk.
During 1993, anti-gun groups like Sarah Brady’s Coalition to Ban Handguns (later to undergo several name changes to hide their true goal) adopted the campaign of lies about guns, gun owners and self-defense that had failed in Florida. One method of countering anti-gun lies was to send articles from Florida newspapers to Texas Senators and Representatives. These articles showed the progression from fearmongering to acquiescence to acknowledgment that the Florida concealed-handgun law was working very well. HB1776 passed, but as noted, it was vetoed by Gov. Richards.
After HB1776 was vetoed by Richards, the fearmongering continued with greater vigor trying desperately to prevent the election of George W. Bush and to block passage of a concealed-handgun law in Texas. Those efforts were a resounding failure. George W. Bush was elected Governor in 1994 and on May 26, 1995, he kept his promise and signed SB60 into law. For the first time in over 125 years, Texans were allowed to carry self-defense handguns outside their homes.
Getting an LTC is not merely a matter of sending in an application form and a license fee to the Texas Dept. of Public Safety (“DPS). In order to obtain a license, the person must first meet the eligibility requirements. They are set out in Tex. Gov’t Code §411.172 and they have proven to be very effective over the last two decades. Among the eligibility requirements are 1) no felony convictions; 2) no Class A or B misdemeanor conviction within five years of application; 3) not currently charged with a felony or Class A or B misdemeanor; 4) not a fugitive from justice; 5) not addicted to alcohol or drugs; and 6) not delinquent in the payment of child support or taxes.
Not only must the applicant meet eligibility requirements, he or she must take a statutorily-required training course designed by the DPS and taught by DPS Certified Handgun Instructors. This course includes classroom instruction, passing a written exam, and demonstrating proficiency in the safe handling and accurate shooting of a handgun.
Once the LTC is issued, DPS monitors to see if a Licensee is charged with or convicted of a crime. In the very few cases where Licensees run afoul of the law, DPS moves to suspend or revoke the LTC as required by law. Thus, having a good history and successfully passing the required LTC course is sufficient to obtain an LTC, but Licensees must remain eligible to retain the LTC.
Whenever the legislature considers limiting Texans’ freedom to do something, the first question must be “what problem are we trying to fix?” The problem must be real, it must be quantifiable, and it must be more than mere supposition or conjecture. If a real problem can be articulated, then two follow up questions must be answered. First, “does the proposed fix truly resolve the problem?” Here the focus is on truly resolving the problem, not merely “doing something” to show that the legislature is making an effort and certainly not to make a political statement. The final question “is any benefit of the proposed law outweighed by the negative impact on Texans?”
Once a restrictive law is in place, there is yet another question that the legislature must periodically answer. That question is simply “is there any justification for continuing a restrictive law?”
I am an attorney and these questions look somewhat familiar to those used when determining the constitutionality of an existing or proposed law. Nevertheless, these are the questions that every legislator must ask themselves and their colleagues and that must be answered honestly. Let us look at the history of the Texas Concealed Handgun Law in light of these fundamental questions, as well and the twenty-one year track record of LTCs.
In spite of the success of the Florida law, at the time Senate Bill 60 passed in 1995, it was considered by some as both a revolutionary and radical concept. This opinion was held even by some of the Bill’s supporters in the Texas Legislature. Due to this uncertainty, SB60 contained a number of provisions that were ultimately determined to be unnecessary. Many of those provisions have been repealed or modified since 1995, but the designation of various locations as being off-limits to Licensees carrying self-defense handguns remains.
It is easy to read historical accounts and documents to determine what was included in SB60. Unless a person was part of the process, however, it is difficult to put oneself in the same mindset that existed twenty-one years ago, to understand why certain provisions were included in the Bill. Therefore, for purposes of evaluating Rep. Springer’s HB560, let us not argue whether SB60 should or should not have designated certain areas as off-limits to LTCs. Those provisions exist and the question now is whether they should be removed.
Since SB60 passed in 1995, the DPS has published crime statistics on its website. Those statistics show the total number of crimes committed in Texas by people age 21 years and over. Although a person is considered an adult at age 17 years for purposes of criminal law, DPS uses the 21 year old cut-off so that crimes by the general public can be compared to any committed by Licensees. (The age limit for an LTC is 21 years, with an exception for people in the military.)
I take the DPS data and add the total Texas population for people age 21 years and over. This makes it possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison rendering a crime rate per 100,000 population. The latest data released by the DPS is for calendar year 2015. LTCs are 21 times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public! That is a phenomenal record that goes to the heart of the question, “is there any justification for continuing a restrictive law[?]”. Data for the last five years is listed below. The data for the entire period is available on www.TexasLTCforum.com.
|Year||LTC less likely to commit a crime than the general public|
|2015||21 times less likely|
|2014||20 times less likely|
|2013||13 times less likely. (Crime in general population decreased 19.6% thus decreasing the LTC to general population ratio.)|
|2012||17 times less likely|
|2011||15 times less likely|
When determining whether to prohibit self-defense handguns in any given geographical area, there are two focal points. One is the people to be excluded and the other is the location itself. The above-referenced data over the last 21 years proves that there is no reason to believe Licensees constitute a public safety threat in any of the existing so-called “gun free zones.”
