In 1995 the Texas legislature passed a “shall issue” concealed handgun law—creating a non-discretionary system under which state authorities must provide a concealed handgun license to any applicant who meets specific, objective criteria. Licenses issued under the new law became effective in January 1996.
To receive the standard four-year license, applicants must submit an application—with proficiency certificate, fingerprints, photographs, proof of age and residency, and a $140 fee—to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). An additional fee is required for the mandatory 10 hours of firearms proficiency training. The DPS then has 60 days in which to conduct a background check on the applicant. At the end of the 60 days, the agency must either grant or deny the license. (The law stipulates, however, that the DPS may suspend the 60-day “mandatory issuance” period for up to 180 days if an additional background investigation is warranted.)
Unlike “shall issue” laws passed by other states, the Texas law is unique in that it requires law enforcement agencies to report certain incidents involving license holders to the Department of Public Safety. Under the law, such reports are required to be made only when a violation regarding illegal carrying or discharge of a firearm has occurred and only when the license holder has been arrested. In practice, a majority of arrests appear to be reported by law enforcement agencies to the licensing authority. Information about these incidents is limited however, because of broad confidentiality provisions contained in the law.1
As of September 1, 2001, public information about the arrests of Texas concealed handgun license holders became more limited than ever when a new state law took effect that redefined the record-keeping rules of the Texas Department of Public Safety. This new law authorized the DPS to “maintain statistics related to responses by law enforcement agencies on its website only in incidents in which persons licensed to carry concealed handguns are convicted of certain serious offenses.”2
Despite reporting obstacles and limitations, research conducted by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reveals that many Texas license holders have been arrested for a wide range of crimes. Arrest data is regularly accepted as a valid measure of crime, reflecting law enforcement response to criminal activity. For example, arrest counts are used as a valid and reliable measure of law enforcement response to crime by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Regardless of whether or not an arrest involving a concealed handgun license holder results in a dismissal or conviction in court, each arrest reflects time and resources spent by law enforcement. In addition, arrest data for the general population of Texas aged 21 years and older is also made available by the Department of Public Safety, allowing for comparison of weapon-related arrests of concealed handgun license holders to the general population of Texas aged 21 years and older.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety,3 Texas concealed handgun license holders4 were arrested for a total of 5,314 crimes from January 1, 1996, to August 31, 2001. Crimes for which license holders were arrested include: murder/attempted murder (including attempted murder of police officer), kidnapping, rape/sexual assault, assault, weapon-related offenses, drug-related offenses, burglary, and theft. Non-arrest information, which includes delinquent child support, protective orders, non-payment of taxes, medical/mental diagnoses, and suicide, was available for the VPC’s first three License to Kill studies. However, non-arrest information for this current time period was not available from Texas DPS in a timely or complete manner, and is not included in this edition.
This study is the fourth version of License to Kill. In January 1998 the Violence Policy Center released its first study: License to Kill: Arrests Involving Texas Concealed Handgun License Holders. That study analyzed the DPS’s concealed handgun license holder arrest data between January 1, 1996, and October 9, 1997, and found that concealed handgun license holders had been arrested for 946 crimes subsequent to licensure. In March 1999, a follow-up study, License to Kill, and Kidnap, and Rape, and Drive Drunk… analyzed arrest data between January 1, 1996, and December 31, 1998, and found that concealed handgun license holders had been arrested for more than 1,000 new crimes, for a total of 2,080 arrests. In August 2000, License to Kill III: The Texas Concealed Handgun Law’s Legacy of Crime and Violence analyzed the data between January 1, 1996, and April 30, 2000, and found that Texas concealed handgun license holders had been arrested for nearly 1,300 additional crimes, for a total of 3,370 arrests. This edition is an update of the August 2000 report.
Supporters of “shall issue” concealed carry laws maintain that only “law-abiding citizens” apply for and receive concealed handgun licenses. At an April 18, 1996, press conference in Dallas, then-National Rifle Association (NRA) chief lobbyist Tanya Metaksa asserted, “As we get more information about right-to-carry, our point is made again and again….People who get permits in states which have fair right-to-carry laws are law-abiding, upstanding community leaders who merely seek to exercise their right to self-defense.” Clearly this is not the case. As shown in news articles and in the VPC’s License to Kill studies, concealed handgun license holders are arrested for a multitude of offenses, including violent crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault. Most concealed carry states keep information on the crimes committed by their concealed carry license holders hidden. This does not mean that crimes do not occur. As illustrated by the few states that have “shall issue” concealed carry and have had their concealed carry programs (however briefly) examined, concealed carry license holders are not the “upstanding community leaders” that pro-gun advocates promised. Allowing the public access to the information necessary to evaluate a concealed carry program is the minimum that a state should do when overseeing a program that involves the use of lethal force.
The NRA has made repeated statements to the press that its current Congressional agenda includes a national concealed carry law similar to the one in Texas. As conservative activist, NRA Board member, and NRA Life Member Grover Norquist explained in Rolling Stone magazine last year:
Over the next five to ten years, gun activists will press for a federal law allowing people to carry concealed weapons across state lines. Already, several dozen states have enacted concealed carry laws, but a nationwide law would be something else. ‘If we get that, we’ve won,’ says Norquist. ‘It’s over.’5
More recently, at its annual meeting in April 2002, the NRA claimed that its efforts to expand concealed carry laws across the United States are on target. In a speech to members, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promised to capitalize on “increased momentum since Sept. 11”6 for such laws.
Currently, there are 33 “shall issue” states and 11 “may issue” states.7 Additionally, there are six states which have no, or very limited, concealed carry: Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In recent years, the Midwest states have been a battleground for the concealed carry issue. In a decisive defeat of NRA money, Missouri voters rejected concealed carry in a statewide referendum in 1999.
