Texas Concealed Handgun Carriers: Law-abiding Public Benefactors

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Unless you've lived under a rock for the past six months, you're probably aware that gun control has become a major issue in the 2000 presidential campaign. Vice President Al Gore, a strong gun control advocate, has accused his presidential opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, of being wrong and out of step by supporting and signing into law a law granting Texans the right to carry concealed firearms.

Yet on concealed carry, it is Bush who is in the mainstream and not only in Texas, but around the nation as well. Bush signed the concealed carry law after Texas citizens approved a non-binding resolution asking the state to grant them the right to carry concealed weapons. 30 other states have also enacted concealed carry laws.

Opponents predicted public safety would decline as guns would be placed in irresponsible hands; and that criminals would be undeterred by an armed public. With the fifth anniversary of Texas' concealed carry law having just passed, now might be a good time to see if these predictions have proven true.

According to a recent National Center for Policy Analysis report, Texas' concealed carry holders are far less likely to be arrested, especially for a serious crime, than the general population. It found concealed carry licensees were 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent offenses and were 14 times less likely to be arrested for non-violent offenses than the general public. Further, the general public is 1.4 times more likely to be arrested for murder than those licensed to carry a concealed handgun.

Shootings involving licensees are rare. Furthermore, of the permit holders who have wounded or killed assailants, most weren't arrested because the authorities determined the shootings were justified. For instance, licensee Jim Eichelberg shot James Turner as Turner tried to carjack Eichelberg at gunpoint. Eichelberg was seen to be acting in self defense and was not arrested.

Of those licensees who have been arrested for a murder, several have not been indicted by grand juries which determined they had acted in self-defense. Gordon Hale, the first licensee in Texas to kill an assailant and the first to be arrested for murder, for example. Hale was involved in a minor traffic accident, which turned into an assault when the other driver, Kenny Tavai, punched him repeatedly in the face and attempted to drag him out of his car through the window. Hale fired his weapon in response, killing Tavai. The grand jury believed that Hale justifiably feared for his life and refused to indict him.

In fact, five of the seven licensees actually tried for murder were found to have acted in self-defense. In short, the 210,000 Texas concealed carry licensees have proven to be a largely law-abiding lot.

What about concealed carry's effect on crime? In the early 1990s, Texas' serious crime rate was 38 percent above the national average. Since then serious crime in Texas has dropped 50 percent faster than for the nation as a whole. For example, during the 1990s Texas' murder rate dropped 52 percent compared to 33 percent nationally and the rape rate fell by 22 percent compared to 16 percent nationally.

Research by economist John Lott indicates that Texas's concealed carry law has likely helped. Lott's research has found that concealed handgun laws, where applied, reduce murder by 8.5 percent, rape by 5 percent and severe assault by 7 percent.

The law's success is winning converts. John Holmes, Harris County district attorney, and Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, initially opposed concealed carry in Texas - now they embrace it. Holmes said, ". . . I was very outspoken in my opposition to . . . the Concealed Handgun Act. I . . . [felt] that such legislation . . . present[ed] a clear and present danger to law-abiding citizens by placing more handguns on our streets. Boy was I wrong. Our experience in Harris County, and indeed statewide, has proven my initial fears absolutely groundless." And White said, "I lobbied against the [concealed carry] law . . . because I thought it would lead to wholesale armed conflict. All the horror stories I thought would come to pass didn't happen. . . . I think it's worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I'm a convert."

The evidence indicates that rather than lambasting Gov. Bush for his support of concealed carry in Texas, Gore should encourage laws allowing citizens in every state to carry concealed handguns.



The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues. The NCPA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in Washington, D.C.