The Lone Star State: The Reality of Gun Legislation In Texas

A picture of Texas with bullet holes | Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

How have Texas legislators failed at passing meaningful gun control measures for the state? In recent times, gun control legislation proposals have come and gone in rapid succession. Despite this, many of these different forms of gun control laws have failed in the Texas house and senate. The failure of the red flag laws in Texas in particular prove the need for gun control in the state. Texas’ gun laws have too often been inadequate in preventing violence in the state and therefore have failed at protecting Texans from gun violence.

Mass shootings have become par for the course for the country as every year we see a continuing increase in mass shootings. Texas, however, holds the record for the most number of deadliest mass shootings in the country. Texas has four of the ten most deadly mass shootings.1 Along with that, six of the top twenty most deadly mass shootings are in Texas compared to California, which has half that number. The six most deadly mass shootings in Texas in modern history are as follows: August  1, 1966 UT Tower shooting with eighteen dead; October 16, 1991 Luby’s shooting with twenty-four dead; November 5, 2009  Fort Hood shooting with fourteen dead; November 5, 2017 Sutherland Springs with twenty-seven dead; May 18, 2018 Santa Fe High School with ten dead; and finally August 3, 2019 El Paso Walmart with twenty-two dead.2

The El Paso Shooting Memorial | Courtesy of NBC News

Texas is a state known for its gun culture, and it is because of this gun culture that gun legislation in Texas inadequately addresses gun violence in the state. In October of 2017, Texas ranked the highest of any state with the most amount of licensed gun dealers.3 Journalist Tom Dart interviewed Texas resident Dan Golvach after the shooting in El Paso and despite stating that the shooting was a “moral disaster,” Golvach said, “We are Texas because of Guns.” The article continues as the CEO of the Houston-based company Tuffy Packs, which creates bulletproof inserts for backpacks, states that he supports raising the minimum age to twenty-one, but also says, “If I was a felon I could get a gun in downtown Houston tonight for $500.”4 The gun culture is not only among those who sell and buy guns, but also among the politicians of the state. After the shooting in El Paso, former congressman Beto O’Rourke endorsed a ban of certain military style weapons. He was quickly met with backlash as representative Briscoe Cain tweeted, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.” The tweet was quickly removed as it violated the sites rules against threats of violence, but the damage was done. It is no wonder that if the state’s politicians feel emboldened enough to express their opinions against forms of gun control with violence towards those that support them, then the people of the state also must feel the same.5

News article on The UT mass shooting | Courtesy of the New York Daily News

After every large mass shooting in the country, state legislators are faced with the issue of reforming its gun laws, as media rages about gun control or violence due to violent video games, and Texas is no exception. Red flag laws are a type of gun control that was first used by the state of Connecticut in 1999. The premise of the law is simple: it allows the police or a family member to petition the court for a temporary removal of the firearms of a person who presents a danger to themselves or to others.6 Red flag laws have been passed in some of the country’s most prominent gun supporting states, such as Florida, but such laws continue to fail in the Texas legislature even when proposed by the governor himself. The fact is that current Texas laws make the red flag law implausible. The red flag law is essentially a protective order. Protective orders can be seen as a restraining order in domestic violence cases. Texas law already prohibits anyone under a protective order for domestic violence from owning a firearm, but the enforcement is where the problem lies. The law doesn’t state how guns should be removed or who should take them. These problems make legislators skeptical of creating another kind of protective order that essentially would have no teeth. This, however, is not the only reason legislators are skeptical. In March of 2018, Florida Governor signed into law a bill that gave police greater power to seize weapons and ammunition from those deemed mentally unfit. The NRA sued the state of Florida for violating the second and fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution. Interestingly enough, according to NPR journalist Samantha Raphelson, the NRA has spent decades pushing for legislation that stifles research and the spread of information on gun violence, and they have been successful. Congress passed a bill in March of 2018 that cut funding for research by 90%. In the article a Dr. Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, states that “The NRA told everybody, ‘You either can do research or you can keep your guns. But if you let the research go forward, you will all lose all of your guns.'”7 Knowing the influence the NRA has over the state, as the Texas governor and many legislator are supporters of the organization, it is not surprising that there has not been greater push for the legislation.8

The Texas answer to gun violence has been to loosen gun laws, not increase them. For example, after the Sutherland Springs shooting in a Baptist Church, the Texas legislature passed a bill that would consider churches private property. This law allowed for armed members of the West Freeway Church of Christ to shoot and kill a gunman who open fired. Although this law seems effective in that one instance, the fact of the matter is that the gunman killed three people before being shot. Had the state had more efficient forms of gun control, it is possible that this man would not have been able to obtain a gun to kill those people.9

