Lawmakers willing to temper their ideological zeal with some old-fashioned reason should — if the idea makes it that far — reject any legislation gutting the process Texas now has for issuing licenses to carry handguns.
As we reported last week in Political Buzz, the Texas House Freedom Caucus seems to be advocating for a fundamental change in that process, which is a bad idea.
“Law-abiding Texans shouldn’t have to pay a fee or take a test to exercise their constitutional rights,” Mayes Middleton, our new state representative, said during a recent news conference at which the caucus outlined its priorities. Middleton was referring to the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, and the only gun-related thing Texans have to pay fees and pass tests for is a license to carry a handgun.
The ultra-orthodox among Second Amendment purists like to argue that any government interest in, much less action about, owning and bearing firearms is onerous and therefore unconstitutional.
The only place that argument can breathe, though, is in the thick air of political rhetoric meant to excite a base.
The fact is that Texas has a model system for issuing handgun licenses. It’s neither cost prohibitive nor overly burdensome. Applicants have to pass a criminal background check, sit through about six hours of classroom instruction, pass a multiple choice test and demonstrate very basic competence with a handgun.
The whole show might cost $150, probably less, when it’s all said and done.
The Texas method probably has done more to preserve than to undermine the Second Amendment and benefits people wanting to carry handguns as much or more as it benefits the public at large.
Back in the 1990s when Jerry Patterson, who at the time was a state senator, began pushing legislation allowing Texans to carry concealed handguns, opponents argued it would cause a wave of gun violence, a return to the Wild West, make the gutters run with blood.
None of which happened. The instances of handgun license-holders using their weapons at all have been pretty rare; instances of licensees using their weapons illegally have been rarer still.
That fact is at least in part, probably in large part, because Texas has a system for ensuring it issues licenses only to those law-abiding people Middleton was talking about.
The licensing process also might serve to weed out people who want to carry a weapon for all the wrong reasons, such as mistaking it for a fashion accessory, a status symbol or a totem against feelings of inadequacy.
The system is more objective than those employed in some states as well. In many states, all you need to get a handgun license is a form signed by a chief of police or a county sheriff. If you’re a chum of the chief, you get one. If not, because you vote for the wrong political party perhaps, you don’t. In Texas, if you can pass through the hoops, you get the license.
And the system mainly serves people who think they want to carry a handgun, by informing them of things they most certainly need to know before doing that.
Most of the instruction and testing for handgun licenses covers what the Texas penal code has to say about the use of deadly force; most importantly what separates the legal from the illegal use of deadly force. Hardly any civilian who has not been through the state’s required instruction could cite two facts about the laws on deadly force, and getting it wrong can send a person to prison for a long time.
Better that they make the mistake first on a multiple-choice test.
• Michael A. Smith