The new rules come as Democrats and some Republicans call for tighter regulations on firearms after two tragedies that shook the country this weekend. They reflect many Texans’ embrace of expanded access to guns even after several high-profile shootings in the state, as gun-rights advocates argue that armed citizens can stop attackers.
The massacres in El Paso and Dayton probably won’t prompt a rethinking of the laws enacted earlier this year and set for September, said Harel Shapira, a professor at the University of Texas who studies the gun-rights movement. If anything, he told The Washington Post, those who call for broader access to firearms for self-defense may “double down” after the latest shootings.
And Texas is not alone in relaxing gun laws after deadly attacks, he said.
“A lot of legislatures are responding to these shootings by saying, the way to make our country safer and the correct thing to do is not to restrict access to guns, but actually to make it easier for people to have access,” he said.
One law going into effect Sept. 1 will prevent homeowners and landlords from forbidding residents to have firearms on their property. Others say gun owners have a right to keep their weapon in a locked vehicle in a school parking lot, or in a safe place in a foster home. Another says that people can carry arms at a place of worship, clarifying what the bill’s sponsors described as widespread confusion.
The new regulations apply to specific situations, Shapira said, but they’re important symbolically — wins for conservatives and proponents like the National Rifle Association, which announced in June after the laws’ passage that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had approved all of the NRA-backed bills the state legislature passed in 2019.
Many Texans point to 2017’s mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs as evidence of the common guns-rights argument that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” They say the Sutherland Springs shooter — eventually chased down by an armed good Samaritan — could have been stopped earlier if someone in the church had had a weapon.
Advocates of tougher gun control counter that someone with a powerful firearm could still inflict massive carnage before they’re gunned down. The Dayton shooter used at least 41 rounds to shoot dozens of people despite a quick response from officers who killed him within 30 seconds of the first shot.
But for state Rep. Dan Flynn, the weekend’s massacres in Ohio and Texas are further proof that people need to arm themselves in “soft targets” such as churches, schools and shopping centers.
“You’re kind of at the mercy of a bad guy that comes in,” the Republican lawmaker said.
Flynn said he and other sponsors of the bill on places of worship were getting concerned calls from churches that thought they were no-carry zones — despite an announcement from the Texas attorney general clarifying that guns are allowed in places of worship, after the Sutherland Springs shooting that killed 26 people and wounded 20 more. Flynn said his bill makes sure people know that they can carry their weapon unless the place of worship forbids it.
The gun laws slated for September build on others that have expanded the list of places to which people can bring a firearm in Texas. In 2016, for example, a “campus carry” law allowed licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns at universities.
After Saturday’s El Paso shooting, some state lawmakers have asked the governor to call a special legislative session and consider new restrictions like “red flag laws,” which would make it easier to take guns from people deemed dangerous. But similar momentum for a red flag law last year — after a shooting that killed 10 people at a Santa Fe, Tex., high school — did not result in any new laws. Abbott eventually declined to support a bill on the issue after Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (R) said it would not pass the state Senate.
Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For Alexandra Chasse, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the laws going into effect in September follow a years-long trend — one she’s not sure the latest shootings will change. She criticized what she sees as “incredible tone-deafness on the part of our lawmakers.”
Knowing that people would be “looking for ways to channel their grief,” Chasse’s group was ready to push anew for what she calls “common sense” gun reforms after the attack in El Paso. But history suggests restrictions on guns may be elusive.
“Based on our own recent experience, we have a good dose of skepticism,” she said.