Law enforcement officials investigate a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 | NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas has earned an F from the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in its laws by failing to protect its people. The fact of the matter is that current firearm laws in Texas are too lenient and have many loopholes allowing for almost anyone to obtain a firearm. In April of 2017, Texas led the nation in the most amount of registered weapons under the National Firearms Act.3 The National Firearms Act deals with machine guns, suppressors, and bombs. According to federal and state law, an individual over the age of eighteen may own an assault weapon after paying a tax and submitting an application that, in the state of Texas, does not require fingerprints and photos when bought under trusts and business entities.11 This loophole, like many others in the state, allows for people who are unfit to own a firearm to obtain one. Federal Law also prohibits addicts  and unlawful users from owning a firearm, and despite following this law, the state of Texas has no universal background checks or waiting periods for the purchase of a firearm.12 Therefore, the law has a very limited way of checking to make sure that a person can lawfully own a firearm. Along with no universal background checks, the state has no ban on assault-style weapons, such as an AK-47. In fact, the state of Texas also has no official age minimum, but does follow the federal law of an age minimum of eighteen, which is younger than the federal age minimum for alcohol and tobacco related products.13 This allowed twenty-year-old Patrick Crusius to buy an AK-47 variant, which he used in the El Paso shooting on August 3, 2019.

What comes next? If the state continues to follow in this path, we can expect to see more violence and continue to be the state with the most number of deadly mass shootings. In light of this information, it is clear to see the failure of the current laws to protect Texans. According to Professor Carl T. Bogus at Roger Williams, about 30% of Texas households have a gun compared to New York, which has about 11%; and research states that homicide rates in high gun states are triple those in low gun states.14 Gun Control is necessary in preventing gun violence. The easiest form of gun control is to raise the minimum age to twenty-one. This form of gun control has bipartisan support and could be implemented federally. Several other forms, such as background checks and assault weapon bans, along with bump stock bans, should also be considered.15 Loopholes and other laws should also be looked at and strengthened, such as the current protective order laws.

Shortly after August 3, 2019, representatives of El Paso in the house and senate of the state legislature presented House Bill 131 and Senate Bill 157 on gun control legislation, specifically focusing on Red Flag Laws as an option for the state. As expected, the state legislature whisked them away quickly and quietly. As a state, we must move forward from living in an undeniably toxic culture surrounding guns to a societal change that does not affect our rights as Americans, but protects the most vulnerable among us from life threatening violence. Without this change, more Texans and American people will be afraid of going to school, college campuses, lunch with friends, and even simply grocery shopping.

  1. Saeed Ahmed, “4 of the 10 deadliest Mass Shootings in Modern US History Have Taken Place in Texas,” CNN (Cable News Network, August 4, 2019),https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/03/us/texas-el-paso-walmart-shooting-among-deadliest-trnd/index.html).
  2. “Mass Shootings in the US Fast Facts,” CNN (Cable News Network, February 20, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/19/us/mass-shootings-fast-facts/index.html).
  3. Michael Hogue and Karen Robinson-Jacobs, “Texas’ Gun Culture in Four Charts,” Dallas News (Dallas News, August 25, 2019), https://www.dallasnews.com/business/2017/11/06/texas-gun-culture-in-four-charts/).
  4. Tom Dart, “’We Are Texas Because of Guns’: El Paso Carnage Unlikely to Dent State’s Gun Culture,” The Guardian (The Guardian, August 9, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/09/el-paso-shooting-texas-guns).
  5. Kayla Epstein Antonia Farzan, “’My AR Is Ready for You,’ Texas Republican Lawmaker Tells Beto O’Rourke over Mandatory Buybacks,” The Washington Post (WP Company, September 13, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/09/13/beto-orourke-roscoe-cain-death-threat-twitter/).
  6. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2020, s.v. “Red Flag Laws,” by Eric C. Bullard.
  7. Samantha Raphelson, “How The NRA Worked To Stifle Gun Violence Research,” NPR (NPR, April 5, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/04/05/599773911/how-the-nra-worked-to-stifle-gun-violence-research).
  8. Steve Almasy, “NRA Sues Florida to Block Part of New Gun Law,” CNN (Cable News Network, March 10, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/09/us/nra-sues-florida-gun-law/index.html).
  9. Jollie McCullough and Texas Tribune, “Will Texas Pass A ‘Red Flag’ Law To Remove Guns From People Who Are Deemed Dangerous?,” Houston Public Media, June 18, 2018, ” href=”https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2018/06/18/291461/will-texas-pass-a-red-flag-law-to-remove-guns-from-people-who-are-deemed-dangerous/)”>https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2018/06/18/291461/will-texas-pass-a-red-flag-law-to-remove-guns-from-people-who-are-deemed-dangerous/).
  10. Michael Hogue and Karen Robinson-Jacobs, “Texas’ Gun Culture in Four Charts,” Dallas News (Dallas News, August 25, 2019), https://www.dallasnews.com/business/2017/11/06/texas-gun-culture-in-four-charts/).
  11. Mark Anthony Correo, “4th Annual Firearms Law : What Every Texas Lawyer Needs to Know Course,” State Bar of Texas, 2015 ” href=”http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03837a&AN=SMU.b1770708&site=eds-live&scope=site”>http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03837a&AN=SMU.b1770708&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  12. Allen Halbrook et al., Texas Perspectives on Firearm Laws (Austin, TX: State Bar of Texas, 2015)).
  13. “Texas Gun Laws,” Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence (Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, December 12, 2019), https://lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/state-law/texas/)
  14. Carl Bogus, “How Gun Control Got Murdered,” The American Prospect, August 30, 2011, https://prospect.org/culture/gun-control-got-murdered/).
  15. Benjy Sarlin, “6 Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence and How They Work,” NBCNews.com (NBCUniversal News Group, March 6, 2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/6-proposals-reduce-gun-violence-how-they-work-n851736).

