Respect your elders — and be aware that they might be packing heat.Texans in their 50s and 60s are leading the pack in getting concealed handgun licenses.“Older folks are more concerned with their safety, recognize the dangers around them more, have more to lose and are less capable of dealing with threats by running and avoidance,” said Alan Korwin, author of 14 gun law books, including Your First Gun — Should you buy one and join 60 million safely armed American homes?As the number of concealed handgun licenses continues to increase in Texas, the top age group seeking concealed handgun licenses in the past five years has been over 50.Statewide, there are more than 580,000 active licenses, with nearly 150,000 of them being issued last year, and Tarrant County has the second most active licenses, according to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.And nationwide, Texas leads the number of inquiries the FBI has received from people running criminal background checks on potential gun buyers than from any other state this year.“Texans identify with liberty and freedom … and the ability to live your life as they want,” said Charles Johnson, a Houston attorney and former offensive tackle for the Denver Broncos and New York Giants who sits on the board of directors for the Houston Police Foundation. “It’s a cultural thing.“There’s the attitude that you live your life the way you want to peacefully, but if someone wants to threaten that peace … you should have the right to defend your family, life, liberty and property.”Last year, more 57-year-old Texans sought a CHL than any other age.In recent years, Texans aged 63, 52, 61 and 60 have also led the way in concealed handgun permits, according to a Star-Telegram analysis of the DPS data that shows the number of CHL issued each fiscal year.No matter what the age of the CHL holder, some say there’s a clear connection between states having greater numbers of gun ownership and higher rates of gun deaths, said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.“With concealed carry, you are taking a gun and you have it with you all the time, so by definition, you are enhancing the chance it will be involved in an intentional shooting,” she said. “As for the chance anyone will successfully use a gun in self-defense, people don’t understand how rare that is.“Your chances of being in that scenario … it virtually never happens.”‘Texas culture’Nationwide, Texas generally is the No. 2 state requesting criminal background checks on potential gun buyers.In the past 15 years, Kentucky reported 16.3 million requests, followed by Texas with 13 million, California with 11.8 million, Illinois with nearly 9.5 million and Pennsylvania with 9 million, the most recent federal reports show.Korwin said Kentucky generally has the most requests because officials there run their entire permit list through the FBI each month to ensure that they quickly learn of anyone disqualified from buying a gun.But through August, Texas topped the list with nearly 1.1 million requests for background checks. Illinois had nearly 930,000 requests, followed by California with just over 900,000, Kentucky with nearly 880,000 and Florida with more than 730,000, the most recent federal reports show.In Texas, Harris County — the most populated county in the state — is home to the most licenses. That one county has accounted for 15 to 16 percent of CHL applicants in the past five years, the analysis shows.“The availability of information about crimes, particularly in Harris County, may be a factor,” said Johnson, of Houston. “But when you get outside the inner city of Houston, it’s a very conservative area in a very conservative state.“People identify with the Texas culture … and they are going to exercise their rights.”Tarrant County, which has the state’s third-largest population, has the second-largest number of CHL holders — adding between 6 and nearly 8 percent in each of the past five years, the analysis shows.Johnson said the number of CHL holders in Tarrant County is likely both a “cultural and political thing.”“There are more people of a conservative, old-school Texas type culture … whose beliefs are formed by their culture,” Johnson said.For them, having a concealed handgun license “is a matter of wanting to live their lives and protect their property.”There are around 42,000 active licenses in Tarrant County, essentially one for every 49 people.Leading the wayTexans must be at least 21 to get a concealed handgun license, which is good for four years initially and then for five years after each renewal.Some apply for their license before they are legally old enough. And plenty of Texans apply for concealed handgun licenses once they hit the 21-year-old mark.Last year, 1,979 21-year-olds sought a license, as did 1,713 22-year-olds and 1,583 23-year-olds.More people in their 30s generally seek their CHL than those in their 20s, and more 40-somethings appear to seek their license than 30-year-olds.But 57-year-olds led the way in 2012, with 3,609 of them seeking a license.They were closely followed by 64-year-olds (3,588), 53-year-olds (3,576), 54-year-olds (3,562) and 55-year-olds (3,542), the analysis shows.The top five age groups seeking licenses in the past five years were all similar — and all featured Texans older than 51.“That group of people is the most aware and alert,” said Johnson, who got his CHL with his father, who was in his 60s, in 1996. “They watch the news the most. They follow changes in the law, news on a national and state level — and they see any increase in crime.“They are the generation most likely to … have responsible type of behavior,” he said. “They also are the most likely to take action to keep themselves safe.”Older Texans also may lead the way because of the cost of training and the license, as well as the cost of ammunition, fingerprints and other supplies needed, said Bob Wieland, a concealed handgun license instructor in Plano.“Older citizens have more life experience and may be more likely to have been a crime victim or know somebody who has,” said Wieland, who has taught CHL classes since 1996. “Younger people tend to think they are indestructible.”Each year, Texans into their 90s are among those seeking licenses to carry concealed handguns. Last year, five 91-year-olds, six 92-year-olds and five Texans aged 93, 94 or 95 were among those applying for their license, the DPS data shows.Law changesEarlier this year, lawmakers passed several measures geared to give Texas gun owners more freedom — shrinking the required training time for those seeking concealed handgun licenses, letting CHL holders leave their weapons in parked vehicles on college campuses, even letting Texans renew their CHL licenses online without taking a renewal class.Wieland said he believes the changes “will serve to increase interest and demand” in getting licenses.Demand has been on the rise recently anyway.In Texas, 114,017 CHL were issued in 1996, the first year it was possible. The numbers fluctuated between 48,000 and 88,000 for the next 12 years.By 2009, after President Barack Obama moved into the White House, the number of licenses issued in Texas jumped as gun and ammunition sales skyrocketed. Some said they were afraid Obama would add gun restrictions or reinstate a ban on assault weapons.Sales picked up again after his re-election and after a political firestorm over gun rights erupted following the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School.That flurry has slowed down, but the number of concealed handgun licenses is still on the rise in Texas.Texas handgun licensesHere’s a look at the number of concealed handgun licenses issued in Texas and Tarrant County for the past five fiscal years, as well as the age of Texans with the most application requests per year.
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Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley