If the Texas Department of Public Safety ever has a contest for the most enlightened person ever to seek a concealed weapon permit, Bob Coats ought to apply.



            He’s a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association who thinks both the NRA on one hand, and “liberals” on the other, have made the issue of gun ownership way too political.



            For the neighborhood native, who attended Woodrow Wilson High School and has lived in his home for more than 20 years, there are no easy answers. But after hearing one horror story after another from neighbors and friends who were victims of crime, he decided to take action.



            That’s why he applied for and received a concealed weapon permit from the state. And perhaps like the 1,103 other concealed weapon permit holders in our neighborhood, his reasons for doing so are partly a response to Dallas crime rates and partly a matter of exercising what he calls his constitutional right.



“I don’t go around looking for trouble, and I would hope I would never have to use a gun,” Coats says.



But he’s concerned about crime, skeptical of the police and protective of his family, saying: “Sometimes you’ve got to do something for yourself.”



So now we know why neighbors legally carry guns. But do their guns make them any safer than those who don’t?





The Truth is Out There



It has been almost 10 years since the Texas Department of Public Safety began issuing concealed weapon permits, and more than 240,000 permits have been issued in the state.



Dallas County has 21,369 permit-holders, the second highest number in the state. (Houston’s Harris County has 36,187 people licensed to carry concealed weapons.)



And 1,103 of those packing heat live in our neighborhood.



Critics of concealed weapon permits argue that despite the number of people carrying guns, violent crime numbers are still high. Those on the other side of the issue say high crime numbers give even more of an incentive to slip a gun in your waistband or purse before you leave the house.



The numbers themselves send mixed messages.



For instance, a majority of our neighborhood’s 2002 murders occurred in one East Dallas Zip code, 75223, which also had the neighborhood’s lowest number of concealed weapon permit holders at 47 (see chart, page XX, for a Zip-code breakdown of concealed gun licenses and crime statistics).



Yet the bulk of area murders and assaults occurred in 75206, which has a relatively high number of concealed carriers at 256.



People on all sides of the issue tend to agree that the number of concealed handgun permits probably doesn’t reflect the actual number of people carrying concealed weapons at any given time because of the time and expense involved in becoming licensed.



            A new permit costs $140 and only those who pass criminal background checks and are trained by a certified instructor can apply. Training takes 10-15 hours and includes time on a shooting range and classroom lessons about state law and firearms safety. Permits are good for four years.



Some people who carry guns don’t go through the process of getting a permit. That’s why, some say, policemen view the permit as a “good guy card” because they know the holder has passed a criminal background check.



For his part, Coats pretty much fits the demographic profile of the typical permit holder. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, three out of four permit holders — 74 percent, to be exact — are men.



            Not long after the Texas Legislature gave residents the right to carry concealed weapons, Coats and his 23-year-old son went to a gun range in Grand Prairie to take the course.



            “I don’t go around looking for trouble, and I would hope I would never have to use a gun,” Coats says.



            But he’s concerned about crime, skeptical of the police and protective of his family, saying: “Sometimes you’ve got to do something for yourself.”



That may be true, but statistically speaking, residents of Lakewood, East Dallas and other North Dallas neighborhoods are less likely to be victims of a violent crime than those living in South Dallas . For example, of the city’s 196 murders in 2002, 29 occurred within the neighborhood’s boundaries.



But police acknowledge that property crimes in the city’s northern half — particularly home, car and business burglaries — remain troublingly high. And area residents — even those who don’t carry weapons themselves — say that property crimes, while not typically life-threatening, can jeopardize their feelings of safety and spur people to buy guns for self-protection.






Do Guns Prevent Crime?



Unlike many who legally carry a concealed weapon, Coats says he is not a gun aficionado.



            “I’m not a hunter, and I don’t like killing animals,” Coats says. “I almost cause accidents driving to avoid running over squirrels.”



