When a disturbed teenager in Uvalde sought a high-powered rifle that could fire numerous rounds, he didn’t have far to go. Texas has more licensed gun dealers and manufacturers than any other state, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal gun licensing data.
Texas is home to slightly more than 6,000 gun sellers, according to May 2022 licensing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That’s more than twice as many as any other state.
Texas also led the U.S. in estimated minimum gun sales from 2017 to 2020, according to a new ATF report, and was first in most major categories of licensed gun sales.
On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers, pushing Texas past California for the most mass shootings in the nation — a total of 31. The FBI defines mass shootings as incidents in which at least four people are murdered with a gun.
Texas also has had more people killed in mass shootings than any other state, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety stretching back to 2009, and the second-highest number of people killed in a single mass shooting, behind Nevada.
Researchers and gun safety advocates aren’t surprised by mass shootings in Texas, where guns are plentiful and accessible largely due to lax and permissive laws.
It’s easier for teenagers in Texas to buy an AR-15 than it is a handgun, or even a beer. The high-powered AR-15 rifle, similar to the Army’s M-16, is the weapon of choice for many mass murderers bent on achieving the highest body count possible.
“At times, common sense measures seem to be within reach and then are not fulfilled,” said Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a public safety nonprofit.
Golden said her group has been fighting for gun safety laws in Texas for years but that it’s become even more challenging and “more divisive here.” Mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns is one of the proposals that went nowhere in the Texas Legislature, she said.
But Texas is not the worst state for gun safety, according to at least one advocacy group.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s annual scorecard rated Texas the 15th worst state for gun safety laws. Arkansas was rated the worst in the nation.
Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Center, said his organization gave Texas an F, its lowest grade, in the scorecard issued last year. Texas, he said, has above-average rates of gun homicide. And the problem is getting worse, he added. Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred in Texas while Greg Abbott was governor, he said.
Freilich said gun homicide rates rose 66% while Abbott was governor and that since he took office in 2015, more than 570 Texas children have been killed with guns — more than any other state during that period.
This story was from before the passage of the modest bipartisan gun control bill, so adjust your perspective accordingly. I don’t have anything useful of my own to say, but this Trib story has some good information.
“The idea that gun laws won’t have an impact in reducing mass shootings and school shooting violence is a myth,” said Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University who studies gun violence.
Simply requiring guns to be stored safely, for example, or outlawing high-capacity magazines wouldn’t eliminate mass shootings, he said, but “the idea is to reduce the gun violence.”
Texans and other Americans support many of the proposals, according to recent polling. What gets in the way, various experts said, is politics.
Studies and experts from various fields say less controversial steps short of an assault weapons ban would have an impact on all gun violence. Those include raising the age for legal purchase of a long arm from 18 to 21, as is typically the case for handguns, or banning large-capacity magazines, a move studies have shown can at least limit fatalities in mass shootings.
Experts also point to successes with red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others, and safe storage laws that require firearms to be locked when stored. They have also urged implementing universal background checks.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has long studied mass killings, said the policy changes are the right things to do, but not only for mass shootings.
“If we reduce mass shootings by 10%, we can reduce homicides by 20%,” he said.
Klarevas at Columbia University said the law enforcement response in Uvalde this month knocks down the argument that good guys with guns are the solution to shootings. He hopes lawmakers and policymakers can find compromise by shifting their framework for debate.
“What we really want isn’t good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns,” Klarevas said. “What we really want is bad guys without guns. That’s a better strategy.”
“A challenge we face here is that everybody is looking for one answer, one thing. That doesn’t exist,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at State University of New York at Oswego. “We’re dealing with very complex phenomena that go in spider webs in so many different directions but all weaved together.”
Jimmy Perdue, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said last week he agrees with the argument that those with ill intent will find a way to get guns. He argued that mental illness and a societal devaluation of the sanctity of life are causes of mass shootings. Still, he said, access does matter.
He said “the time has come” for the state to make it harder for some people to get firearms, especially with a continuing rise in gun violence in Texas and throughout the country.
“There are certainly measures that could be put into place that limit access, whether that be raising the age or some sort of background checks or waiting periods,” Perdue said. “No one thing is going to prevent it from happening, but I tend to come down on the side of if we can put some measures in place that can prevent one or two, it’s better than nothing.”
Okay, there is something useful I can say here, and it’s a thing I believe I have mentioned before. Building on what those last two people said, which the story then goes into further, the best approach to reducing gun violence is the same as the approach to cybersecurity. There is no one big thing that prevents cyber incidents, but there are a bunch of overlapping and sometimes redundant smaller things that you can do that in the aggregate do a lot to reduce your risk, and also do a lot to minimize the damage when something does get through. You can never fully protect yourself, but you can greatly improve your overall safety. No one security measure can guard against everything – to even think along those lines is self-defeating – but each thing plays a part and adds to the big picture.
Public health, which gun violence is a part of, is the same basic idea as well. I can’t guarantee that you won’t get COVID, but vaccinations plus boosters plus improved ventilation plus masking where appropriate plus testing will make it less likely you’ll get sick and more likely you’ll avoid the hospital if you do get sick. It’s not perfect and there are some tradeoffs and your risk profile might be different than mine, but it sure is better than what we were facing two years ago. Better outcomes are possible, if we want them. The rest is up to us.