After Barack Obama was elected president, many Texas gun owners feared they were on the verge of losing their Second Amendment rights — and they stocked up on weapons and ammunition. According to FBI statistics, the number of background checks for the purpose of firearms purchases in Texas increased 29 percent from 2007 to 2009. Texans also sought concealed handgun licenses: In 2009, nearly 139,000 permits were renewed or issued, the most in the history of the state's 15-year-old concealed-handgun law, according to statistics released by the Department of Public Safety.
Although Obama has said he believes in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the National Rifle Association argues on its website that he poses a "serious threat." They cite his vote in the Illinois State Senate for a ban on assault weapons among other anti-gun measures. Those worries about restrictive gun policies have yet to materialize, but that hasn't kept people from rushing to buy guns and ammo and get concealed-carry licenses while they can.
The number of CHL applications skyrocketed 61 percent between 2008 and 2009, from 86,000 to nearly 139,000. The number of licenses granted in 2009 equaled the total number issued in all of 2005 and 2006 combined. Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman, says the agency noticed the spike when employees processing the applications couldn't keep up. DPS was forced to hire temporary workers — and publicly urge applicants to submit paperwork online — to tackle the backlog. "All of a sudden there was this application tsunami that buried us," Mange says.
Mange says DPS isn't sure why handgun license requests spiked in 2009 and declines to hazard a guess. Some gun instructors, like Hoot Gibson of San Antonio, are perfectly happy to, insisting that Obama's election was a strong reason for the skyrocketing number of concealed-carry licenses. "That was the major contributing factor," Gibson says.
Advocates of tougher gun laws think that fear was misplaced. "The paranoia in the gun-rights community about [Obama] was always pretty ludicrous to us," said Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Even if you were to elect a president who was an outspoken advocate of a lot of tough new gun laws, the country makes progress on this issue at glacial speed."
Some gun owners say there are also other issues at work. Kristin Cortese, a Pearland resident who got her concealed-carry license about six months ago, says her decision to apply had nothing to do with Obama. She and her husband got licensed out of concerns for their personal safety. But she says she's overheard conversations at the shooting range about fears that Obama will restrict gun rights.
Cortese also has noticed that it's harder to buy ammunition because so many people are buying as much of it as they can. Some stores, she says, have even limited the amount of ammunition they will sell because they are short on supplies. "We have stocked up on ammo because it is getting harder to find and more expensive," Cortese says. "In no way do we have an arsenal, but we have a few boxes of ammo."
Gun instructor Timothy Wallace says he understood how the 2008 election probably caused the uptick in the gun permit business. "Hypothetically, if somebody is going to say, 'Okay, nobody can buy anymore red Corvettes tomorrow,' guess what's going to be for sale?" Wallace asks. "Red Corvettes. And they're going to sell every one."