HOUSTON—The Texas Legislature has passed a bill allowing employees to keep guns locked in their cars while at work. Lawmakers also had considered allowing concealed handguns to be carried onto college campuses.
The legislation begs a question: Does it do good or harm to have thousands of Texans legally carrying concealed handguns?
KHOU 11 News took aim at finding some answers.
There are now over 20,000 citizens in Harris County alone licensed to carry concealed handguns.
"Sometimes I have it with me," said Jason Goedert, a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) holder who was recently at the shooting range in George Bush Park in west Harris County.
Goedert and other gun owners said they believe having more citizens carrying concealed guns will deter a criminal who might otherwise try to assault someone.
"They don’t know if that person has a weapon, they might think twice about it," said Lashonda Berry, who was taking a class in west Houston to qualify for a CHL. "I’m thinking it would be good for self-defense."
On almost any day in Houston, there are 10-hour classes held in strip malls and at shooting ranges, all part of some of the toughest requirements in the country to get a CHL. Since the state first started issuing them 15 years ago, 500,000 Texans have gotten their license.
But has it made Texans safer? Some shootings suggest otherwise.
"Bang! Like I never heard before," said Diana Barker, a Kingwood grandmother recalling the night this past January when she was shot while eating in an upscale restaurant in northeast Houston.
The gun of a concealed firearm license holder fell from his jacket pocket, hitting the floor and firing, striking Barker and leaving her with serious injuries.
In another Houston case, a trial is still pending for a license holder in what sounded like a case of road rage. On March 5 after a car wreck, 24 year-old Richard Calderon allegedly shot at another car, killing 13-year-old Alexis Wiley, a passenger in her mother’s vehicle which had been involved in the mishap.
But in data compiled by the Texas Department of Safety, people licensed to carry guns accounted for only about 1 percent of people convicted of "deadly conduct." They accounted for an even smaller percentage of convictions of other violent felonies. In all, the state data shows that of the 65,561 people convicted in Texas in 2009 of felonies of all kinds, 101 were also holders of concealed handgun licenses.
One researcher told KHOU 11 News that there is no measurable evidence that having CHLs puts innocent people at risk of being shot, accidentally or otherwise.
"I don’t know of a single academic study by anyone that’s found an increase in accidental shootings," John Lott, economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime."
Lott formerly taught at Rice University and now lives in the Washington D.C. area.
Lott said his views changed after he conducted an exhaustive study of Texas and other states with concealed handgun licenses. Lott contends not only is there no significant increase in accidental shootings, he said he found violent crime actually goes down.
According to Lott, homicide was reduced by 8 percent and rapes by 5 percent in states after they began issuing CHLs.
Lott said it happens because criminals are afraid of getting shot.
"Criminals know there is some risk now to attack somebody and they don’t know who is risky to go and attack," Lott said.
Critics have challenged his research, but Lott said what he found turned him into a licensed handgun owner.
"We didn’t even have toy guns in the home, let alone real guns, before I started doing this research," Lott said.
"I’m sure it makes a difference," said Randy Riener, a state certified instructor for CHLs who talked with KHOU 11 News during a break teaching a couple of students.
While there was agreement in his class that having several licensed gun carriers might discourage criminals from assaulting someone, one student, Brian Hogan, was troubled by the thought he might accidentally shoot someone.
Hogan said no matter what the studies find, the accidental shooting this past January in that Houston restaurant made him reconsider.
"That situation there makes me think twice about how often I would actually carry it and where I would carry it," said Hogan.