[This article was first published during the 2013 Texas Legislative Session on April 9, 2013 under the title "Time to Recognize Exemplary Conduct." It has been updated.]
During the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, Representative Drew Springer (Republican), in his first term filed a bill that will be counted among the most important bills ever filed in Texas on behalf of Texas Concealed Handgun Licensees (CHLs). HB3218 would have finally recognized and rewarded CHLs for what was then an eighteen year track record that is the envy of the nation. It is now a nineteen year track record and it keeps getting better. As noted below, Texas CHLs are almost sixteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public and seven times less likely to commit a crime as are Texas peace officers who can boast of their own excellent record. This is not a momentary blip on the radar screen nor an abnormally good reporting year. These numbers are typical for Texas CHLs.
There is no greater use for a firearm than the preservation of innocent life. It is time to remove artificial, unnecessary and potentially deadly restrictions on the most law-abiding of Texans allowing them to defend their lives and the lives of their families everywhere in our great State.
History of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas
The time has come for the Texas legislature to reduce the number of locations that are “off-limits” to CHLs. At the time Senate Bill 60 passed in 1995, it was considered by some as both a revolutionary and radical concept. This opinion was even held by some of the Bill’s supporters in the Texas Legislature. Due to this uncertainty, SB 60 contained many provisions that were ultimately determined to be unnecessary. These provisions included the designation of various locations as being off-limits to CHLs carrying self-defense handguns.
Beginning with the 1997 Texas Legislative Session, the Texas CHL statute has been systematically amended to remove many of the unnecessary provisions. Over the nineteen years since SB60 passed, the Texas concealed handgun license statute has become a non-issue. Texas was not reduced to a ghost town, there was no blood in the streets, and all of the other parade of horribles fervently preached by the news media have not come to pass. Texans learned that CHL holders did not pose a threat to their safety and Texas peace officers have come to view the Texas Concealed Handgun License as a “good guy card.”
CHL’s Excellent Track Record
The Texas Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) publishes data setting out the conviction rates for the general public in Texas as well as CHLs. For several years, this writer has used this and other data to create a statistical analysis comparing crime rates on an annual basis. The nineteen year track record achieved by Texas CHLs is astounding. Every year since SB 60 was passed in 1995, CHLs have been far less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas. In recent years, this already excellent track record improved dramatically to the point that CHLs are almost sixteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas. Not only is this an astounding statistic, it is far better than that achieved by Texas law enforcement.
Most Texans are aware that Texas peace officers can carry their handguns virtually everywhere in the State, whether they are on duty or off duty. Understandably, most people do not have a problem with having very few off-limits areas applicable to peace officers, but they are unaware of the large group of people who are classified as “peace officers” under Texas law. A full discussion of the people that are legally defined as “peace officers” is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say it is far more than DPS Troopers, police officers, deputy sheriffs, and constables. (For more information, go to http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CR/htm/CR.2.htm#2.12.)
Peace officers are not the only Texans who enjoy very few off-limits areas. A group of people have been signled out for preferential treatment and they can carry their handguns everywhere a peace officer can carry a handgun. They are employed as 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 and they are all treated as though they are peace officers in terms of where they can and cannot carry their self-defense handguns. It is enlightening that many of the above-referenced people enjoy reduced off – limits locations only if they also have a Texas Concealed Handgun License. So it is not their job title that reduces the number of off-limits locations, it is the combination of their job title and the fact that they have a CHL.
Time to Level the Playing Field for All Texas CHLs
We are no longer dealing with an unknown quantity as we were nineteen years ago when SB 60 passed in 1995. We have the benefit of the nineteen year track record that clearly proves all Texas CHL holders are trustworthy, not merely those who happen to be judges or attorneys. Indeed, CHLs have proven themselves far less likely to commit a crime than even peace officers who are subject to a very few off-limits restrictions.
There is no compelling reason to exclude CHLs from the existing off-limits areas; indeed, thousands of CHL holders who are not peace officers are legally allowed to carry in those areas under current Texas law. For nineteen years, it has been the public policy of this State to empower honest, law-abiding citizens who have obtained a Texas Concealed Handgun License to carry a self-defense handgun to protect themselves and their loved ones. In 1995, it was unknown how well this program would work, so the list of off-limits locations was unnecessarily long. Now that we have proof that Texas CHLs are the most law-abiding Texans, it is time to extend that public policy by reducing the number of off-limits locations applicable to CHLs.
If a bill like 2013’s HB3218 were to pass, locations that are off-limits to CHLs will be reduced, but they still will not be able to carry while intoxicated or in locations that are made off-limits by federal law. Private property owners will still be able to prevent CHLs from carrying a concealed handgun on their property, pursuant to Texas Penal Code Section 30.06.
During discussions of off-limits locations, one would often hear 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 CHL’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 murdered in the parking lot surrounding NRG Stadium, so a CHL 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 exclude handguns?” In view of the excellent track record CHLs have earned over the past nineteen years, the unequivocal answer is “no.”
We must also remember that every time a CHL 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 CHL disarming and will target that vehicle for a burglary. It is ironic that the greater the likelihood of this happening, the more likely the CHL would need their handgun walking to and from the off-limits location.
The fear of the unknown that existed almost two decades ago and prompted the creation of numerous off-limits areas applicable to Texas CHLs no longer exists. Empirical evidence proves that Texas CHLs are honest, law-abiding responsible citizens who have earned our trust. Every time we require a CHL to remove their self-defense handgun before entering an off-limits location, we are rendering defenseless the most law-abiding of our citizens. It is time to recognize CHLs for their outstanding record over the last nineteen years and give them equal standing with other CHLs who have been singled out for preferential treatment.
It is expected that bills similar to HB3218 in the 2013 Texas Legislative Session will be filed both in the House and Senate in the 2015 legislative session. When a call-to-action is sent concerning those bills, please call your Representative and Senator and tell him/her you strongly support these much-needed bills. Tell them also that these bills not deal only with public safety, but with your personal safety and the safety of your family.
While you are at it, be sure to call Rep. Springer and express your sincere appreciation for his work on HB3218 in 2013.