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Older Texans are armed and ready — even into their golden years

Gun safety tips you need to know

License To Carry Instructor Cassie Shockey talks about gun safety tips.
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License To Carry Instructor Cassie Shockey talks about gun safety tips.

Listen to your elders.

Seriously.

They might just be packing heat — in Texas, anyway.

Texans between 50 and 59 are the most likely age group to have a License To Carry a handgun in the Lone Star State, according to a Star-Telegram review of Texas Department of Public Safety data.

Not only that, but around 80,000 Texans in their 60s, 70s and 80s picked up gun licenses or renewals last year, as did more than 150 people between 90 and 97.

"With all the turmoil in the world going on, I think people are more aware of the violence," said Curtis Van Liew, an instructor and owner of EZ Concealed Handgun Licenses. "You can't watch the news any given day without seeing more violence.

"The odds are that something is going to happen to them sooner or later."

This comes 23 years since state lawmakers signed off on letting Texans carry handguns across the state.

Now, more than 1.2 million Texans have licenses to carry. That's less than 5 percent of the state's 28.3 million residents.

That's a small percentage, but it still means quite a few Texans are legally carrying guns, said Marsha McCartney, a volunteer with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"I just think we are living in a society where there's a lot of fear," she said. "I don't know who they think they are going to shoot or why they think they need their guns.

"It's a sad state of affairs."

How many handgun license holders live in your ZIP code?

Number of the Licenses to Carry a handgun issued by ZIP code in 2017, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Click on the shaded ZIP code areas for more details, including census data on population and the median income.

Why Tarrant?

Harris County, the most populated county in the state, leads the way with 165,010 residents licensed to carry handguns, DPS data shows.

Tarrant County — the state's third most populated county and home to Fort Worth, long referred to as where the West begins — is second with 88,405.

Some wonder if the gun license rate is high here because there's so much rural land in the county. Pew Research Center studies have shown that gun ownership typically is highest in rural areas.

"Tarrant County is shifting and changing all the time," Van Liew said. "I've heard for years that the more west you go, the more relaxed it is about guns.

"In Dallas or Mesquite, if you open carry over there, someone is going to pick up the phone and call the police. In Tarrant County, it's less likely to happen."

Another factor could be the political persuasion of much of Tarrant County, which is one of the reddest areas in the country.

"Gun owners tend to be more Republican," said Georgen Guerrero, an associate professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

Dallas, Bexar, Collin, Denton, Montgomery, Travis, Fort Bend and Williamson round out the top 10 counties with the most gun licenses, state data shows.

Battle of the ages

Texans must be 21 to get a License To Carry, known as an LTC.

That didn't stop 326 underage Texans last year from applying for — and being denied — licenses.

Texans in their 50s applied for or renewed the most licenses, 61,963.

After that, Texans in their 40s claimed the next largest number of licenses, 60,358, followed by those in their 30s, who picked up 54,380.

These Texans "are still really young and active in our society and they may believe that they are in need of protection," Guerrero said.

Texans in their 60s received 51,776 licenses last year and 20 year olds claimed 37,054 licenses. At the same time, 24,353 Texans in their 70 and, 3,416 in their 80s picked up their licenses.

And 152 people in their 90s received their gun licenses as well.

"The older generations are the ones that are the most fearful of crime," Guerrero said. "However, the 60-year-old cohort may simply be less likely to be in situations that will leave themselves open to victimization."

James Thacker, a 63-year-old Haslet man, received his License to Carry about one and half years ago.

"It was just something I wanted to do," he said. "There was no particular reason."

He doesn't carry his handgun if he feels secure in where he's going — and he said he has never felt a need to use it.

"It makes me more secure to have it," he said.

Men or women?

Through the years, the number of women carrying handguns has slowly increased.

But men still vastly outnumber women in getting licenses to carry them.

Last year, 72 percent of the new or renewed licenses went to men and 28 percent went to women.

"It's unpopular these days, especially at schools and universities, but It's true in two parts: men and women are different, and guns are more a man thing," said Alan Korwin, a gun law expert and author of more than a dozen books. "Even the numbers bear that out."

And the bulk of licenses last year went to white Texans (83 percent).

Black Texans received 7.8 percent of the licenses, Asian Texans received 2.5 percent of them and American Indian or Alaskan Native Texans received less than 1 percent.

Nearly 6 percent were multi-racial or listed other/unknown as their race, statistics show.

Getting a license

Handguns weren't legally allowed to be carried in Texas until 1995, when the state Legislature passed a law letting gun owners carry concealed handguns in many areas of the state.

By 2016, the Legislature allowed Texans who are licensed — which means they have a clear criminal record and no record of mental illness — to openly carry handguns across the state except in certain areas. Other laws have gone into effect since then, including allowing the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses.

To get a license, Texans must be 21, have lived in the state for at least six months, have passed a background check for mental and criminal histories and have no felony convictions. They can’t be chemically dependent or delinquent on taxes or child support. Texans with documented psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anger disorders, are not eligible.

Each permit is good for four years at first and then for five years after each renewal.

Until recently, the cost to get a permit was $140 and the renewal was $70. A bill in 2017 dropped both of those amounts to $40 as of Sept. 1, 2017.

Accountability

Van Liew has been teaching LTC classes for eight years and has seen enrollment go up and down.

April to October is generally the slowest time of the year as people finish school, take vacations, even relocate. Demand usually rises again around September or October.

"Most people say it's a sense of becoming more responsible for their own safety," Van Liew said. "Let's be real. Police cannot protect all the people all the time.

"How many times have the police stopped something from happening to you? Or do you call them after something happens?" he asked. "People feel the need to be more prepared to defend themselves, knowing that something could happen and there might be no one else around to help."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

License To Carry Instructor Cassie Shockey talks about gun safety tips.

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