Deaths from firearms keep climbing in Texas, decades after lawmakers began weakening gun regulations (2023)

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Deaths from firearms in Texas — the vast majority of them suicides or homicides — have continued rising in Texas, reaching levels not seen in almost three decades.

At the same time, Texas relaxed its gun laws in a decadeslong push to expand Second Amendment rights in the state, most recently in 2021 when Gov. Greg Abbott signed what Republicans called a “constitutional carry” bill into law, allowing Texans to carry handguns without a license or training.

Texas lawmakers have approved more than 100 bills that loosened regulations on firearms over the last two decades, from blocking campus “zero tolerance” policies that expelled gun-carrying students to preventing hotels from restricting handguns, according to data compiled by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that deaths from firearms in Texas generally began to increase about two decades ago after a dramatic decline in the 1990s. There were 15 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people in Texas in 2021, a 50% jump from 1999 when there were on average 10 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people. Over the same period, firearm-related homicides rose 66% and suicides involving firearms rose 40%.

The last time Texas’ firearm death rate — including suicides, homicides and accidents — exceeded 15 per 100,000 people was in 1994.

The debate over gun violence — and how to prevent it — has erupted again this week after another Texas mass shooting: A gunman with an AR-15-style rifle killed eight weekend shoppers at an outlet mall in the Dallas suburb of Allen and wounded seven others before police shot him to death. The shooting happened just weeks before the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

Legal experts and researchers said it can be difficult to untangle how much gun violence can be attributed to easing gun regulations. The internet has made it easier to obtain weapons, particularly illegal ones. The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive social upheaval that prompted a rise in violence in general, including gun violence. And a rise in distrust of institutions, from the media to the government, also plays a role, experts said.

Texas Republicans have argued that eliminating regulations on firearms is compelled by a conservative reading of the U.S. Constitution — and necessary to protect the rights of Texas citizens. When Abbott signed legislation to allow permitless carry in Texas and other laws that eliminated gun regulation, he characterized the laws as “defending the Second Amendment.”

“Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns from law-abiding citizens, but we will not let that happen in Texas,” Abbott said.

But there’s evidence that a handful of significant state laws have affected gun ownership and gun use, and ultimately increased fatalities, legal experts and gun violence prevention advocates said.

“There are very strong reasons to believe the weakening of gun laws is associated with the rise in gun violence,” said Lindsay Nichols, policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, pointing to studies that show a rise in gun fatalities years after stricter regulations are lifted. “I think it’s a very good explanation for this rise in gun deaths [in Texas].”

Gun violence also increases with exposure, like other health problems, she said.

“Many forms of gun violence, like suicide, behave like a contagion,” Nichols said. For example, when people become a victim of gun violence, they are more likely to later become a perpetrator of gun violence themselves, she said. “In that way, it really spreads through communities like a disease.”

Prior to the late 1990s, Texas law had traditionally prohibited carrying handguns in many public places. Texas’ first concealed weapons law was passed in 1995, allowing people to carry concealed handguns after obtaining a license.

That law, research suggests, increased violent crime rates. In a 2017 working paper, researchers with Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University found that concealed carry laws — sometimes called right to carry laws — were associated with a 13% to 15% higher violent crime rate 10 years after adoption. Such analyses are constructed by complex models that estimate how firearm death rates would have progressed in the state absent the change.

In Texas, 10 years after adopting the concealed weapons law, violent crime in the state was almost 17% higher than researchers would have expected without it, the study found.

About a decade later in 2007, Texas enacted a “stand your ground law” that made it legal for Texans to use force in self-defense before retreating, as long as it doesn’t result in an intrusion on private property.

Sandra Guerra Thompson, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center who was previously the director of the Criminal Justice Institute, pointed to that law as another that likely contributed to the rise in firearm fatalities in Texas. In a 2022 study assessing 41 states, “stand your ground” laws were associated with an 8% to 11% increase in monthly homicide rates.

“[Stand your ground] laws in self defense really have made a difference in terms of firearms being used against others,” Guerra Thompson said.

