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Open Arms to Violence: Texas Gun Laws in 2021

On May 24th, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott received the approved legislature bill allowing “open carry “of handguns without a license, training, and background checks in Texas. Despite being objected to by nearly 60% of Texans, the bill is headed on its way to becoming a law, being hailed as “The strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history” by the Governor. In this article, we delve into the details of the said proposal and decode the implications of this controversial bill.

What is the “Open Carry” Law?

“Open Carry” or “Constitutional Carry” is the practice of allowing individuals to carry visible firearms in public. Previously, the states in the U.S.A have either prohibited or regulated the carrying of weapons in public. However, with state laws changing, many states have systematically weakened their rules not to deny the open and visible carrying of firearms. The argument in favour of the open carrying of weapons is the personal protection of one’s life. Nevertheless, constitutional carry allows a more significant number of individuals to carry guns in public spaces. It reduces the ability of law enforcement to keep dangerous people at bay from harming others potentially. The new Texan law will allow adults over the ages of 21 to carry a handgun without any license unless barred by federal law or state. In the current legislation, a permit, adequate training and appropriate background check are required on an individual for carrying a handgun openly or concealed.

Do the other U.S. States have the “Open Carry” law for handguns?

For the most part, the states of California, Florida, and Illinois forbid individuals from openly carrying any firearms. New York and South Carolina restrict the open carry of handguns. However, not long guns, and another three states Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey, disallow open carrying long guns, but not handguns. In all other states, individuals are by and large permitted to forthrightly carry guns, albeit a few states require a permit or license to do so.

Constitutional carry laws are typically dependent upon certain locational exceptions. States that permit open carry usually deny carrying guns in some particular areas like schools, state-claimed organisations, places where liquor is served, and on public transportation.

Below we have mapped the U.S.A states which allow open carry of handguns only. It is visible that a good majority of U.S. states permit open carry of handguns. Coincidentally, the top four states with the highest rates of gun violence, according to the Center for American Progress between 2008-17, are Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. All four states allow the constitutional carry of handguns. Whereas out of 50 states, California stands at 42, Florida at 19, Illinois at 38, New York at 47 and South Carolina at 12. Four of the five states that have wholly banned handguns’ constitutional carry are on the lower end of the spectrum.

Pre-existing weapon laws in Texas

Texas has one of the loosest gun laws in the country. More than a million people already have permits to carry handguns. The state law allows every individual to keep and bear arms in self-defence. However, it gives the Legislature power to regulate the carrying of arms. While most arms can be owned in Texas, it is illegal to possess a handgun below the age of 18 except during hunting and self-defence. Rifles can be purchased at the age of 18 and can be carried in public without a license. Handguns, however, require purchase only from a licensed dealer with a minimum age of 21. The licensing includes submitting fingerprints, four to six hours of training, a written exam and a shooting proficiency test. Concealed handgun permits only cost $40 since 2017. Campus carry in dorms, and university campuses are also allowed in Texas.

Why is the new Texas law problematic to the U.S.A?

The new law would virtually allow anyone to carry a gun without a license or any formalities, throwing restrictions in place entirely out the window. Texas will become a part of over two dozen states to do so if it goes ahead with this law. Being supported by organisations such as The National Rifle Association, self-defence is being advocated through this law. However, law enforcement agencies are worried that it would make their jobs more problematic. It would prevent them from weeding out people who should not possess guns. A majority of Texans (59% ) are against the said law. Fox, a criminologist and researcher on mass murder, says the existence of three of U.S. A’s ten largest cities- Houston, San Antonio and Dallas makes the law more complicated. As opposed to a state like Wyoming, where guns are primarily used for hunting, Texas has a dense population, putting people at a higher risk.

Giffords Law Center, an independent organisation against gun violence, highlights the adverse effects of open carry and the increased likelihood of endangerment of lives. Researchers have shown an increase in aggressive and violent behaviours in visible firearms compared to concealed ones. This open carry prohibits law enforcers such as police from distinguishing between credible threats to public safety and innocent victims.

As of 2021, Texas has seen multiple shootings. A shooting injuring four on May 23rd at a sports complex, one hurting four on 30th April in a nightclub, one killing two and wounding three others on 19th April, and another one on 10th April at a private company. Texas has also seen mass shootings in the Santa Fe school case, leaving 10 dead and 10 wounded and the El Paso Walmart attack killing 22 people. In light of public safety and the rising crime rate, the Texan government must rethink their decision. If not, it would provide a vehicle for other states and nations to walk on the same path and cause harm to citizens globally.

About the Author: Asmita Jain is a post-graduate student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. Her interests are public policy, institutions and urban ecology. Email: IG Handle: asmitajainn


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