Shoot To Live

By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald

James Parker grew up in Los Angeles. At the age of 15, as he crossed a street returning from a friend's home, a car passed him and "for no reason," a man aimed a gun at him and his friend, but did not fire.

"I was scared to death. I was scared to cross that street where the guy pulled a gun on us for four years."

Parker was a high school senior in California when he and some friends witnessed a car stereo being stolen. They told the man to put the stereo down, and he did for a moment – before shooting at them with a pistol. Parker and his friends let the thief take the stereo.

Parker, now living in Killeen, already keeps a gun in his home, but he plans to get a concealed carry permit for when he is not at home.

"I got a wife, a baby and a son," Parker said.

Texas, along with 39 other states, allows some form of concealed carry license or does not require a license at all.

Parker's right to keep a gun in his home and to carry one with him is expected to be a contentious issue in the coming months; the U.S. Supreme Court decided in early March to review a case that contests Washington, D.C.'s, ban on guns, the result of which will ripple throughout the country.

Last year, a federal appeals court overturned Washington, D.C.'s, gun ban in favor of an interpretation of the Second Amendment that says individuals have a right to own guns.

The review will be the first time since 1939 that the nation's highest court will examine the Second Amendment and whether "the right to bear arms" allows individuals to own guns or was intended to apply to militias, or organized groups of people.

The Supreme Court's decision, expected this summer and touted as having far-reaching ramifications, might not change anything concerning Parker's right to protect himself and his family.

"As a practical matter, it will have almost no impact," said Sanford Levinson, professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin.

Levinson described the Supreme Court's choice to make a ruling as "full of sound and fury, signifying not very much."

He expects the Supreme Court's decision to be unclear, as previous rulings regarding the Second Amendment have been, but to provide material for discussions among scholars and lawyers.

Also, Levinson said it's unlikely the court will uphold D.C.'s 30-year-old law, which bans gun ownership by individuals who do not work in a security or law-enforcement capacity.

"If the court were to surprise everybody and uphold the D.C. ordinance, then one of the things that would mean is states and cities could do whatever they want."

Levinson said the general opinion is the high court will rule in favor of an interpretation that gives individuals the right to bear arms, but with room for certain exceptions to be made allowing cities and states to regulate specific types of guns and locations where guns can be carried.

Origins of 'right to carry' in Texas

The ruling is expected to have even less impact on residents of Texas, where support for the concealed carry law has been known to launch political careers.

When Suzanna Gratia-Hupp survived the Luby's massacre in Killeen on Oct. 16, 1991 – in which her parents were murdered alongside 21 other people before the gunman committed suicide – she became a powerful voice for those who supported a "right to carry" law.

Hupp testified to state legislators in 1993 and 1995 in support of concealed carry licenses.

Hupp said that in the months before the Luby's massacre, she took the handgun from her purse that she had carried illegally and put it in her car, doubting she would ever need it.

When the Luby's massacre happened, Hupp immediately thought how that gun could have saved lives.

"I was really angry because I felt I'd made a real stupid decision to obey the law," Hupp said. "I was mad as hell at my legislators because they legislated me out of the right to protect myself and my family."

Hupp was elected as District 54 state representative in 1996 and held the position until 2006.

In addition, President George Bush's successful Texas gubernatorial campaign has also been reported to have hinged on his support for a concealed carry law.

Hupp believes like Parker and others that having a gun increases the odds in their favor.

"A gun is not a guarantee, but it changes the odds," Hupp said.

"Even your little old grandmother, crippled in a wheelchair, that little revolver put her on equal footing and I like that."

The Texas concealed carry law requires a person to be over 21 years of age unless they are active-duty military and to submit to a background check, complete a minimum 10-hour gun laws and proficiency course, and pay a $140 fee.

With a license, a person is allowed to carry a gun on their body, in a purse or near them as long as it is concealed and they are not in restricted locations such as schools.

Guns laws by the numbers

The concealed carry law was signed in 1995, a year after the homicide rate in Texas started a decline.

The number of homicides in Texas has decreased almost every year since recording 2,022 homicides in 1994 to 1,407 in 2005, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report data. During the same time span, Texas' population has risen from 18.3 million to about 23 million residents.

In contrast, D.C.'s homicide total was 192 when the ban was put in place in 1977.

D.C. has since, like much of the rest of the United States including Texas, underwent homicide spikes, which in D.C. reached as high as 482 in 1991. Also like the rest of the United States, D.C. has seen its homicide total level off, 169 in 2006 and 195 in 2005. Since the concealed carry license, D.C.'s population has decreased by about 109,000 residents, from 690,000 to 581,530.

Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based facility focused on gun violence, said the fact that D.C.'s homicide total has not changed much is misleading because most of their crimes result from gang-related violence and the gun ban may not be totally effective because guns from Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia are brought into D.C.

Proponents of concealed carry laws use statistics such as those in Texas and D.C. to suggest that the laws and individual ownership of guns contributed to and even caused a decrease in crime.

The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action performed a study that said states with "less restrictive" concealed carry laws have experienced lower rates of homicides (49 percent), robberies (58 percent) and aggravated assaults (15 percent) and violent crimes in general (26 percent).

On the other side, the VPC published a 2002 report analyzing Texas' arrest data to report that between 1996 and 2001, concealed license holders were arrested at an 81 percent higher rate for gun-related offenses than the rest of Texas' general population, 21 and above.

Of 5,431 total arrests for license holders, 1,272 of the arrests, or 24 percent, were for weapons-related offenses such as 279 offenses for assault/aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, 671 for unlawful carrying of a weapon, and 172 for deadly conduct discharge of a firearm.

The VPC argues that when the concealed carry law was being pushed to Texas residents, the supporters emphasized that holders would be law-abiding citizens and that concealed carry holders would not add to crime.

The VPC's study also said 41 of those 5,431 arrests involved murder, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the murders in Texas (7,937) between 1996 and 2001.

Proponents of concealed carry laws and opponents both have a wealth of statistics supporting their claims, but finding a cause-effect relationship between gun legislation and the drop in crime has been a challenge for scholars.

A common argument made is that more concealed carry holders and more guns in homes deter would-be criminals from committing crimes.

"The crooks don't know who is carrying a gun and who is not, so it ups their risks," said Ed Isenberg, a licensed concealed carry instructor and former Army criminal investigator.

Isenberg believes the concealed carry law makes criminals think twice, which even helps people who do not have a gun because they benefit from the criminals being afraid of people who do have guns.

At the end of 2006, Texas' population was listed at 23,507,783, and there were 258,162 licensed carriers, or roughly 1 percent of the population has a license to carry.

Rand said that such a small percentage is considered statistically insignificant to impact crime by working as a deterrent.

"My belief is that there are a few individuals within the criminal elements that have been deterred by the law, but by no means enough to deter crime on a large scale," Killeen Police Department Chief Dennis Baldwin said.

In addition, Tom Majerus, a professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, isn't so certain that more guns mean more fear for criminals.

"So many people will say that the criminal will think twice, and I don't think they do because they are looking for crimes of opportunity," Majerus said. "I think we're giving them too much credit for thinking clearly."

Rand pointed to a 2004 study done by the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed previous studies and statistical data available on gun laws and gun programs. The study concluded that there is not enough data on gun crimes and gun laws to say whether concealed carry laws increase or reduce crime. The report cited inadequate data records and research methods as part of the reason why a definitive conclusion could not be reached.

With regard to "right to carry" laws, the study concluded that existing research does not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship between concealed carry laws and crime reductions. In addition, the study said that in places with concealed carry laws, other laws have changed that may impact crime.

Majerus said that the police being more effective at catching criminals, which he said has increased in the past several years, could have influenced crime trends.

Without more in-depth records and reporting of statistics, Rand insists that people are only left with "anecdotal evidence," stories and explanations of hypothetical situations.

Bell County District Attorney Murph Bledsoe, who has 20 years of experience at the DA's office, said he does not remember any cases where a concealed carry holder used a gun illegally. Bledsoe remembered one incident where a license holder shot at some home burglars who pulled a gun on him while trying to escape from the scene. As they were leaving, he grabbed his gun, shot at the burglars and missed.

"Most of the crimes continue to be committed by people – not all of them – who have a stolen gun, not somebody who has gone out and taken the trouble to get a license to carry."

Baldwin said the licenses serve a purpose by giving people the chance to feel secure and to protect themselves when the police are unable to.

"I think the concealed handgun license gives law-abiding citizens a sense of security that they feel is needed, while other people may not see the value in having one," he said.

Parker has his stories of growing up in Los Angeles and his reasons for needing a sense of security.

The Second Amendment, thus far, has been interpreted to allow him to protect himself should the situation arise.

Whether it makes his family any safer or not, remains a point of debate, not likely to be cleared up anytime soon.

"Most criminals, they already have guns. I'd like to have an even playing ground," Parker said. "If it was up to me, I'd say everybody not have a gun because it'd be safer. But since America allows you to have the rights to a firearm, you can't change the rules. I have one with the hope of not having to use it."

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