Welcome to Texas, where police face an armed public
Many law enforcement officials believe that a new law allowing people to carry handguns without a license in Texas has resulted in an increase in spontaneous shootings.
Under a new gun law, most Texans are able to carry handguns in public without having to undergo training or obtain permits. Meanwhile, law enforcement officers have a different say.
So, what is happening?
Tony Earls hung his head in front of a row of television cameras, staring down, his life turned upside down. Earls had pulled out his handgun and opened fire a few days before, hoping to hit a man who had just robbed him and his wife at an A.T.M. in Houston. Instead, he killed Arlene Alvarez, a 9-year-old girl seated in a passing pickup.
According to police leaders and district attorneys in Texas's urban areas, as quoted by The New York Times, there has been an increase of shooting in the year since the state began allowing most adults 21 and up to carry a handgun without a license.
With its new law, Texas has joined a growing movement in the US to eliminate nearly all restrictions on carrying handguns.
The state-by-state legislative push has coincided with a federal judiciary that has increasingly ruled in favor of carrying firearms, while opposing state efforts to regulate them.
However, Texas is the most populous state to abolish handgun permit requirements. The state is home to five of the country's top fifteen largest cities, making the permitless approach to handguns a new reality in urban areas to an extent not seen in other states.
Since the law went into effect last September, no statewide shooting statistics have been released. Following a particularly violent 2021 in many parts of the state, the picture of crime in Texas this year has been mixed, with homicides and assaults increasing in some areas while decreasing in others.
However, it is clear that far fewer people are obtaining new handgun licenses, despite the fact that many law enforcement officers report an increase in the number of guns they encounter on the street.
When the new handgun law was introduced in the State Legislature last spring, big city police departments and major law enforcement groups opposed it, citing concerns about the loss of training requirements for a permit and increased dangers for officers.
However, gun rights supporters prevailed in the Republican-dominated Capitol, arguing that Texans should not be required to seek permission from the state to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Gun-law debates not limited to handgun licensing
Recent gun-law debates in Texas have not been limited to handgun licensing. Following the Uvalde elementary school shooting, gun control advocates advocated for raising the age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle.
Following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn New York's restrictive licensing program, a federal court in Texas ruled that a state law prohibiting adults under the age of 21 from carrying a handgun was unconstitutional. Governor Greg Abbott has indicated that he agreed despite the fact that the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees state police, is appealing.
The loosening of regulations coincided with a national debate about crime. However, for many law enforcement officers, the link between the new law and spontaneous shootings has been obvious.
Sheriff Tom Schmerber of Maverick County, which includes Eagle Pass said as quoted by The New York Times “Now that everybody can carry a weapon, we have people who drink and start shooting each other.”
“People get emotional,” he added, “and instead of reaching for a fist, they reach for a weapon. We’ve had several shootings like that.”
This comes as gun frenzy continues in the US as hundreds of mass shootings were carried out in 2021, killing thousands of people.
According to data presented by the research group, Gun Violence Archive, over 140 mass shootings have taken place in the United States so far in 2022.
It is worth noting that the deadliest mass shooting in the United States so far this year was the May 24 massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers. It happened just 10 days after ten people were shot and killed in a Buffalo supermarket.
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