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50 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article! It was very informative on all the mass shooting that have happened in Texas because of the fact we don’t have a lot of reforms for gun control. This article was able to explain a little about the Texas gun laws. It really was an eye opener because I didn’t realize how much mass shooting have happened in Texas and how important it is to make safer and more strict gun laws.

  2. This article hits close to home considering the fact that my hometown suffered the consequences of the existing gun laws that govern the state of Texas. This raises the question of “If gun laws in the state would have been designed to be more restrictive, how many of the lives that have been sensibly lost would be here today. The article does a great job of educating readers of the regulations that are imposed by the state of Texas on guns. Hopefully, it will spark a sense of realization for readers on the importance of listening to what is occurring in our state capitol, and not only the debates and exchanges of ideas that take place in Washington D.C. Great job at educating the reader!

  3. It is beyond tragic to see shootings take place in the news. Because of the lack of gun reform that has taken place in Texas, shootings have started to become normalized. It frightens me to see how much Texas has failed its people when it comes to gun safety and reform. However, it is important to become informed and educated about the status of Texas’ gun legislation. This article has helped to educate us about the correlation between gun reform and the amount of shootings, and has reminded us about the importance of contacting state legislature in order to seek change.

  4. I liked this article for being concise and straightforward in explaining the Texas gun laws. Texas in infamous for it’s gun culture. This article exposed me to some of the consequences of such relaxed gun laws: more mass shootings than other states, more gun violence, ect. It surprised me that Texas has loosened gun laws rather than strengthen them. Not too long ago I visited the Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were murdered in November 2017. It was horrible to look at the site and to realize how much damage, death, and destruction one rouge person is capable of carrying out.

  5. This was an eye opening read. As someone who has lived in Texas my whole life, I have always known about the gun culture we have in the state but have never been directly exposed to it within my family. I was very surprised and saddened to read that Texas has the highest number of deadly mass shootings in the whole country. I have many friends who own guns and according to them it is a fairly easy process to obtain a firearm and license. This argument is a double edged sword on gun reform, but I do agree with previous comments that credentials to own a firearm in the state are far too relaxed.

  6. I wish there were slightly tighter firearm laws in Texas, however-politically- 2A is our trademark as a State. Texas Gun laws may not be ideal, however they give us leeway to protect ourselves if needed. In States such as Maryland and D.C in your house you must have your gun unloaded, in a safe and act as a last resort to personal safety. But in Texas, if someone is on your property or breaks into your house you can, “shoot first, ask questions later”. To many, this is a valuable right.

  7. It was incredibly eye-opening that Texas holds the record for having the most deadly mass shootings in the country. This article gave me a lot of information about the Texas state and federal laws regarding guns. I like how the article stresses how Texas has failed to pass the necessary gun laws to control gun culture. I believe that it is far too easy to buy a gun with all of the loopholes present.

  8. Wow! This was a very interesting article to read about the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. I do agree that in many instances our laws are not strict enough when it comes to arms and the right to possess them. I believe legislators and politicians must do a better job to create better legislation and regulation when it comes to this subject. I believe that people should continue to protest and demand better regulations. I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment because it gives innocent people the opportunity to defend themselves and their families. However, there should be stricter conditions and rules about the type of guns we sell and to whom the are sold.

  9. I knew that Texas had a serious gun culture, and i also knew that we have a terrifyingly high number of mass shootings, but I had no clue that Texas holds the record for the most number of deadliest mass shootings in the country. It is terrifying to think that even knowing that information, legislation has not been able to protect us.

  10. This article does a good job of outlining the current gun laws Texas has along with federal laws. In my personal experience, buying a gun in Texas was incredibly easy, and actually scared me how easy it was. I am a gun advocate but like this article, I do agree that buying a gun is too easy and the loopholes have only made it easier. This article discussed the NRA and how it affects our public policies. I think discussing the NRA was a good decision because many adults do not know how much influence the NRA has in Texas. The article was very informative and made a good case for better gun laws.

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