December 20, 2022
On September 1, 2021, Texas’ “permitless carry” law took effect. Since then, there have been a 550% increase in unlawful carrying of a weapon convictions. That is “convictions” not arrests.
AUSTIN, Texas ― Few people are more enthusiastic about carrying handguns than Mike Cargill. The owner of Central Texas Gun Works often carries three ― two concealed, plus one holstered outside his belt.
He’s also enthusiastic about handgun education. Even after the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a “constitutional carry” law, which allows Texans to carry handguns both openly and concealed without getting a license, Cargill kept teaching classes and range qualifications for the now-optional License to Carry Program (LTC). Cargill says a license offers a lot of benefits, not least of which is helping people navigate the state’s complicated gun laws.
And since Texas became one of about half of the states in the country that view carrying a gun as a constitutional right, it looks like people are getting confused by those complicated laws. Several of Cargill’s students over the last year and a half signed up for an LTC class hoping to avoid conviction for unlawfully carrying a weapon ― usually after taking a gun somewhere they shouldn’t have.
When Cargill checked the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website, he found that his experience wasn’t an anomaly. Convictions for unlawfully carrying weapons skyrocketed in the state, from 1,049 in 2020 to nearly 7,000 last year — a spike of 550% and the highest number by far since 2016, the last year of complete data. The state adopted the constitutional carry law in September 2021.
“Yes, it’s your right to carry a gun,” Cargill said. “But you have to know how to carry that gun. If not, that’s a problem.”
No Obvious Explanation
It’s not clear why convictions for unlawfully carrying a weapon have risen so sharply. HuffPost reached out to several local law enforcement agencies asking for an answer. Few responded. Those that did hadn’t noticed the trend, though some agreed with Cargill that confusion might help account for it.
The “apparent rise in unlawful carrying cases across the state is alarming,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg wrote in an email to HuffPost.
“In Harris County, we seem to have filed more than one charge against some suspects which indicates that defendants freed on bond have been charged with the same crime more than once,” Ogg wrote. “Around the rest of the state, they may have the same problem or it could be something else, such as a lack of education about the constitutional carry laws or other laws regarding the possession of firearms.”
Although permitless carry sounds simple, gun laws are complicated. Even under the new law, places like airports, courthouses, hospitals and schools generally don’t allow weapons. Private businesses can also prohibit people from bringing in guns, either by displaying a sign or warning people verbally.
In theory, you can’t bring a gun into a place that earns more than 51% of its revenue from alcohol. But in practice, you can take a gun into a bar if the bar’s liquor license classifies it as a restaurant, which requires checking the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control’s website.
Permitless carry added a new layer of complexity by creating two classes of people allowed to carry handguns ― those with licenses and those relying on the constitution.
The most commonly cited perks of getting a license are that it allows the holder to concealed carry in most other states, and license holders only have to submit federal background checks for application and renewal, instead of every time they buy a gun.
But the law favors LTC holders in many other ways. Carrying a gun with a blood alcohol content of up to 0.08 is legal for license holders. Without one, drinking any alcohol at all while carrying a gun is illegal. An LTC exempts the license holder from the restriction on carrying a gun within 1,000 feet of a school under federal law (though bringing one inside a school building generally remains illegal).
The once-required classes explain all these details. Those carrying a gun because they read a news article saying they can, might not know, for example, unholstering a handgun while inside a car and leaving it in plain view is a crime.
Still, it’s not clear how confusion alone would translate into more gun charges. If someone’s doing a decent job concealing the handgun, they’re not likely to get caught with it.
Instead, many people are charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon only after police arrest them for something else, according to attorney Shane Phelps ― usually drinking and driving, or possession of marijuana.
The only people Phelps regularly sees with unlawfully carrying a weapon as their only charge are felons caught with guns. But Texas tallies the crime of possessing a gun despite a felony conviction separately from unlawfully carrying a weapon.
“That’s kind of a shocking statistic to me ― I don’t have an explanation for it,” Phelps said, referring to the increase in charges. “It’s really hard right now in Texas to get arrested for just carrying a weapon.”
The introduction of permitless carry may not account for the shift, given that it can take several months to cycle defendants from charging to conviction. The data increase could also be due to a historic and sustained spike in gun sales that started during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harris County, for example, showed a clear rise in unlawfully carrying a weapon dating back to 2019, with the number of people charged more than doubling in two years to 4,454. Incomplete numbers for this year were on track to slightly exceed last year.
For the complete story, go to: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/12/28/states-try-curb-mass-shootings-bullets-ammo-laws/10760437002/