"The future the GOP wants for all of America": Texas gun law unleashes deadly mayhem

"Who could've predicted arming folks without a license would result in this type of chaos?"

Published October 28, 2022 1:30PM (EDT)

Gun owner with holstered gun at belt (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Gun owner with holstered gun at belt (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

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"Utter madness."

These are just some of the ways critics are describing Texas' new law allowing people to carry handguns in public without a permit—a Republican achievement that many local officials say has already led to a spike in spontaneous shootings in highly populated parts of the state.

In one high-profile case earlier this year, Tony Earls "pulled out his handgun and opened fire, hoping to strike a man who had just robbed him and his wife at an A.T.M. in Houston," The New York Times reported Wednesday. "Instead, he struck Arlene Alvarez, a 9-year-old girl seated in a passing pickup, killing her."

A grand jury declined to indict Earls, agreeing with his lawyer that "everything about that situation, we believe and contend, was justified under Texas law."

As the Times noted, "The shooting was part of what many sheriffs, police leaders, and district attorneys in urban areas of Texas say has been an increase in people carrying weapons and in spur-of-the-moment gunfire in the year since the state began allowing most adults 21 or over to carry a handgun without a license."

"Far from an outlier, Texas, with its new law, joined what has been an expanding effort to remove nearly all restrictions on carrying handguns," the newspaper continued. "When Alabama's 'permitless carry' law goes into effect in January, half of the states in the nation, from Maine to Arizona, will not require a license to carry a handgun."

"But Texas is the most populous state to do away with handgun permit requirements," the Times pointed out. "Five of the nation's 15 biggest cities are in Texas, making the permitless approach to handguns a new fact of life in urban areas to an extent not seen in other states."

"In the border town of Eagle Pass, drunken arguments have flared into shootings," the newspaper reported. "In El Paso, revelers who legally bring their guns to parties have opened fire to stop fights. In and around Houston, prosecutors have received a growing stream of cases involving guns brandished or fired over parking spots, bad driving, loud music, and love triangles."

"Who could've predicted arming folks without a license would result in this type of chaos?" columnist Wajahat Ali asked sardonically on social media.

Another person tweeted: "This is the future the GOP wants for all of America. Vote accordingly."

Peer-reviewed research published Wednesday showed that Americans are more likely to die early if they live in states dominated by right-wing lawmakers, and weak gun safety measures were among the factors driving up state-level mortality rates.

No statewide data on shootings has been released since the law—passed by Texas Republicans last spring—went into effect last September, but many law enforcement officials say the presence of firearms on the street has increased while handgun permit applications have decreased.

"It seems like now there's been a tipping point where just everybody is armed," said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Harris County, which includes Houston.

As the Times reported: "Recent debates over gun laws in Texas have not been limited to handgun licensing. After the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, gun control advocates have pushed to raise the age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle. And after the [United States] Supreme Court struck down New York's restrictive licensing program, a federal court in Texas found that a state law barring adults under 21 from carrying a handgun was unconstitutional. [Republican] Gov. Greg Abbott has suggested he agreed, even as the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state police, is appealing."

Meanwhile, the Texas GOP's assault on gun control is just part of a "state-by-state legislative push," which "has coincided with a federal judiciary that has increasingly ruled in favor of carrying guns and against state efforts to regulate them," the Times reported.

With their June decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the high court's reactionary justices—most of whom were appointed by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote—struck down New York state's restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms in public. In the process, journalist Mark Joseph Stern argued, they enlarged the scope of the Second Amendment and made it harder for voters around the U.S. to protect communities "by enacting gun safety laws through the democratic process."

Calling it "a revolution in Second Amendment law," Stern wrote that "the Supreme Court has effectively rendered gun restrictions presumptively unconstitutional."

Before the ruling was handed down, journalist Jay Michaelson shed light on the right's "preposterous misreading of the Second Amendment, funded largely by gun manufacturers," in a Rolling Stone essay:

"Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, until 2008, no federal court had held that the Second Amendment conveyed a right to own a gun. On the contrary, the Supreme Court clearly said that it didn't. [...] And what had once been a fringe view rejected by the Supreme Court—that the Second Amendment gave individuals a right to own guns—gradually became Republican Party gospel when the fringe took over the party. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger (a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon) described it as 'a fraud on the Amer­ican public.'"

Years before making it easier to carry handguns in public, Texas Republicans turned their state into one of the 29 nationwide with so-called "stand your ground" laws. These laws, also known as "shoot first" laws, upend the common law principle of a "duty to retreat," enabling individuals to use deadly force in purported self-defense as a first, rather than last, resort.

A study published earlier this year found that "shoot first" laws are associated with hundreds of additional firearm homicides each year.

Although Texas was one of the few states where the enactment of "shoot first" laws did not lead to a significant change in gun homicide rates between 2000 and 2016, it remains to be seen if its new permitless carry law will generate a surge in violent encounters between armed parties claiming "self-defense."

Last week in Florida, which became the first state to enact a "shoot first" law by statute in 2005, a man and his teenage son were arrested for attempted murder after allegedly shooting at a woman whom they suspected of being a burglar.

There are more guns than people in the U.S., and due to National Rifle Association-bankrolled Republicans' opposition to meaningful gun safety laws, it remains relatively easy for people to purchase and carry firearms in many states.

As a result, there have been thousands of mass shootings since 2012, and guns recently became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States.

Studies have shown that gun regulations with high levels of public support, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, help reduce the number and severity of fatal mass shootings.

"We don't have to live this way," mom, teacher, and Democratic Minnesota House of Representatives candidate Erin Preese said Monday after a deadly school shooting in St. Louis. "Vote for lawmakers who will stand up to the gun lobby. Our kids' lives depend on it."

By Kenny Stancil

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