The demand for concealed handgun licenses is on the upswing, and a local police department is meeting the need to teach people how to exercise their right responsibly.
The trend is widespread across Texas, and most people are attributing the increase to the presidential election of Barack Obama because people started fearing their right to bear arms may be limited under the new administration.
Beginning in December 2008, the Texas Department of Public Safety started receiving an unprecedented number of applications of concealed handgun permits, said Tom Vinger, assistant chief of DPS media relations. During the first six months of 2009, DPS received an average of 12,700 applications per month, which is 46 percent more than the average for the first six months of 2008, which was 8,700.
Montgomery County is no different than the rest of the state. The state granted 1,892 CHLs to county residents between Sept. 1, 2007, and Aug. 31, 2008. For the same period from 2008 to 2009, with two months to go, 2,464 have been granted to residents, which is a 30 percent increase.
The Oak Ridge North Police Department started receiving questions from residents earlier this year about where they could receive CHL classes. In an effort to help them exercise their right, the ORN City Council gave the Police Department permission to begin classes.
Four residents attended the September class, and 10 completed the October class. The next class runs Nov. 12-14 and costs $10. Students are required to provide their own handgun and be familiar with gun safety, maintenance and operation.
Oak Ridge North Police Chief Andy Walters recognizes that offering the course is not common practice among police departments, but to him, it makes perfect sense.
“I have a deep-seated belief that people should exercise their right responsibly, and who better to help them do it than the police department?” Walters said.
The demand in late 2008 caused Carter’s Country in Spring to begin holding two classes a week instead of just one, said Bruce Gilchrist, who has taught CHL classes for 14 years. The double classes, each with 25-30 people, lasted until May, when attendance began to decrease due to summer vacations. With school back in session, the class remains full, but only one is offered a week.
“I don’t think the interest has died down as much as economics are playing a role now,” Gilchrist said.
He believes the increase is related to the uncertainty of government policies in relation to gun rights and increases in crime, as well as the media coverage of violent crimes. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office call statistics show that more robbery calls have come in from January to September than came in during the full 12 months of 2008 and 2007. Burglary calls also have increased, averaging 464 calls per month in 2009 compared with 387 per month in 2007 and 369 per month in 2008.
Gilchrist also sees more women and elderly individuals interested in receiving a CHL.
Gun Emporium manager John Shadbolt agrees, saying those who are most vulnerable want to be able to protect themselves.
Gun Emporium, in Conroe, also saw an increase in late 2008 and early 2009, so much so it had a waiting list three weeks out for its weekly class and started requiring a deposit.
“We’re getting a lot more calls from people who want to know about the course and what it entails,” said Emmett Kelly, owner of the Gun Emporium.
On Monday, Magnolia resident Scott Woods was at the shop signing up for a class, feeling it’s time he get his CHL.
“I’ve been wanting to take the C-H course for a long time,” Woods said. “I kept putting it off, but now I want to go ahead and get it scheduled.”
After people finish a certified course, they send their completion certificate and application to DPS, which will conduct a background check and determine whether the person is allowed to receive a CHL.
Walters encourages qualified people to exercise their right to bear arms, saying it’s just like any right and people should take advantage of their rights.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry both support gun ownership rights. They will square off in the GOP primary for governor in March.
Representatives of both candidates say they own rifles and handguns and that they are hunters.
Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, said the governor has a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun. The senator’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Baker, said Hutchison does not.
Miner said the governor has always been a strong defender of the Second Amendment, which addresses the right to bear arms. He said Perry, also a National Rifle Association backer, supported the legislation allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns and in 2007 signed the state’s so-called castle doctrine law allowing individuals more legal rights to shoot to kill if someone breaks into their home, car or business. It was the first bill Perry signed into law that year.
Perry also signed a law in 2007 closing off public access to records showing who has concealed handgun licenses – something open government advocates fought. Hutchison said she agrees with that law blocking the records from public view.
For more information about obtaining a CHL, visit www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/crime_records/chl/.... A list of certified instructors in each ZIP code is on the site. For more information about Oak Ridge North’s classes, call (832) 381-3223.