The new U.S. law being enforced in the state of Texas that allows most adults over the age of 21 to carry a firearm without a licence has caused sharp divisions between supporters and opponents of the measure. Some sheriffs, police leaders and district attorneys in urban areas of Texas are alarmed by the increase in people carrying guns and the improvised risks this has posed.
Likewise, especially in rural areas, other sheriffs believe that there have been no profound changes since the implementation of the new law. Gun-rights advocates believe the fact that more people are armed could be the explanation for why shootings have declined in some parts of the state.
Far from being an outlier, the new Texas law is yet another step towards expanding the elimination of nearly all restrictions on carrying handguns. When Alabama’s unlicensed carry law is in effect in January 2023, half of the U.S. states, from Maine to Arizona, will not require a licence to carry a handgun.
Legislative momentum in several states has coincided with a federal judiciary that is increasingly leaning in favour of carrying guns, and against state efforts to regulate them. The problem is that Texas is the most populous state yet to remove restrictions on carrying firearms. Five of the 15 largest U.S. cities are in Texas, and so this permissive approach to guns is a new phenomenon in urban areas to an extent not seen in other states.
To date, no statistics have been released on shootings in the state of Texas since the law went into effect in September 2021. The law’s detractors are pessimistic after homicides and suicides involving firearms soared in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and continued rising in 2021, reaching the highest rates in three decades.
Big-city police departments and major law enforcement groups opposed the new firearms law when it came before the state legislature in the spring of 2021, concerned about the loss of training requirements needed for a licence and greater danger to officers.
Police officers report that, nowadays, arguments between drunk people in the border town of Eagle Pass, people out binge-drinking at night, fights over a parking spot or bad driving, or marital infidelities end in shootings. And they ratify it in light of the increasing number of complaints received by Houston prosecutors of armed incidents everywhere.
The law still prohibits carrying a pistol to those convicted of a felony, who are under the influence of alcohol, or who commit other crimes. Along these lines, advocates of the law stress that in Harris County, criminal cases related to illegal gun possession have increased considerably since the new law came into effect: 3,500 in 2022, compared to 2,300 for all of 2021.
In Dallas, the number of homicides considered “justifiable”, such as those committed in self-defence, has increased since the law was passed. In relation to this, the author of the book More guns, less crime, John Lott, stresses that his research already predicted this scenario: a greater reduction in crime if people who are more likely to be victims of violent crime are armed.