Therefore, the focus must be on the off-limits areas in Tex. Penal Code §§46.03 and 46.035. None of them are what could rationally be considered “sensitive areas” in and of themselves. “Sensitive areas” are areas where the discharge of a firearm could have catastrophic consequences because of what is located or stored in the location. Examples of such areas are nuclear power plants, explosive storage areas and heavily regulated biocontainment labs. This contention is supported by the fact that not one of the off-limits areas in Tex. Penal Code §§46.03 and 46.035 prohibits all firearms. Peace officers are allowed to carry their handguns in those locations, whether they are on duty or not. (Do not confuse being on or off duty with the legal authority for a peace officer to take action to prevent a crime when they are not “on-the-clock.”) None of the “gun free zones” are sensitive areas. All of these areas allow peace officers and other select people to carry handguns in those locations. Therefore, the current restrictions are based upon the category of people being excluded, rather than the location itself. That group, LTCs, have a better track record in terms of being law-abiding citizens than people who are currently allowed into those locations.
There are primarily three separate sections in the Texas Penal Code that make it unlawful to possess firearms in certain areas. These are Tex. Penal Code §46.02, §46.03 and §46.035. Tex. Penal Code §46.02 is the general prohibition on carrying certain weapons including handguns other than on your own property, property under your control, your own motor vehicle or watercraft, or one under your control. There are other exceptions to these limitations, but they are not relevant to this discussion. Section 46.02 is not applicable to Licensees, so the Code provisions at issue are §§46.03 and 46.035.
Tex. Penal Code §46.03 applies to all guns and all people except for peace officers and select other persons who are not peace officers. Tex. Penal Code §46.035 applies only to Licensees. A list of the off-limits areas is set out below. Most of these provisions apply only to buildings (statutorily defined “premises”), not to the entire real estate on which those building stand.
|Penal Code Section||Location|
|§46.03||Applies to all people, except peace officers and other select persons|
School, school activity grounds when a school-sponsored activity is ongoing and school transportation vehicles.
NOTE: 1) Licensees can carry concealed handguns on college campuses, subject to potential restrictions pursuant to §46.035(a-2) or (a-3).
2) All schools have the legal ability to authorize the carrying of firearms anywhere on their property.
|§46.03(a)(2)||Polling places on election day|
|§46.03(a)(3)||Court buildings or offices used by the court. NOTE: The court can authorize the carrying of firearms by anyone.|
|§46.03(a)(4)||Racetracks licensed for paramutual betting.|
|§46.03(a)(5)||Secured areas of airports, subject to defense essentially repealing this law|
|§46.03(a)(6)||Within 1,000 feet of an execution on the day of execution|
|§46.035||Applies only to Licensees|
|§46.035(a)||Unlawful to carry handgun openly, unless in a belt or shoulder holster|
|§46.035(a-1)||Unlawful to open-carry on any college campus|
|§46.035(a-2)||Private college opt-out provision|
|§46.035(a-3)||Public college limited authority to ban handguns|
|§46.035(b)(1)||Handguns prohibited in 51% locations (bars)|
|§46.035(b)(2)||Professional, college or high school sporting or interscholastic events|
|§46.035(b)(4)||Licensed hospitals and nursing homes, but only with notice per TPC§30.06|
|§46.035(b)(5)||Amusement parks, but only with notice per TPC§30.06|
|§46.035(b)(6)||Churches, synagogues, etc., but only with notice per TPC§30.06|
|§46.035(c)||Government meeting that are subject to open-meetings act and only in meeting room|
|§46.035(d)||Unlawful to carry while intoxicated|
Pursuant to Tex. Penal Code §46.15(a), peace officers are not subject to any of the restrictions set out above. However, due to the huge number of people coming within the definition of “peace officer,” thousands of people who are not police officers, deputy sheriffs, constables or DPS Troopers are also exempt from these restrictions. A full discussion of everyone coming within the broad definition of “peace officer” is beyond the scope of this article. Those interested are encouraged to read Tex. Code of Criminal Procedure §2.12
Peace officers are not the only Texans who are exempt from the off-limits areas set out in Tex. Penal Code §46.02, §46.03 and §46.035. Pursuant to Tex. Penal Code §46.15(a), parole officers, juvenile probation officers, community supervision officers, judges (including city/municipal court judges and J.P. Court judges), district and county attorneys and their attorney employees are all treated as though they were peace officers in terms of where they can and cannot carry their handguns. It is enlightening that many of the above-referenced people enjoy reduced off–limits locations only if they also have an LTC. So it is not their job title that exempts them from off-limits restrictions, it is the combination of their job title and the fact that they have an LTC.
