KEVIN KRAUSE AND ARI SEN Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — When a troubled teenager from Uvalde was looking for a high-powered rifle that could fire lots of rounds, he didn’t have much to do. Texas has more licensed gun dealers and manufacturers than any other state, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal gun licensing data.
Texas is home to just over 6,000 gun dealers, according to May 2022 licensing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That’s more than twice as much as any other state.
Texas also led the United States in minimum estimated gun sales from 2017 to 2020, and was first in most major gun sales categories, according to a new ATF report. licensed weapons.
On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers, pushing Texas ahead of California for the most mass shootings in the country – a total of 31. The FBI sets the mass shootings as incidents in which at least four people are murdered with a firearm.
Texas has also had more people killed in mass shootings than any other state, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety dating back to 2009, and the second highest number of people killed in a single mass shooting, behind the Nevada.
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Gun safety researchers and advocates aren’t surprised by the mass shootings in Texas, where guns are plentiful and accessible largely due to lax and permissive laws.
It’s easier for teenagers in Texas to buy an AR-15 than a handgun, or even a beer. The high-powered AR-15 rifle, similar to the army’s M-16, is the weapon of choice for many mass murderers determined to hit as many bodies as possible.
“Sometimes common sense measures seem to be at hand and not followed,” said Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a public safety nonprofit.
Golden said his group had been fighting for years for gun safety laws in Texas, but it was getting even tougher and “more divisive here.” Mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms is one of the proposals that went nowhere in the Texas Legislature, she said.
Attempts to reach Texas-based gun rights groups, the Texas State Rifle Association and Texas Gun Rights, were unsuccessful.
Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said existing laws must be enforced to reduce gun violence, such as more prosecution of criminals.
“The problem right now is that across the country crime is increasing because of the revolving door justice system,” he said.
The NRA, he said, believes that each school should have its own security plan, including armed officers on site, to help reduce school shootings.
Why are guns so popular in Texas?
Comparison of gun sales in Texas with other states
Texas is the second most populous state in the United States, but population hasn’t always been a factor in gun sales. Two other highly populated states – California (first) and New York (fourth) – were not among the best in terms of gun sales and dealers.
And when it comes to multiple gun purchases, Texas also ranks first.
Among the southwestern border states, Texas produced the majority of multi-gun sales, which are legally required to be reported to the ATF. From 2016 to 2020, Texas accounted for more than 53% of multiple gun sales, according to the ATF’s 300-page National Guns in Trade and Trafficking Assessment Report.
Nationally, Texas and Florida were responsible for about 20% of all reported multiple gun sales, according to the ATF report.
Texas also led the United States in 2020 in the number of manufacturers and dealers of certain specialty weapons, such as short-barreled rifles and shotguns, machine guns and silencers, which are regulated and taxed in under separate federal law, according to the ATF report.
But Texas isn’t the worst state for gun safety, according to at least one advocacy group.
The Giffords Law Center’s annual scorecard to Prevent Gun Violence ranked Texas as the 15th worst state for gun safety laws. Arkansas was ranked the worst in the country.
Ari Freilich, director of state policy at the Center, said his organization gave Texas an F, its lowest rating, in the scorecard released last year. Texas, he said, has above-average rates of firearm homicides. And the problem is getting worse, he added. Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in US history took place in Texas while Greg Abbott was governor, he said.
Freilich said gun homicide rates rose 66% while Abbott was governor and since he took office in 2015, more than 570 Texas children have been killed with guns – more than any other state during this period.
Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze said in a statement that while “some are politicizing” the Uvalde tragedy, the governor has led the state’s response from the start by deploying resources, sharing information and issuing a disaster declaration to expedite assistance to the community. .
“And to prevent future tragedies, the Governor has reached out to legislative and state leaders to work together to provide solutions to protect all Texans, calling for special legislative committees and calling for immediate reviews of public school safety. of Texas,” she said.
Inaction following mass shootings
Freilich said interest in gun safety reforms grew in Texas after the 2019 El Paso massacre in which a hate-motivated gunman targeting Latinos opened fire inside. of a Walmart, killing 23 people and injuring many more, police said. A study has been commissioned. The Giffords Center made recommendations. But what happened were “largely symbolic half measures,” Freilich said.
Freilich said Texas lawmakers have done nothing to change gun laws that allow “bad people to get guns.”
The NRA’s influence in Texas, where its annual convention was held last month, remains strong, he said, despite its bankruptcy and reports of financial mismanagement. During its most profitable years, the NRA spent a lot of money on political campaigns, he said.
“Their political spending has dropped significantly. But how they shape and control lawmakers is not just financial contributions, but a highly mobilized political base,” he said.
For a lawmaker straying from the NRA’s talking points on guns, the mere threat of NRA campaign spending or endorsement by a rival candidate is significant, Freilich said. As a result, views on guns in Texas politics, like in other states, have become “kind of a litmus test,” he said.
Arulanandam said money was never behind the NRA’s strength and influence.
“Our strength has always been in our roots and our members,” he said. “We are strong because most Americans support gun rights.”
Looser gun laws, no gun control
The most recent gun legislation that has emerged from Texas has made guns easier to access.
Texas Republicans pushed through the measure, which allows residents to openly carry firearms without a license. Abbott designed, approved and signed the law against the advice of law enforcement officials.
The new law on transport without a license did not contribute to the mass shooting of Uvalde. But that reflects the state’s obsession with gun culture despite polls indicating that most Texans support some gun control measures.
Abbott recently called on special legislative committees to consider what legislation and action could be taken to prevent future school shootings. Experts predict that he will produce no laws restricting access to guns.
Daniel Webster, professor of American health at Johns Hopkins University and co-director of its Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said a study he published in 2020 provided evidence that state licensing requirements of firearms and the banning of high-capacity magazines were associated with “significant reductions”. in the number of deadly mass shootings.
Licensing requirements slow access to firearms, he said, by requiring applicants to provide their fingerprints and photographs to their local police department.
“Access to guns is incredibly essential in a lot of these (mass shootings),” said Webster, who has studied gun violence and gun politics for about 30 years.
Webster called a licensing process “the most robust system we have” that keeps guns out of people “too dangerous to have them.” Whether a gun license requirement would have stopped Uvalde’s shooter will never be known, but Webster said it could have made a difference.
“We don’t know what he would have done if he had to turn against law enforcement. He could have been bullied and not done it,” he said.
Webster isn’t optimistic about passing gun control measures in Texas.
“All the signals out there are that this (the mass shootings) has nothing to do with guns,” he said.