This study8 details 5,314 arrests of these “law-abiding” concealed handgun license holders subsequent to licensure, as reported to the Texas DPS. Incidents involving concealed handgun license holders include: 41 arrests for murder or attempted murder, 14 arrests for kidnapping/false imprisonment, 79 arrests for rape/sexual assault, 279 arrests for alleged assault/aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, 1,315 arrests for driving while intoxicated, 60 arrests for indecency with children, 404 drug-related arrests, 134 individual arrests for sexual misconduct, 19 arrests for impersonating a police officer or public servant, and eight arrests for arson.
VPC analysis of the DPS information reveals that—
- Texas concealed handgun license holders have been arrested for two and one-half crimes a day since the law went into effect.
- Texas concealed handgun license holders have been arrested for more than two serious violent crimes per month since the law went into effect, including: murder/attempted murder, manslaughter/negligent homicide, kidnapping,9 rape, and sexual assault.
- Texas concealed handgun license holders have been arrested for more than two crimes against children per month since the law went into effect, including: sexual assault/aggravated sexual assault on a child, injury to a child, indecency with a child, abandon/endanger a child, solicitation of a minor, and possession or promotion of child pornography.
- Texas concealed handgun license holders have been arrested for more than four drunk driving offenses per week since the law went into effect.
- Family violence was identified in one in 23 incidents involving concealed handgun license holders.10
- Texas concealed handgun license holders have been arrested for more than one weapon-related offense every other day since the law went into effect.
- From 1996 to 2000, Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for weapon-related offenses11 at a rate 81 percent higher than that of the general population of Texas, aged 21 and older. These weapon-related offenses include arrests for 279 assaults or aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon, 671 unlawfully carrying a weapon, and 172 deadly conduct/discharge firearm.12
This report consists of three sections—
- Section One: Arrests of Concealed Handgun License Holders in Texas lists all arrests of concealed handgun license holders from January 1, 1996, to August 31, 2001.
- Section Two: Details of Specific Arrest Incidents Involving Concealed Handgun License Holders offers detailed information gathered through Violence Policy Center research on 11 arrests of concealed handgun license holders—10 for murder or attempted murder and one for aggravated kidnapping. For the entire study period, there were 41 arrests for murder or attempted murder, but these 10 are the only ones for which the VPC could find definitive information after extensive research. Of these 41 arrests, there was no final data on 13 (32 percent) of them.
- Section Three: Conclusion offers a brief summary of the study’s findings and policy recommendations for states that have passed or are considering “shall issue” concealed carry laws.
1) The Texas law’s broad confidentiality provision severely limits the Department of Public Safety’s ability to disclose virtually any information about concealed handgun license holders to the public. The law stipulates that the department may only identify whether an individual currently possesses a license. No information is provided about prior criminal histories, reasons for denial, suspension, or revocation—including crimes committed after licensure. The department does provide a list of arrest incidents involving license holders, but the only identifiers provided by the department are each licensee’s date of birth, sex, race, zip code of residence, incident date, arrest text description, and whether the incident involved family violence. The department may not disclose the name of the arrested licensee. Occasionally, news articles covering high-profile incidents will note whether the suspect has a concealed handgun license, but otherwise the public is not alerted to alleged crimes involving license holders. The law’s confidentiality provision—which in effect makes concealed handgun license holders a protected, privileged class—makes it extremely difficult to identify flaws in the law and the threat posed by license holders.
2) “HBA-JEK H.B. 2784 77(R) BILL ANALYSIS,” Office of House Bill Analysis (Texas Legislature Online), downloaded April 5, 2002, from www.capitol.state.tx.us/capitol.html; INTERNET. Original in files of Violence Policy Center.
3) The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is responsible for administering and reviewing concealed handgun license applications, providing statistical data on concealed handgun license holders, and directing the application and training process for the certified handgun instructors.
4) As of December 3, 2001, there were 218,661 individuals with active concealed handgun licenses—1.6 percent of the state’s 2000 adult population aged 21 and older (13,586,575 according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, the most recent year available).
5) Robert Dreyfuss, “Bush’s Concealed Weapon,” Rolling Stone, March 29, 2001, p. 36.
6) Steven Friess, “NRA counts on 9/11 momentum at convention,”USA Today, April 25, 2002.
7) The “may issue” states are California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
8) In November 2001, the Violence Policy Center acquired a list of arrest incidents involving Texas concealed handgun license holders from the DPS. These records list incidents from January 1, 1996, to August 31, 2001.
9) Includes two arrests for false imprisonment, two arrests for harboring a runaway child, and one arrest for unlawful restraint.
10) There were 1,099 arrest incidents involving concealed handgun license holders in which DPS could not identify whether or not family violence occurred.
11) Arrest data does not specifically separate gun-related arrests from weapon-related arrests. Thus, this category includes crimes with ALL types of weapons, not just firearms.
12) From 1996 to 2000 (the latest year for which DPS UCR data is available), according to the DPS’ Crime Records/Crime Information Bureau/UCR, 38,830 persons aged 21 and older were arrested for weapon-related offenses (illegal carrying, possession, etc.) in Texas. According to the U.S. Census, in 2000 there were an estimated 13,586,575 adults aged 21 and older in Texas. The weapon-related arrest rate among all Texans aged 21 and older from 1996 to 2000 was 285.8 per 100,000. Arrest records from the DPS list 1,131 weapon-related arrests among concealed handgun license holders from 1996 to 2000. The weapon-related arrest rate among Texas concealed handgun license holders from 1996 to 2000 was 417.2 per 100,000.