On June 13, 2015 the Texas Legislature passed a law that dramatically altered the way that Texas citizens can carry firearms. Under the new law, which went into effect on January 1, 2016, certain Texas residents are now allowed to carry loaded handguns openly in public places. This includes places like restaurants, shopping malls and even some college campuses.
While pro-gun advocates have cheered the new law, many Texans are taking a contrasting view.
In the eyes of many, the passage of House Bill 910 sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to increased gun violence and make mass shootings more likely.
Will this new law have an effect on rates of gun violence in Texas? If so, how great of an effect?
Before taking a look at the statistics, it’s helpful to understand exactly what changed when Texas passed H.B. 910. Broadly, the law deals with:
- Carrying firearms in public places
- Carrying firearms on the grounds of public universities and colleges
According to the law, any person who is a Texas citizen and possesses a valid license to carry a concealed handgun is now legally allowed to carry a handgun openly in public. However, there are some caveats in the law.
Specifically, only valid Concealed Handgun License (CHL) holders may take advantage of this new law. In order to obtain a CHL, a person must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Have a clean criminal record
- Pay a fee
- Successfully pass an examination which includes written testing and a firearm proficiency test
Although these requirements make it more difficult for some people to obtain a CHL, there will be no additional testing required for current CHL holders.
For example, Joe Smith already had a valid CHL when the new law took effect. He does not need to re-certify or undergo additional training. He can now carry a loaded handgun in some public places.
The law also states that concealed carry, but not open carry, will now be allowed on the campuses of public Texas universities. However, universities have been allowed to restrict certain areas of their campuses, such as residence halls and laboratories, from legal concealed carry.
Gun Crime Statistics: Do Firearms Make Us Safer?
One of the most frequently used arguments in favor of the new law is that firearms in the hands of trained users will make public places safer. The argument, as it is put forward, states that criminals will be less likely to break the law in the presence of people openly carrying guns.
Pro-gun advocates have also claimed that armed citizens will be able to take out active shooters, thereby preventing or stopping mass shootings.
Is this really true?
Some statistics indicate that it is not. In fact, several government studies have found a correlation between higher rates of gun ownership and rates of gun violence.
For example, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a study which ranked states on the severity of their gun laws and then cross-referenced that data with rates of gun violence. In the study of 2013 crime statistics, a correlation was found which pointed to higher rates of gun violence in states with lax gun laws.
Highly regulated states experienced noticeably fewer violent incidents.
However, that’s not the whole story. Texas Gun Sense, an organization which advocates for stricter gun control in Texas, found that Texas experiences nearly 3,000 firearm-related deaths per year. In the years 2009-2014, the same figures showed that rates of firearm deaths in Texas have been slowly increasing.
While this is not conclusive proof that gun ownership directly leads to gun violence, it is important to note that Texas residents own large numbers of guns when compared to other states, and gun violence in Texas is on the rise.
It would appear, at least from these statistics, that the first argument in favor of Bill 910 doesn’t hold up. Specifically, more people carrying more guns does not lead to a reduction in overall violence and crime.
That still leaves the other argument: that armed citizens will put a stop to mass shootings. A quick look at incidents of recent mass shootings in Texas can at least partially dispel this idea.
In 2015 in Texas, nearly four dozen people were killed in 21 mass shooting incidents. (A “mass shooting” is defined as a single shooting which kills or injures four or more people.) Of the eight deadliest shootings nationwide that year, three took place in Texas.
It’s important to note that these mass shootings took place in a state that has allowed concealed carry since 1995. Since valid CHL holders are the only individuals permitted to carry openly, it doesn’t appear that this new law will help to stop mass shootings.
After all, none of the 21 mass shootings in Texas in 2015 were stopped by a “good citizen with a gun.”
People from across the state have stood out openly against the law. In February 2016, a dean at the University of Texas stepped down to protest the new law. UT also underwent massive, campus-wide protests led by students and faculty members. Some UT professors are even attempting to repeal the law, but the result of their efforts remains to be seen.
The law’s opponents argued it would do nothing to increase safety, and might actually increase rates of violence—both claims which appear to be backed up by the statistics. While there is no hard data yet available on whether or not the new law is linked to increased gun violence, it is clear that Texas has taken a big step in the direction of less gun control.
The mass shooting that took place in Dallas in 2016 highlighted the problems that can occur when more people are freely allowed to purchase high-powered firearms.
It remains to be seen what the overall effect of H.B. 910 will be in terms of violence rates.
But if reducing violence is the goal, this new law, in the opinion of gun control advocates, is a step in the wrong direction.
Brett Podolsky is a Houston attorney whose jury trial experience includes capital murder, murder, robbery, DWI, drug possession, assault and theft. He is not affiliated with any of the advocacy groups mentioned in this article. You can learn more about Brett on his website or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. He welcomes comments from readers.