Half a dozen new Texas laws aimed at loosening restrictions on guns will take effect next month, just weeks after a gunman killed 22 people and injured dozens of others in El Paso. Though the bills are aimed at allowing lawful gun owners to defend themselves from the same kind of violence that happened in the border city, gun safety advocates and experts tell Bustle they could actually make active shooter situations even more dangerous and result in more gun deaths.
When a shooter opened fire in an El Paso Walmart on Saturday, it unfortunately wasn't the first time Texans experienced mass gun violence. Including El Paso, four of the 10 most deadly shootings in recent U.S. history have occurred in the state, according to CNN. The other three are the Luby's cafeteria shooting in 1991, when a gunman in Killeen, Texas, killed 23 people; the University of Texas at Austin shooting in 1966, when a gunman killed 16 and wounded at least 30 while shooting from a tower; and the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, when a shooter killed 25 and an unborn child. The list goes on.
The six pro-gun bills taking effect next month were passed earlier this year, prior to the El Paso shooting. The legislation will essentially make it easier for people to carry guns at a variety of locations.
Here's a breakdown of what each measure will do:
- HB 1387 will loosen restrictions on the number of "school marshals," or armed schoolteachers and staff, a public school can have.
- HB 1143 will bar school districts from prohibiting or regulating a person with a handgun license transporting or storing a firearm and ammunition in a parking area on school grounds, as long as the handgun, firearm, or ammunition is not in plain view.
- HB 2363 will allow some foster parents to store ammunition and firearms in the same locked location.
- HB 302 will prohibit landlords or owners of rental properties from stopping tenants or their guests from lawfully having a firearm on the property.
- HB 1177 "prevents citizens from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun without a License To Carry while evacuating from a declared state or local disaster area, or while returning to that area," according to the Texas State Law Library. It also "gives disaster shelters the option to accommodate evacuees with firearms."
- SB 535 will amend the state penal code to allow licensed owners to carry handguns in places of worship.
These laws further loosen already lax gun restrictions in Texas. For example, the state does not require people to have an open carry license, as long as their guns are in a shoulder or belt holster. Federally licensed firearms dealers in Texas do not have to perform federal background checks if a purchaser already has a handgun license. Additionally, private sellers do not have to conduct background checks, which is what advocates refer to as the gun show loophole.
Elva Mendoza, a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says Texas' existing laws, combined with the new bills, will jeopardize Texans' safety.
"We're at a point in our nation's history where we're seeing these epidemic levels of gun violence, and instead of passing laws to combat that, [state lawmakers] are passing laws to make us less safe," she tells Bustle.
She notes data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that from 2008 to 2017, there was a 14% increase in the rate of gun deaths in Texas. "Putting more guns in more places has not made our state safer," she says.
Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell, a co-sponsor of SB 535, the bill that would allow handguns in houses of worship, mentioned self-defense in a statement about the bill.
"It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm," she said, according to CNN.
According to David Chipman, senior policy adviser with the gun safety organization Giffords, the idea that any gun owner can stop or even help in an active shooter situation is a flawed one. Chipman, who served 25 years as a special agent and SWAT team member for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says that a majority of gun owners don't have much training, and a very small percentage of them have the kind of training that would allow them to intervene in a crisis situation.
"In every state in the United States, there is some form of concealed carry, and there are different degrees of training required," he tells Bustle. "None of them meet the training that you would get in law enforcement."
He points out that state concealed-carry trainings don't include "judgments shooting," which is about more than hitting a moving or still target. Instead, he says the focus is on whether "in a chaotic crisis situation like these mass shootings, are you able to determine if your use of a gun can be helpful or do harm?"
Chipman notes that in most mass shooting situations, it's harder for law enforcement to respond and help if more people are carrying guns. In that situation, he says it's harder for law enforcement to determine who the shooter is and who is an armed civilian just trying to help. Additionally, he says many armed civilians haven't had enough training or practice to ensure that they wouldn't hit an innocent person in the chaos.
Considering a law like HB 1387, which would allow more teachers with minimal training to carry guns at school, Chipman says, "I think the question is, is winning a gun fight a good policy approach if you want to prevent gun violence?"
Texas lawmakers appear to answer that question with a yes, even in areas where gun manufacturers disagree. Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, says that the organization pointed out in its testimony against HB 2363, the foster parent bill, that even Remington and other gun manufacturers say gun owners shouldn't keep ammunition and firearms together.
"There seem to be too many legislators who say they think that more guns make us safer," she tells Bustle. "I've come to understand how the discussion around guns in Texas, to the detriment of our safety, becomes sort of a code word for individuality."
But Chipman says there's a way for Texas to create sensible policy that acknowledges that the majority of people with guns aren't well-trained, while also allowing people to exercise their right to own guns and get the training required to use them.
"If Texas really wants to be a safer state, they would follow the lead of other states that have passed reasonable gun laws and, as a result, they've seen their rates of gun violence decline," he says. "And in doing so, they've created a place where people still have the ability to possess and own firearms. ... We make sure that the people having guns are vetted and when they carry them out of the house, into the public square where they can affect everyone, that they're trained in an appropriate way."