Texas has been in the news a lot lately, and rarely for good reasons. The legal landscape within the lone-star state is shifting radically.
Its chaotic and irresponsible handling of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic is second only to Florida for the sheer carnage (by the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths). The state’s governor would rather leave matters of mask-wearing and vaccination down to personal choice amongst citizens, rather than weighing in with mandates or consistent messaging.
Texas also recently changed the law to obliterate abortion rights for women, and simultaneously made it possible for private citizens to sue one another if they perform an abortion or so-much-as assist others in getting one (for example by giving them a ride to the clinic). In this matter, the governor and his minions are very much against personal choice.
Double standards much?
A final significant change in law came about this week as Governor Greg Abbott’s House Bill HB1927 took effect. It’s now possible to buy, own and carry (concealed or openly) a handgun in Texas.
There’s no need for a license, background checks, or registration.
No requirement for training.
No tests to determine if you can shoot or handle a gun safely.
No cooling-off period between registration and ownership.
It’s harder to buy and drink a beer in Texas than to buy and carry a loaded handgun down the street.
Restrictions reduce deaths
I’m not anti-gun in the slightest. I’m just pragmatic and realistic about what guns mean and what they should be used for.
Here in the UK, gun ownership is heavily regulated and correspondingly the number of deaths caused by guns is amongst the lowest in the world. Mass shootings still happen of course — the most recent of which claimed six innocent lives after a gunman (it’s always a man, isn’t it?) lost his mind in the city of Plymouth and went on a rampage.
Even with our restrictive regime, we don’t get it completely right. But the controlling measures and restricted access certainly seem to fulfil their intended purpose — largely keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them or don’t need them, reserving them for those who do (the police and military for the most part).
Americans, and in particular it seems, Texans cling to the notion that to own and bear arms is a constitutional right. They point to the 2nd Amendment conveniently overlooking that it protects their right to bear arms, but only as part of a ‘well-regulated militia’. Does that imply that gun owners see themselves as part of a militia whose function is to protect the USA?
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m missing the point. I didn’t realise that the entire country felt it was constantly under threat?
Photo by Dusty Barnes on Unsplash
A counter-intuitive approach in Texas
It’s approaching one week since constitutional carry laws were restored in Texas on September 1st with the introduction of permit-less carry of handguns throughout the state. The law allows those who are legally permitted to own a handgun, to carry it either openly or concealed — without a permit or training.
HB1927 was pushed through by Governor Greg Abbott just two years following two mass shootings in the state that claimed 30 lives. At that time he said and did the right things — calling for more restrictions and closer regulation, but two years does a lot to wipe the memory.
The bill wasn’t passed unanimously — it received 11 votes for and 5 against. With it, Texas becomes one of 20 states that allow anyone over the age of 21 to openly carry a gun provided they haven’t been convicted of a felony or domestic violence.
Worryingly, it also abandons all requirements for licenses, training, finger-printing, or a shooting proficiency test for those wanting to buy a handgun.
Objections from law enforcement officials
While many who speak out in favor of such laws are quick to point out that it helps them protect themselves against the so-called “bad guys”, many Texas police officers point out the problems that this could cause for them.
Speaking on the change in law, Kevin Lawrence of the Texas Municipal Police Association states:
“The problem is that the bad guys want to carry guns too. There has to be a way of determining who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.”
His fear is easy to understand. If you create an environment where, to all intents and purposes anyone over the age of 21 is entitled to carry a handgun, how can you tell which are the bad guys and which aren’t?
If the police are denied the ability to check if a gun is legally owned and registered, how can they determine who’s legally allowed to own and carry a gun and who isn’t? It’s practically impossible to challenge anyone until they misuse a gun at which point, it’s too late.
What will be the effects?
The effects of permit-less carry in Texas are yet to be seen, but initial signs don’t look great.
Since the law changed on September 1 there have been 40 gun-related deaths and 7 injuries in Texas — 19 of those deaths have occurred in Houston alone.
One tragic example was a 20-year-old woman in South Houston, shot in the chest as her partner unloaded his handgun in their bedroom. Police are treating the death as accidental and it’s assumed that the gun was owned legally.
There’s no suggestion of malice or of the shooting having occurred due to an impending threat or out of self-defence. It was a direct result of a gun being in the hands of someone who was incapable of safely handling it to the extent that his partner is now dead.
This is just one of many deaths that might have been prevented if gun ownership were restricted to those who were sufficiently trained and vetted to ensure that such accidents are avoided or at least mitigated as far as is possible.
Time will tell what the effects of HB1927 turn out to be for Texas. Initial signs though, don’t look great.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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