Texas was an early adopter of the “stand your ground” concept, sometimes known as the “castle doctrine.” Texas’ law went further than Florida, which in 2005 started a trend of removing or lessening the “duty to retreat.” Since then, more than 30 states have enacted similar laws.

Over the next decade, Texas lawmakers passed legislation to allow “open carry,” which lets people visibly carry handguns in public without concealing them. Texas enacted its open carry law in 2016.

State lawmakers have continued a trend of loosening restrictions in recent years with the permitless carry law. It’s too early to tell what the effect of that law will be in Texas, experts said, but they warn that it could mean people who would’ve previously been barred from carrying firearms in public may now do so.

Dru Stevenson, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said that while it’s true that deaths from firearms are increasing at the same time as Texas has loosened gun restrictions, significant cultural, social and economic factors also play a role, and it’s difficult to determine which trend is causing the other.

In Texas politics, he said, “if people are agitated, angry and feeling scared, they’re more likely to pressure or reward politicians who loosen gun restrictions.”

“Gun violence is not just a law problem,” Stevenson said. “It’s a culture problem.”

Still, Stevenson said, “The fact is, we have a homicide firearm fatality rate and suicide rate that has been rising. So, it seems like a bad time to be loosening gun laws.”

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Jessica Priest contributed to this story.

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FAQs

Deaths from firearms keep climbing in Texas, decades after lawmakers began weakening gun regulations? ›

Deaths from firearms keep climbing in Texas, decades after lawmakers began weakening gun regulations. The rate of firearm-related deaths in Texas has reached a level not seen since the 1990s. Texas lawmakers have approved more than 100 bills that loosened gun restrictions since 2000.

What were the effects of the Gun Control Act of 1968? ›

The 1968 law imposed Federal licensing of individuals to manufacture or deal in firearms and a ban on all interstate transportation of weapons to or from individuals not licensed as dealers, manufacturers, importers, or collectors.

Did a federal judge strike down Texas handgun age restriction? ›

A federal judge has struck down one of Texas' few remaining firearm restrictions, finding a law that barred adults under the age of 21 from carrying a handgun was unconstitutional.

Was there gun control in Texas in 1870? ›

Moreover, in 1870 Texas became the first state to champion comprehensive arms-control measures when lawmakers banned the carrying of deadly weapons outside the home. Indeed the stereotype of nineteenth-century Texas as a gun- lover's paradise mistakes the past for the present.

Was the Gun Control Act of 1968 unconstitutional? ›

The Supreme Court has ruled that gun control laws are unconstitutional. It stated that the Second Amendment allows the American people to own firearms, but it also stated that this right can be limited.

What is the Firearm Act of 1986? ›

Firearm Owners' Protection Act

In 1986, this Act amended the NFA definition of “silencer” by adding combinations of parts for silencers and any part intended for use in the assembly or fabrication of a silencer. The Act also amended the GCA to prohibit the transfer or possession of machine guns.

Can federal felons own firearms in Texas? ›

Under federal law, all convicted felons are permanently prohibited from owning firearms. This means that while Texas law allows you to own a gun after a felony conviction if you meet specific criteria, you could still technically be arrested and charged with a federal crime.

Can I carry a handgun in my car in Texas at 18? ›

Texas law generally restricts people from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly openly carrying handguns in plain view of other people in motor vehicles and watercraft that they own or under their control, unless they carry the handgun in a holster and are either at least 21 years old or licensed to carry a handgun.

Can you gift a handgun to a 18 year old in Texas? ›

Under federal law, licensed firearms dealers are generally prohibited from transferring handguns to young people under 21 and are restricted from transferring rifles and shotguns to minors under 18.

What was the most common pistol in 1870? ›

Smith & Wesson Model No 3 Second Model

This model revolver, more commonly called the S&W American, was made from 1870 to 1874.

Did guns exist in 1776? ›

While it's true that the average flintlock in 1776 had to be reloaded after every shot, the concept of repeating guns predates both the Second Amendment and the American Revolution by several centuries. A variety of multi-shot firearms were available well before the United States declared independence.

