Saturday, February 12, 2005


As the Texas Legislature gears up for the biennial legislative push, the issue of concealed weapons has become just another routine program in need of tweaking. "When it passed, there was a big hue and cry about blood in the streets," concealed handgun permit holder Harold Shirley said of Texas' decade-old experience with letting residents carry hidden firearms. "Obviously, that hasn't happened." Shirley is a retired sergeant major who settled in El Paso for the climate, recreational opportunities and low crime rate. And he is one of about 2,500 El Pasoans who have earned concealed handgun licenses since September 1995. Statewide, more than 225,000 Texans have concealed handgun licenses, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which issues the licenses....

But some feel that licensees are not getting the full privileges afforded by state law. Jaime Guillen, who teaches concealed handgun classes on the West Side, said a 2003 change to the law meant to give gun carriers access to government buildings, has been wrongfully applied by municipalities,! includi ng El Paso. "That sign was not meant for government entities," Guillen said of the sign prohibiting concealed weapons in City Hall. "That was made for private businesses." Guillen and others thought the fight over carrying weapons into nonexempt government buildings had ended in 2003 when the Legislature approved a "defense from prosecution" for permit carriers wearing their weapons in noncourt buildings. Cities across the state, however, have fought the exemption, including El Paso.

Assistant City Attorney Elaine Hengen said, however, that the city was within the law because a Municipal Court appeal clerk has an office inside City Hall. Concealed weapons are prohibited in courts and buildings where they have offices, Hengen said. Guillen said the fight could be resolved by a Houston case involving the same types of signs. A victory there, he said, could lead to changes statewide.

John Hubert, who teaches concealed handgun classes on the East Side, said the Texas effort has been successful because of the class time, range time and background checks required. However, a license is not the end of one's responsibility, he said. "Just because you carry a gun doesn't make you proficient," he said. "Walking down the street carrying a guitar wouldn't make me a musician."

Background checks go through the Texas Department of Public Safety and include searches for felonies and misdemeanors, delinquent child-support payments, owed back taxes, and defaults on Texas education loans. License holders must remain "clean," Guillen said, or they lose their privileges. Ken Watters, general manager of Bassett Place, said concerns about the concealed handgun law have faded. "I don't think it's been a huge issue in any way, shape or form," Waters said. "There was some concern initially, but it's a nonissue now." .....

In fact, Guillen's class agreed, the process of getting a concealed handgun license teaches a lot about how to avoid confrontation. Because they carry weapons, any criminal charges could bring substantially more punishment with a conviction.

With the success of the program -- 15 states have reciprocity agreements with Texas, but that does not include New Mexico -- the handgun lobby has a modest agenda for this legislative season. A five-year, instead of four-year, renewal period is being sought, as well as ability to pay fees ($140) with a personal check, Hubert said. License holders say they are treated well by area law enforcement. Indeed, they said, area law officers are usually the only ones who can spot the subtle signs of a hidden firearm. But the biggest reason the program is a success, Guillen said, is that the program prevents crime from happening.

Shirley, who has had his license since 1996, agreed. "I've had to show (my weapon) three times," he said. "But I didn't have to use it. And that's the way it is in almost all cases."

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Rising gun crime fears in Australia

Fat lot of good the gun control laws have done

"The daylight robbery of a man at gunpoint near a busy train station has renewed fears of a rise in gun crime in Sydney. The 34-year-old man, who asked to be known only as Paul, said he was walking to Harris Park railway station on his way to work about 6.45am on January 11 when another man approached him and asked for a light. However, when Paul said he did not smoke, the man pressed a gun to his neck and demanded money, escaping with his watch.

Paul said he thought the mugger was joking at first. "I thought maybe it was a finger or something on my neck, but not actually a pistol," he said today. "When I indicated 'Look mate I don't have any money', he said 'Look, I'm not joking, this is a real gun'. "When I realised he had a gun, I guess I was more scared than anything."

The victim was speaking on the day New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said more than 40,000 weapons were seized in major crackdowns across the state last year. Mr Moroney said a major audit and compliance check of all firearms in NSW, combined with the State Government's gun buyback, had seized and destroyed 43,000 weapons. In total, 185,000 licensed firearm holders were identified, holding about 600,000 registered firearms between them. As part of the blitz, thousands of weapons were destroyed because police were not satisfied the firearms were being kept securely, or that "possession of that firearm was necessarily further warranted". "Some 43,000 weapons were seized and subsequently destroyed by NSW Police during (20)03-04," Mr Moroney said.

Opposition leader John Brogden said gun crime was surging in Sydney and the Carr Government was trying to spin its way around the problem. "Sydney will end up like New York or Los Angeles if we keep going the way we're going," he said.

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