by Chris Bird
It was a birthday just like any other birthday, complete with a birthday cake. But this celebration was not for a person, it was for a law.
Five years ago, on May 26, 1995, Texas Governornow presidential candidateGeorge W. Bush signed legislation that gave birth to the Texas Concealed Handgun Law.
The bill resulted in the most stringent and most expensive concealed carry law in the country. For the first time in more than a century, Texans were able to carry concealed handguns in public for protection. Previously, carry was limited to travelers going from one county to another.
It costs a Texas resident $140 to obtain a four-year concealed handgun license. In addition, the applicant has to pay between $50 and $150 for a 10- to 15-hour training course conducted by instructors who are re-certified by the state every two years. The course curriculum includes the concealed handgun law, the use of deadly force and non-violent dispute resolution. Every applicant must pass the same written test and a 50-round range test.
Training courses began in September 1995, and the first licenses became effective Jan. 1, 1996. By April 30 of this year, more than 211,000 Texans were licensedslightly more than 1% of the state population.
Former state Sen. Jerry Patterson, one of the authors of the law, spoke at the press conference that accompanied the birthday celebration at the state Capitol in Austin on May 26. Back in 1995, when Bush signed the bill, public opinion was polarized and newspaper editorial boards were almost unanimously against law-abiding Texans being given the opportunity to carry concealed handguns to defend themselves.
The comments were generally as follows: Wild, wild West; Return to Dodge City; Blood in the streets, and Shootouts at every four-way stop. In other words, the doomsday senarios were predicted universally by most of the editorial boards in the state and by many citizens, Patterson said.
He kept a newspaper clipping file and found these comments were similar to those made in Florida newspapers in 1987 when that state passed its concealed carry law.
The exact same comments, almost verbatim, lifted from the Florida dailies to the Texas dailies, Patterson recalled.
Detractors have been trying to discredit the law ever since it was passed. Organizations such as Texans Against Gun Violence and the national Violence Policy Center (VPC) have claimed that concealed handgun license holders in Texas have been arrested at twice the rate of the general population, Patterson said.
Today, were going to show you that thats clearly not true.
Patterson introduced Bill Sturdevant, an engineer and concealed handgun license holder from Navasota, TX, who compiled a 43-page analysis of the arrest rate of license holders compared to the arrest rate of the general population in the first three years of the law.
Sturdevant conducted the analysis after reading in his local paper that license holders had been arrested 2,080 times. This got his attention, so he logged on to the Internet website of the VPC and found a report headlined: License to Kill, and Kidnap, and Rape, and Drive Drunk. Using the arrest figures provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety for the first three years of program, the Violence Policy Center had concluded that the concealed handgun law arms criminals, threatens public safety, doesnt prevent crime but actually helps people commit crime, according to Sturdevant.
However, the Centers report provided no context. So Sturdevant compared the arrest records of concealed handgun license holders with the arrest records of the general population. He found that Texans without concealed handgun licenses are eight times more likely to be arrested for crimes of violence than license holders.
Sturdevant also was critical of the disingenuousness of the Violence Policy Center and its members. I personally think its disgusting of them to walk over the bodies of dead people in order to further their cause, he said.
Patterson noted that since 1995, many opponents of the concealed handgun law have had a change of heart. He then cited two examples.
He read from a letter dated Dec. 16, 1999, sent to him by John Holmes, district attorney of Harris County, which includes the city of Houston.
As you know, I was very outspoken in my opposition to the passage of the Concealed Handgun Act. I did not feel that such legislation was in the public interest and presented 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, Holmes said.
Patterson also quoted a statement by Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, in the Dallas Morning News in December 1997.
I lobbied against the law in 1993 and 1995 because I thought it would lead to wholesale armed conflict. That hasnt happened. All the horror stories I thought would come to pass didnt happen. No bogeyman. I think its worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. Im a convert.
Patterson next introduced Jim Eichelberg, one of the few license holders who have used a handgun in a public place to defend himself against criminal attack. Eichelberg has a route of vending machines in northwest Houston that he services early in the morning.
Shortly before 6 a.m. on Feb. 17, 1997, Eichelberg had stopped his van at the intersection of a side road and a busy freeway access road. In the wing mirror, he saw a man with a gun in his hand creeping along the passenger side of his van. Eichelberg grabbed his snub-nosed Smith & Wesson Model 37 five-shot revolver. When the man reached the passenger door he pointed his revolver at Eichelberg, who raised his own gun.
I fired through the window of my truck. Its something I would never recommend anybody ever do because youre instantly blinded and deafened, Eichelberg said.
Not knowing whether he had hit his attacker, Eichelberg felt his best option was to put some distance between himself and the van. Ears still ringing and half-blinded, he got out of the vehicle and started running back the way he had come. Apparently his attacker, later identified as James Turner, 32, had the same idea. The two men met at the back of the van, both running in the same direction about eight feet apart, Eichelberg said.
As I got my eyesight back, I realized my attacker was running alongside me.
According to Eichelberg, Turner fired at him and missed. Even though it was dark, the muzzle flash of Turners gun silhouetted him and Eichelberg returned fire.
Although we were both moving, we were moving apart. We each fired five times. He missed all five times and I hit all five times, he said.
Police found Turner about a block away, collapsed from loss of blood. Before he tackled Eichelberg, Turner had tried to hijack another mans vehicle. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence as a habitual criminal.
Eichelberg was not arrested or charged with any offense. He believes he owes his life to the Texas Concealed Handgun Law.
Because of the concealed handgun license, I was armed and I feel thats the only reason that Im alive today, he said.
Chris Bird is the author of The Concealed Handgun Manual and is a director of the Texas Concealed Handgun Instructor Association.