War on Drugs and Handgun Licenses Impair Self-Defense

The number of people in North Texas obtaining a concealed carry license has been on a dramatic rise the past two years. Across the state, 40 percent more women last year, 31,000 in all, successfully applied for a permit than the previous high in 1996, when legislation took effect allowing residents to carry loaded handguns if they obtained a license and completed a safety course.

Contrary to popular perception, Texas is one of the more restrictive states when it comes to self-defense. In fact, open carrying a handgun is effectively illegal as it runs the probable risk of being charged with disorderly conduct.

According to a Dallas Morning News story, the current crop of applicants are younger and more often from the suburbs. Part of that is a response to the decreased expense of attending a state-licensed training school.

Concealed handgun licenses in Tarrant County nearly double the number issued to Dallas residents. According to state records, Tarrant is one of the more gun-friendly counties, with nearly one permit issued to every 173 residents.

The article cited some reasons why that may be. Alex del Carmen, chair of the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said there are more affluent people than in Dallas, so more people are able to afford them. Also, people in Tarrant are less likely to have a criminal background that would legally preclude them from carrying a firearm.

He also said that property ownership ties closely to gun ownership because people have a greater interest in defending themselves and their land. This last point seems to be more of a correlation than do the other factors, like criminal history and wealth.

In Texas, possession of more than three ounces of marijuana is a felony under state law. In some counties, one in seven adults have been arrested for marijuana possession. Arrests for simple possession are increasing at three times the national average [PDF], costing approximately $655 million in 2006 alone. Marijuana accounted for about half of the drug-related arrests, meaning the drug war expense in Texas runs more than a billion dollars per year.

There are also social impacts from Texas drug laws. By population, blacks are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are whites. Meanwhile, blacks are only half as likely to own a concealed carry permit than are whites. Part of that disparity is because of their greater likelihood to be charged with a drug crime.

A second major factor impeding the right to self-defense is the cost of obtaining a permit. It can cost between $250 to $350 to attend a training class and obtain the license, which must be renewed every four years.

Gun ownership may not necessarily lead to lower crime, but there is strong evidence that at least increased gun ownership does not lead to a net increase in crime, as is made evident from a recent article, “Gun Ownership Rises to All-Time High, Violent Crime Falls to 35-Year Low.”

The distribution of gun ownership is also relevant for determining if violent crime will be diminished. If the poor and defenseless are systematically denied access to a means of protection, those with the means of enacting force — such as the police — will feel more inclined to escalate that imbalance of power in their favor. The best we can hope for is that access to gun ownership is made as widely available as possible.

Whether you think guns are the best tool for self-defense or not, it would be rank hypocrisy to use the guns of government to prevent otherwise peaceful people from using guns for their own protection.

Image credit: Robby Mueller, with a Creative Commons license