When people think of Texas, the hallmarks of Americana often come to mind: cowboy boots and hats, cookouts, countryfolk, conservative values and, of course, guns. Texas gun laws are infamously lax, and many citizens take advantage of their Second Amendment right to responsibly own and operate firearms. But the two mass shootings in the last month alone beg the question: Is the state doing enough to prevent these tragedies?
Getting a gun in Texas is purposefully easy. Although you need a license to publicly carry a firearm, you don’t need a permit to purchase one, and after you buy it, you don’t have to register it. Peaceable journey laws also allow unlicensed gunowners to transport their weapons to and inside their vehicles, even across state lines.
Federal law may require licensed commercial sellers to conduct background checks on buyers, but state law opts out of regulating the private transfer of guns, which means that individuals can sell their weapons to whoever they want, without consideration of their mental state or criminal record. An estimated 40% of all sales come from private sellers and gun shows; the lack of regulation increases accessibility for people who wouldn’t pass an official check.
The Texas gun laws that do exist prioritize the freedoms of gunowners. The state issues licenses to carry (LTCs) on a non-discretionary, “shall-issue” basis. If you are 21 years of age, have some money and a relatively clean record, and complete a short course, you can carry deadly weapons — openly or concealed.
The only exceptions to the eligible population are people with recent or pending criminal charges, substance abusers, targets of restraining orders and people who owe the government money. But anyone who can’t pass a background check can still very easily purchase guns from random individuals on sites like Craigslist and at events like gun shows.
Those that do receive LTCs can keep guns on their person in almost any situation. While you can’t open-carry on a campus, Texas gun laws force all public universities to allow concealed carry in their parking areas, outside walk areas and, sometimes, even their buildings. Although schools can designate certain gun-free zones, these determinations are subject to legislative action and change.
Laws on the usage of firearms also work to benefit gunowners. Texas prides itself on its Stand Your Ground doctrine; someone legally allowed in a residence has the right to not retreat from attackers and instead defend themselves and other persons, using deadly force if necessary. Also known as the Castle Doctrine, this legislation protects lawful gunowners from civil and criminal prosecution after harming or killing a person in a manner judged to be justifiable.
Texas gun laws are meant to uphold the state’s long love affair with firearms. They protect citizens’ constitutional right to possess weaponry and use them in specific settings and emergencies. Unfortunately, the state’s leniency on the types of weapons available, as well as how people can acquire and use them, perpetuates gun violence.
Stand Your Ground has let many shooters walk free, despite their questionable justification of deadly force. In 2016, a Muslim man, Ziad Abu Naim, and his wife, Lisa Aimone, nearly got into a car accident at an intersection. When confronted with a BMW, driven by Robert Klimek, Abu Naim braked to allow the other car to pass, but the BMW turned and pulled alongside his car. When Klimek rolled his window down and yelled “Go back to Islam!” Abu Naim stepped out of his car. A single gunshot later, Abu Naim was on the ground.
A Harris County ground jury declined to indict Klimek on any charges; his attorneys invoked Stand Your Ground, since it applies to cars, too, and claimed he acted in self-defense. Klimek’s attorneys claimed that Abu Naim had reached through his car window to strike him, but Aimone said there wasn’t enough time between when he exited the car and when the gun fired for him to reach Klimek; she believes that Klimek had the gun ready when he pulled up to them. Ironically, Abu Naim also owned a gun, but he kept it locked in his glovebox.
Abu Naim’s case is only one of many, and the controversy surrounding Stand Your Ground is only one of several contested Texas gun laws. Texas also has no restrictions on assault weapons or magazine capacities. Furthermore, the state legislature has legalized open carry of handguns for those with an LTC, provided that the firearm remains in a holster. And did you know there’s no rule prohibiting public, open carry of “long guns,” including rifles and shotguns?
These laws may shelter those that use guns for the right reasons — hunting, collecting, sport, protection — but they also make it a lot easier for mass shooters to get their hands on killing machines. The El Paso and Odessa-Midland shootings underscore the need for gun reform.
The El Paso killer admitted to ordering a semiautomatic weapon from Romania, which he had to pick up in a licensed gun store. He passed the federally-mandated background check and legally acquired his weapon and ammo of choice. The day of the shooting, he walked into Walmart with his loaded rifle and sound-cancelling headphones and opened fire, killing 22 people and injuring more.
The Odessa-Midland murderer actually failed a background check in 2014 because a court had deemed him “mentally unfit”; however, he bypassed this obstruction by simply purchasing his gun from a private vendor. His drive-by spree killed seven and left more than 25 other victims injured.
The fact these shooters were acting within their rights until they pulled the trigger should be unacceptable. Why should we let people just walk around toting assault rifles? Why do we even let people purchase these kinds of gun? Why does an average Joe need a weapon that was specifically designed to kill several targets in mere seconds?
Surprise, surprise: Gun control is a contentious topic in America. It’s a topic that’s politically-charged and polarizing, and both sides of the discussion make good points. The Second Amendment protects us from government tyranny, but it’s also enabled countless individuals to harm others. We don’t need an outright ban on all guns, but we could at least make it more difficult for killers to devastate innocent people’s lives.