During discussions of off-limits locations, one often hears the question asked, “why would you need a gun in __[fill in the blank]____[?].” That question misses the mark because it ignores the area between the Licensee’s car and the off-limits locations. For example, it is doubtful that one would ever need to use their self-defense handgun while watching a Houston Texans football game in NRG Stadium. However, there have been several people assaulted, robbed and even murdered in the parking lot surrounding NRG Stadium (formerly the Astrodome). A Licensee could well need his or her handgun going to and from their car. The question should not be “why would you need a handgun,” it should be “is there a compelling reason to prevent the most law-abiding of Texans from carrying their self-defense handguns in a given location?” In view of the excellent track record Licensees have posted over the past twenty-one years, the unequivocal answer is “no.”
One must also remember that every time a Licensee is forced to remove his or her handgun and leave it in their car, we are increasing the likelihood that a criminal will see the Licensee disarming and will target that vehicle for a burglary. It is ironic that the greater the likelihood of this happening, the more likely the Licensee would need their handgun walking to and from the off-limits location.
Rep. Springer’s Bill will put Licensees in the same group of people that are currently exempt from the off-limits areas set out in Tex. Penal Code §46.03 and 46.035. However, this does not mean Licensees will be able to carry handguns everywhere in the State. It will still be unlawful for a Licensee to carry a handgun:
1) openly unless it is in a belt or shoulder holster;
2) openly anywhere on a public or private college or university campus;
3) while intoxicated;
4) in correctional facilities;
5) on federal property where firearms are prohibited;
6) in secured areas of airports; or
7) on private property posted with §30.06 or §30.07 signs.
Undoubtedly, some will argue that HB560 will make it lawful to carry a handgun into the secured area of an airport or into a correctional facility. That argument will be unfounded.
Federal law controls the secured area of airports and Licensees are not going to be able to carry past the metal detectors. The TSA also has civil fine authority meaning someone trying to enter the secured area of an airport can be fined up to $15,000.
Licensees will be prohibited from carrying handguns in correctional facilities. Tex. Gov’t Code §411.207(a) allows any peace officer to disarm a Licensee, if the officer feels it is necessary for the officer’s safety, the Licensee’s safety, or the safety of any other person. This provision is sufficiently broad as to prohibit carrying a handgun in a correctional facility. Also, Tex. Gov’t Code §411.207(b) allows an officer to disarm a Licensee and store their handgun, if the Licensee chooses to enter a law enforcement facility.
When SB60 passed in 1995 establishing the Texas Concealed Handgun Law, it was argued that Texas was entering unchartered waters. Some called it a social experiment. There is no reason to debate merits of those twenty-one year old claims, because we are no longer working in an uncertain environment. Rarely does the Legislature have over two decades of empirical data upon which to base a decision about a pending bill as it enjoys with HB560.
Over the last twenty-one years, Licensees have been peacefully carrying their self-defense handguns in thousands of public locations such as stores, theaters, restaurants, service stations, daycare centers, shopping malls, playgrounds and countless other locations. Thousands more men and women have legally carried their handguns in churches, hospitals, nursing homes and meetings of governmental meetings, because those locations had not provided notice pursuant to Tex. Penal Code §30.06 that would have rendered those locations off-limits to Licensees.
Not only have Licensees carried handguns in the above-referenced locations, they have been able to defend themselves and their families against violent attacks, most often without having to fire a shot. Licensees have also come to the aid law enforcement officers who were being overpowered by violent criminals.
This is the history, the backdrop against which opponents of HB560 will unsuccessfully argue that these law-abiding, responsible Licensees will inexplicably become violent or a public safety risk, simply because they enter a location with their self-defense handgun as do peace officers, JP Court judges, probation officers, lawyers and others. This contention defies all reason. There is no rational basis upon which to retain the off-limits areas addressed in HB560.
Nothing in HB560 will change current law concerning the right of private property owners to ban open-carry, concealed-carry or both. Business owners will be free to adopt and/or continue any policy they wish concerning the possession of handguns on their property. This includes, but is not limited to, private hospitals, nursing homes and churches. The only off-limits areas impacted by HB560 are those that are statutorily off-limits.
There is no justification to restrict Licensees from carrying handguns in the statutorily off-limits areas that exist today. The constitutional right to self-defense is meaningless when the law deprives people of the tool necessary to exercise that right. Licensees have proven they are not a threat to public safety and this will not change when they cross the threshold of a building they are currently prohibited from entering.
Everyone reading this article should do three things. First, email Rep. Springer and thank him for his dedication to removing criminals’ preferred hunting grounds. Secondly, call your Representative and ask him or her to support HB560 and to “sign onto” the Bill. Ask them to work to pass the bill without any amendments. Finally, call your Senator and ask him or her to support HB560 when it gets to the Senate. Ask them to also “sign onto” any Senate companion bill that may be filed.
CLICK HERE to see who represents you in the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This will also give you their contact information. Get involved and make these contacts!