When did Texas first allow concealed carry? ›

Concealed carry signed into law

In 1995, Gov. George W. Bush made it legal for Texans to carry a concealed gun when he signed a measure that went further than the one vetoed by Richards. “This is a bill to make Texas a safer place,” Bush said in a May 1995 report from The Associated Press.

Do gun restrictions violate the Second Amendment? ›

The Second Amendment was written to protect Americans' right to establish militias to defend themselves, not to allow individual Americans to own guns; consequently, gun-control measures do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Can the 2nd Amendment be taken away? ›

If you are convicted of a felony in the United States, even a non-violent felony, then you will permanently lose your right to keep and possess firearms. This is probably the most well-known way to lose your Second Amendment rights and covers a broad swath of actions that could lead to a ban on your gun ownership.

Can states limit your 2nd Amendment rights? ›

In addition to federal laws, many states also prohibit or restrict gun possession by specific groups of people, such as minors, juvenile offenders, and those convicted of alcohol- and/or drug-related crimes.

Is the Brady Law still in effect? ›

The interim provisions of the Brady Law became effective on February 28, 1994, and ceased to apply on November 30, 1998. While the interim provisions of the Brady Law apply only to handguns, the permanent provisions of the Brady Law apply to all firearms.

What is the Brady Act of 1993? ›

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act), Public Law 103-159, was signed into law requiring Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL) to request background checks on prospective firearm transferees.

What is the Gun Control Act of 1964? ›

Martin Luther King, Jr., the Gun Control Act is passed and imposes stricter licensing and regulation on the firearms industry, establishes new categories of firearms offenses, and prohibits the sale of firearms and ammunition to felons and certain other prohibited persons.

Can a felon hunt on his own property in Texas? ›

Despite Texas's state laws permitting you to own a firearm in your own home, federal law says otherwise. In fact, federal firearm possession laws clearly stipulate that no felon, regardless of how much time has transpired from his or her sentence end date, can own or possess a firearm.

Can a felon have bullets in Texas? ›

More specifically, Texas prohibits any person from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly selling ammunition to any person who is intoxicated, and from knowingly selling ammunition to any person who has been convicted of a felony before the fifth anniversary of the later of: 1) the person's release from confinement ...

Can a felon own a cap and ball revolver in Texas? ›

Federal law 18 U.S.C. 922(g) states that anyone “convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for longer than one year” may not possess any firearms or ammunition. Federal law makes it illegal for anyone with a felony conviction to own a firearm or possess one inside or outside the home.

Can you conceal carry into a bank in Texas? ›

As long as you are legally allowed to open or conceal carry a weapon in your state, you can bring it with you into a bank. In Texas, people who have been dishonorably discharged from the military or been convicted of a felony, domestic violence, or drug use may not be allowed to take a gun in a bank or anywhere else.

Can I conceal carry in Walmart in Texas? ›

As stated above, Walmart does not allow open carry of weapons in any of their stores, but they do allow the concealed carry of weapons in accordance with state laws. If a customer is observed openly carrying a firearm at a Walmart location, it is up to the discretion of the store management to decide what to do.

Can I carry my gun in someone else's car Texas? ›

The Simple Answer for Most Gun Owners

Also, you must own the vehicle or be in control of it at the time (for example, you're borrowing your friend's car for a weekend trip). So yes, you're allowed to keep a handgun, either loaded or unloaded, in your car as a Texas resident.

Can my dad gift me a pistol in Texas? ›

Yes, it is legal to give someone a gun as a gift in Texas. However, if you plan to purchase a gun as a gift, you must do so carefully to avoid violating federal law. Title 18 of the U.S. Code, § 932, prohibits “straw purchasing,” which means knowingly purchasing a firearm on behalf of someone else.

How old do you have to be to buy a gun in Texas? ›

A recent University of Texas at Austin survey found a sizable majority of Texas voters — including Republicans — support raising the minimum age to buy all guns from 18 to 21.

