How Do I Get a Concealed Handgun License?

This is a very common question.  The process in Texas is not difficult, but it is a little confusing, without a roadmap, so here goes.  These steps need not be done in this order, but you will save some time if you do.

  1. First, understand that you have to already know how to safely handle, load, and shoot a pistol, at least to a minimum level.  The standard is not high, but you can’t know nothing.  You will not learn anything about shooting in this process; you will just demonstrate what you do know.
  2. If you don’t know how to shoot, or don’t feel confidant, take some instruction first. It doesn’t require a lot.  I often take someone from beginner to CHL-level in one session.
  3. Determine your eligibility.  Here is a reasonably detailed summary of the requirements. Most people will be able to tell from this if they meet the standard; if you are unclear, contact the DPS for clarification.  Check here for other information.
  4. Start your application at the DPS website.  It may be counter-intuitive to do the application before you have all the requirements, but that’s how it works. Do this on a computer with a printer attached.  You will need to print out a checklist and a bar code. You will pay your state fees at this time, and set an appointment for fingerprinting. Don’t stop before doing all these things.
  5. Do the fingerprinting as above.  There are a number of places to do that, and it’s quick and easy.  The important point is that this needs to be tied to your application, so they need to be part of the same process, and in that order.
  6. Sign up for and attend a CHL class.  These are sometimes held at gun ranges, but also at office suites or meeting rooms.  They are always taught by DPS-Certified CHL Instructors, who are also Firearms Instructors.  Every part of that class (curriculum, written test, shooting test) is mandated by the state of Texas, so the only difference between different classes is the style of presentation and experience of the instructor. The classes are about 4 hours long, plus the shooting part. That is often done the same day, unless the class is at a commercial gun range. For logistical reasons, they usually have to schedule the shooting on another day.
  7.  Upon successful completion of the class, and passing both the written and shooting proficiency tests, you will be given a form (CHL-100).  Put that form, your printed bar code from step 4, and any other documents listed on your checklist into an envelope and mail them to Austin (keep copies of everything).  Items you might have to send could include a copy of your DD-214 (if claiming veteran status), or proof of legal residency.
  8. Wait.  The typical time is 3-6 weeks, but I have seen it be as little as 12 business days.

Dry Fire for Diagnostics

Recently, I was working with a student to fine-tune his shooting.  We adjusted his grip, talked about the right part of the finger to put on the trigger, talked about treating the trigger as a “dimmer” and not a “light switch”, and slowed down the trigger squeeze, but he kept shooting quite low.  The groups were very good, but consistently low.  I thought at first he was just anticipating recoil, and pushing on the gun, until I saw a vibration of the muzzle right before the trigger break.  I dry-fired his gun to prove it would not be there, then had him do it.  I saw the same vibration.  More importantly, he also saw it.

Both the problem and the solution were simple.  His gun had a fair amount of take-up (slack, or pre-travel) in the trigger.  While I instinctively took up that slack before squeezing, he did not.  He was squeezing from the very beginning of trigger movement, and when he hit the sear, it was like hitting a curb on a bicycle.  That bump was causing the vibration, which manifested as pitching forward.

It should be noted that some triggers have little or no take-up, and some ramp up smoothly from the beginning of movement to the break, without that bump.  It depends on the design of the gun, and to a certain degree, its cost.

Once he understood the need to pull up to that “curb” before squeezing, his groups moved up where they should be.  Once again, dry-firing pointed the way to the solution.  Navy SEALs do an extended dry-fire routine before every training session.  Do you?

Test your safety!

OK, not every handgun has a safety.  Glock is famous for that, as are a few others, but most guns do have one.  If yours does, do you know for sure that it works?  Test it unloaded (and of course, always point the muzzle in a safe direction), but also test it loaded, while at the range. 

1911s typically have a grip safety, while most other guns have a thumb safety.

Safeties are not especially prone to failure, but they are mechanical, and anything mechanical can fail.  Whatever causes one to fail could be happening intermittently, so it won’t fail every time, which is why you never point the gun at a person or a dog (OK, or a cat) and depend on the safety.

This came to mind as a topic when I bought another gun, a Walther, which has a very unusual safety.  Instead of locking the trigger so it can’t move, this safety moves a steel plate between the hammer and the firing pin.  The trigger pull stays the same, and the hammer still falls.

That’s actually a little disconcerting.  With the safety on, there is no way to know if it will fire until it does fire, which is too late.  Hmmm.  Is that steel plate actually there?  What if a trainee assembled the gun and left it out.  Dry-firing doesn’t prove anything here.  This has to be tested live.

Once again, never trust a safety, and test it periodically!