Licensing Puts Us at the Mercy of Legislators and Bureaucrats


Eric Dexheimer, staff writer for the Austin American-Statesman, relates the story of Shayne Gatlin, who made the dumb decision as a teenager to agree to drive the getaway car for his friends after they broke into a house.  Some years later, he took up the trade of locksmith, and over 30 years, he has built up a solid reputation and stellar Better Business Bureau rating.

In 2004, however, his home state of Texas began licensing locksmiths, which presented him no problem, beyond the embarrassment of disclosing his record, until he recently had to supply a digital fingerprint under a new rule:

That appears to have set into motion a mandatory new review of his background, said Steve Thornton, Gatlin’s attorney. But rather than acknowledging Gatlin’s long and clean track record, court records show, the Private Security Program instead treated him as a new locksmith applicant. That meant applying an inflexible rule it had adopted in 2014 stating that any applicant with a house burglary conviction, no matter how long ago it occurred, was to be rejected.

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The public can disagree about the appropriate rigidity of the law for professionals working in home security, but Gatlin’s story illustrates an important point:  When you need the government’s permission to work, you’re constantly at their mercy.  The rules can change arbitrarily and a single decision — made by legislators or bureaucrats who are too confident in their ability to foresee every consequence — can wipe out your entire life’s work.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I wonder if people have any idea of the extent of this. I believe I am repeating myself, but a friend came here from Canada at age 14 to live with relatives, after the death of his father. He was a combat veteran of Viet Nam. At 65 he decided to become a citizen, Homeland Security held it up until he could prove he had appeared in court on a charge of street racing in 1964. Another friend got tied up in a bank seizure in the 90’s. He had no connection other than having a loan from the bank on which he was current. The government required that he prove he had made good on a bad check charge in 1957, or they would call his loan. (I wonder what actual legal authority they had to do that?).
    It appears that the government has computer records of these ancient crimes, records of which are poorly kept in the courts.