What is the most famous pistol of all time? ›

Likely the most iconic handgun in existence, the Colt Single Action Army gained fame in the holsters of Roosevelt's Rough Riders and won the West in the hands of men like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

What was the most popular gun ever made? ›

Designs produced in numbers exceeding 1 million
Model or seriesClass of firearmHigh estimate of production
Marlin Model 60Semi-automatic rifle11,000,000
IMI UziSubmachine gun10,000,000
Arisaka Type 30/38/99Bolt-action rifle10,000,000
GlockSemi-automatic pistol20,000,000
93 more rows

What is the most famous American pistol? ›

The Colt 1911

It's no surprise that the greatest fighting force on Earth carried the world's greatest handgun. The Colt M1911, one of America's most iconic guns.

Did Christopher Columbus have guns? ›

As will be seen, Columbus did have guns on his First Voyage, but none have survived to be identified or documented as such.

What is a gun with a knife called? ›

With a bayonet, you've got a gun and knife in one package. Definitions of bayonet. a knife that can be fixed to the end of a rifle and used as a weapon.

What were guns called in 1776? ›

The main weapon on any Revolutionary War battlefield was the smoothbore flintlock musket. These muskets were around five feet long and weighed around ten pounds.

How many guns can a person own in the US? ›

Summary of Federal Law

Federal law does not limit the number of guns a person may buy in any given time period.

Can you carry concealed in Texas without a license? ›

Beginning September 1, 2021, HB1927 made it legal in Texas for most people 21 or over to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit both openly and/or concealed. This law modified the previous open carry law from 2016 by eliminating the requirement to have a license to carry.

Can you legally open carry in Texas without a license? ›

People in Texas carrying a handgun that is partially or wholly visible must carry it in a holster. Before the law changed in 2021, people in Texas needed to have a license to openly carry a handgun and they needed to carry their handgun in a "shoulder or belt holster." Now, a license is not required to carry openly.

What is the purpose of the Gun Control Act of 1968? ›

Gun Control Act of 1968

This Legislation regulated interstate and foreign commerce in firearms, including importation, "prohibited persons", and licensing provisions.

Why was the Gun Control Act of 1968? ›

The main objectives of this Act were to eliminate interstate traffic in firearms and ammunition; deny access to firearms to minors, convicted felons, and persons who had been committed to mental institutions; and enact prohibitions on the importation of firearms “with no sporting purpose.”

Which is the purpose of a Gun Control Act of 1968 quizlet? ›

The Gun Control Act of 1968 - "...was enacted for the purpose of keeping firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetence." -- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms The Act regulates imported guns, expands the gun-dealer licensing and record ...

What was the Gun Control Act of 1968 JFK? ›

The act prohibited the interstate shipment of pistols and revolvers to individuals, but it specifically exempted rifles and shotguns from any regulations. With the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968, the groundswell of support for tough gun control laws reached unprecedented levels.

Which president signed the Gun Control Act? ›

House Resolution 17735, known as the Gun Control Act, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 22, 1968 banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent from buying guns.

What is the age requirement to buy a rifle in the United States of America? ›

Yes. Under the Gun Control Act (GCA), shotguns and rifles, and ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 18 years of age or older.

What requirement was introduced in the 1968 Gun Control Act quizlet? ›

A.) That all manufacturers, importers, and dealers of firearms obtain a Federal Firearms License. Explanation: The Gun Control Act of 1968 required that every manufacturer, importer, and dealer of firearms obtain a Federal Firearms License.

Was JFK a gun owner and NRA member? ›

President John F. Kennedy was a gun owner and NRA Life Member. Fun fact, the NRA supported gun-control through the late 60's and didn't become a political lobbyist until the early to mid 70's.

What was the 1934 Gun Control Act? ›

1236 was enacted on June 26, 1934, and currently codified and amended as I.R.C. ch. 53. The law is an Act of Congress in the United States that, in general, imposes an excise tax on the manufacture and transfer of certain firearms and mandates the registration of those firearms.

When were guns banned on planes? ›

In 1961, for the first time in aviation history, Congress enacted legislation to prohibit carriage of an accessible concealed weapon aboard an aircraft.

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