Texas carry applications plunge after permitless carry takes effect

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

As of September of last year, legal gun owners in the Lone Star State no longer need to have a concealed carry license to lawfully bear arms, and it looks like many Texans are taking advantage of that fact. According to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, just 5,000 residents applied for a concealed carry license in November of 2021, which was an 87% decline from the all-time high set in June of 2020, when some 39,000 Texans applied for their concealed carry license amidst riots and civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The number of applications was already trending down from that record high last year when Gov. Greg Abbott signed Constitutional Carry into effect, but the decline appears to have intensified once the new law was in place.

Gun permit applications continued at an above-average pace in 2021, but they dipped significantly after Texas passed a permitless carry bill in May. The law took effect in September, making Texas the 21st state to allow most adults to carry a handgun in public — either concealed or openly — without a permit.

The licensing requirement had previously mandated that Texans undergo four to six hours of training, complete a written exam and pass a shooting proficiency test. It also required license holders to get fingerprinted.

Texans can still complete those tasks and get a permit, but experts say there is little incentive to do so now. Those intent on training can find classes outside the state system, and declining to get a license also saves the applicant $40.

Now, licenses mostly provide benefits outside Texas. When traveling, some states require that all individuals have permits when carrying in public.

“It makes perfect sense that you see fewer concealed carry applications and disbursements when you don’t legally need them anymore to carry a firearm,” said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “There’s always going to be some people who want to take the class, or they want reciprocity with other states. But the steep drop off, particularly around the time when licenseless carry was passed, is not surprising to me.”

The reciprocity matter is likely the biggest motivator for the thousands of Texans who still apply each month for a license to carry, experts say. In December, nearly 5,200 people applied for a license in Texas for the first time.

Overall, the total number of Texans with concealed carry licenses continues to increase; from 1.6-million in 2020 to 1.7-million in 2021. The vast majority of those with expiring concealed carry licenses last year renewed them, and while we don’t know the individual motivations for renewing, under the state’s permitless carry law those carrying with a valid license still face some limitations that don’t apply to those with an active CHL; for instance, if you’re lawfully carrying without a permit and you have a blood alcohol content above 0.01%, you can face arrest. If you have a valid carry license, however, you’re not considered intoxicated unless your BAC is 0.08 or more.

Between the “perks” that come from carrying with a license and the need for reciprocity with neighboring states like New Mexico and Louisiana, the number of licensed concealed carry holders in Texas is likely going to remain relatively high in the years to come… and the total number of Texans legally carrying a firearm for self-defense is going to be much higher now that the burden on the exercise of their 2A rights has been greatly reduced. I’m glad that the carry license process remains in effect for those who want one, but the state is a better place now that those licenses aren’t needed in order for legal gun owners to lawfully bear arms.