            But his car and home have been burglarized in recent years and two of his wife’s friends were victims of purse-snatchers. There have been other horror stories in the neighborhood, too, several near the Mockingbird-Abrams intersection.



            “Right around here, which I’d consider to be a pretty nice neighborhood, there’s something going on all the time,” Coats says.



            That happens to be the same intersection where another Lakewood resident, Steve Hargrove, says he was the victim of an attempted carjacking several years ago. He and his 18-month old child were stopped at a red light around 9:30 p.m. one evening when a man confronted him.



            “He leaned on the window and said I’m taking this car,” Hargrove recalls.



            With a child strapped in next to him, Hargrove says he decided there was no way he’d let the man take the car. So he says he reached into his glove compartment for a gun and told the would-be robber “you just died.”



            The man fled, Hargrove says.



That incident happened before Texans could legally carry concealed weapons. When it became legal, Hargrove says he took the concealed weapon training class and got a permit.



            But he let it expire when his children got old enough to drive his car, where he sometimes keeps a gun.



            “I don’t know if I want my 16-year-old daughter to have a gun in the car with her,” says Hargrove, who added that he was more concerned about teenage acquaintances than his own child’s ability to use it responsibly.



            But he still thinks about the time he needed that gun in the car.



“I went through absolute sheer terror after that because I thought would I have shot him? Would I have pulled the trigger?” Hargrove says.



“I will tell you to this day I think I did the right thing.”





Men vs. Women: Who Carries?



            Statistics show the state’s typical permit holder doesn’t fit the pattern of the likeliest crime victim in Dallas , according to local and state figures.



            Although men hold three-quarters of the state’s concealed weapon permits, they were crime victims in less than half the city’s reported cases in 2002, according to Dallas police statistics. One area gun trainer says the state’s statistics are consistent with his client base.



            “Most are middle-aged men…about 20 percent are women,” says Jack W. Griffith, a Euless-based handgun instructor.



            Some say more women should consider carrying guns since they are often victims of crime.



            “I want all women to have a concealed handgun license,” says Judy Rhodes, founder of Diva, Texas Women’s Shooting Sports.



            Her organization offered concealed weapon classes for the first time this year, and she says the group received a good turnout from women who were not part of the group’s original focus on shooting sports.



            “We had a lot of real estate women, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on now,” Rhodes says. “We had one who had a problem with an open home with a man coming in” to attack her.



            Women are vulnerable particularly when they’re out alone, Rhodes says, but many have traditionally been afraid of handling firearms.



            “A lot of women are afraid of handguns and the reason they are afraid is because they don’t know they work,” says Rhodes , whose group will offer a class again in the spring that shows women how to handle, load and unload guns.





Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?



            Jan Crabtree, co-president of the Dallas chapter of the Million Mom March, is on the polar opposite side of the issue. Her group aims to reduce the number of weapons in the general population,



            “I think they have kind of a fantasy feeling that someone will draw a gun on them, and they will draw theirs, and they will have a shoot out,” says Crabtree of those who carry concealed weapons.



            In reality, she says, “It doesn’t protect them. You very seldom hear about occasions where they have protected themselves. We just feel that the more guns that are out there in society the more people that are going to get hurt.”



            But she says her organization spends most of its time working on assault weapon bans and other gun-related issues, rather than trying to overturn the concealed weapon law.



            “We understand the gun culture here,” she says. “Here in Texas , we don’t think we can win that one right now.”



            Larry Arnold, director of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association, says gun control enthusiasts always “predict disaster.”



            “Since the debate over Florida ‘s concealed carry law in 1986, whenever the subject of carrying firearms has come up, those who oppose guns have predicted disaster," he says. “For all of those dozens of dire predictions over nearly two decades, the anti-gun folks have been wrong every single time.”





EDITOR’S NOTE: All crime data was collected by Analyze Dallas based on figures from the Dallas Police Department. All data is from 2002, which is the most recent available. Concealed handgun data was obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Concealed handgun data was obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety.



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