Politics & Government

As open carry in Texas looms, Tarrant residents are armed and ready

Ernie Vandergriff fired at a target during a class for a concealed handgun license at The Shooting Gallery in Fort Worth.
Ernie Vandergriff fired at a target during a class for a concealed handgun license at The Shooting Gallery in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

In just weeks, Texans will be able to openly carry their holstered handguns.

As the state and its residents prepare to shift from concealed to open carry, Tarrant County residents are ready — collectively, they account for the second highest number of licensed residents in any county in the state.

Harris County has led the way for years, with the most residents licensed to carry concealed handguns. Tarrant County follows right behind, a Star-Telegram analysis of Texas Department of Public Safety data shows.

Maybe it’s the cowboy culture. Or maybe it’s because Fort Worth is where the West begins.

But there has been a six to seven percent increase in the number of Tarrant County residents gaining concealed handgun licenses in recent years.

“It’s like the old west,” said Curtis Van Liew, a local instructor with Texas EZ Concealed Handgun License class. “If you start from the east boundary of Texas and move west, the further west you go, you’re going to see more leniency when it comes to firearms.”

Soon, though, the Concealed Handgun License in Texas as it exists will be just a collector’s item.

It will be replaced with the License to Carry, or LTC, as Texans renew or apply for a license after open carry goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

The number of Texans with licenses to carry handguns continues to grow, this year reaching nearly 914,000, or nearly 4 percent of Texas’ 27 million residents.

Now, as licensed Texans are on the verge of being able to carry their weapons openly, interest in the license has seemed to increase.

“We’ve seen a pretty significant influx in inquiries about open carry since it passed,” Van Liew said. “It’s like anything, when it first comes out and it’s new, people are on board with it.

Whether carrying openly (after Jan. 1) or concealed, Texans must have a license. Anyone with a valid CHL license may continue to carry with their current license.

“They are curious about it, then it wanes,” he said. “But it can’t be somebody off the street saying, ‘I’m going to open carry today.’ They have to have a license.”

Increase in Texas

The number of concealed handgun licenses in Texas has steadily grown since lawmakers first approved the law in 1995.

By the end of 1996, 114,017 Texas permits had been issued. Each permit is good for four years initially and then for five years after each renewal, according to DPS data.

By 2010, there were 461,724 active licenses in Texas, which went up to 518,625 in 2011, 584,850 in 2012, 708,048 in 2013 and 825,957 in 2014. As of September, there were 913,744 concealed handgun licenses issued in Texas, DPS records show.

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Some chalk the steady increase in Texas licenses up to population growth; others note that the number has gone up steadily since President Barack Obama moved into the White House in 2009.

Gun and ammunition sales in Texas and nationwide have skyrocketed amid fears the president would add gun restrictions or reinstate a ban on assault weapons.

Not only that, but violence across the country and world continues to grow, sparking the desire within many to protect themselves.

“There’s an uneasiness,” Van Liew said. “The more we hear about things happening across the world, the more people say they want to be able to protect themselves and their family.”

Where the West began

Tarrant County, which has the state’s third largest population, has the second largest number of CHL holders, data shows.

The only county with a higher growth rate is Harris County, which has seen a 12 to 16 percent increase in the past five years, records show.

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The number of licenses in Tarrant County could have to do with the size of the county, its cowboy culture or its conservative roots, political observers say.

“I would still argue that it is probably due to the conservative nature of these two counties,” said Georgen Guerrero, an associate professor of criminal justice and sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. “These two counties are probably big supporters of open carry legislation and previously of the conceal carry law.”

In 2014, there were 17,560 CHL license applicants from Tarrant County, compared with 17,876 in 2013, 10,801 in 2012, 9,859 in 2011 and 7,220 in 2010, records show.

Ages

A review of the last five years of data shows that Texans in their 50s are the most likely to seek licenses.

The oldest Texan last year to receive a CHL was 98.

“Even though they are not the most victimized age group, they may believe that they are the highest victimized of all the groups,” Guerrero said.

But also, that age group may be among those most financially secure.

“As they are nearing their 60s, they may be looking for more individual security, beyond just financial security,” Guerrero said.

In 2014, more than 53,000 Texans between the ages of 50-59 were issued licenses. The second largest number of licenses went to Texans in their 40s, who received more than 50,000 licenses. After that, Texans in their 30s received more than 45,000 licenses and Texans in their 60s received nearly 45,000 licenses.

The oldest Texan last year to receive a CHL was 98.

A gender factor?

Men are more likely to have CHL in Texas than women, the Star-Telegram analysis shows.

In 2014, 73 percent of the CHL applicants were men, compared with 72 percent in 2013, 76 percent in 2012 and 78 percent in 2011 and 2010, records show.

“Historically, women were not willing, or as willing, as men to engage in violence,” Guerrero said. “Ownership of a concealed weapon may enhance the possibility of a confrontation.”

But Guerrero also said some women may not carry handguns because they feel words are a better tool.

“They understand that they can actually avoid confrontation and resolve issues more peacefully than men by talking their way out of hostile situations and may not feel the need to carry a concealed weapon,” he said.

Switching to open carry

No one is sure how the switch to open carry may impact the number of licenses issued next year and beyond.

It’s not strap on your hog’s leg (a six-shooter) and go to the restaurant. It’s more nuanced than that.

Alan Korwin, author of more than a dozen gun law books, including the “Texas Gun Owners Guide.

But Texans should be ready for a culture shift, at least at first.

“It’s not strap on your hog’s leg (a six-shooter) and go to the restaurant,” said Alan Korwin, author of more than a dozen gun law books, including the “Texas Gun Owners Guide. “It’s more nuanced than that.”

“I think there will be initial shock with people openly carrying,” Van Liew said. “Some people will be absolutely stunned by it.”

Despite the change in law, some, such as Van Liew, say they still plan to keep their weapons concealed.

“I want all the benefits and advantages I can have if I’m ever in a confrontation,” he said. “The biggest one is the element of surprise.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Getting a License to Carry

  • Applicants must take a class, pay a fee and have a clean criminal record.
  • They must be 21, must have lived in the state for at least six months, must pass a background check for mental and criminal histories and must have no felony convictions. They can’t be chemically dependent or delinquent on taxes or child support payments.
  • Texans with documented psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anger disorders, are not eligible.
  • Each permit is good for four years initially and then for five years after each renewal.
  • The law allowing open carry of weapons requires Texans to have a license whether they choose to openly or concealed carry. Anyone with a valid CHL license may continue to carry with their current license. New training for open carry will be incorporated into classes license-holders must take but no new training is required before Texans renew their license.
  • Anyone carrying openly must have their handgun in a secured shoulder or belt holster.
  • A license typically costs $140 and renewals cost $70, but the costs are reduced for some Texans such as judicial officers, active military, active peace officers and senior citizens.
  • For information about open carry, the Texas State Rifle Association is providing information on their website.

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety

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