DALLAS — The evening before some of the most backward gun laws in America went into effect in Texas, I checked out Ladies Night at the gun range.
“So, what do you want to shoot?” an instructor asked me and two other women at the counter. He took out three Glock pistols and motioned for us to come back to the classroom. Women with goggles and protective headphones were posing for pictures with their target-practice sheets. A display of concealed-carry purses caught my eye as I walked past.
It made me wonder: How many women would be getting cute gun accessories as gifts this coming holiday season, now that legally eligible Texans over age 21 can openly carry a handgun without having to first pass a background check, or get safety training or even a license?
Texas’s brand-new permit-less carry measure has been getting all the national attention, but that’s not the only worrying new gun law in Texas as of this week. Under the so-called Second Amendment Sanctuary State Act, state agencies are now prohibited from enforcing any new federal gun restrictions. School marshals in public, private and charter schools can carry concealed weapons instead of having to store them. And hotel guests are permitted to have firearms and ammunition in their rooms.
This is all mind-boggling. Texas once had some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Whatever happened to the responsibility to protect public safety?
Sensible leaders, if Texas had them, would be steering in the exact opposite direction right now. Gun deaths in the state have climbed over the past two decades. Gun sales have spiked during the pandemic, leading to worries about an increase in the number of suicides. Dallas police scaled up road patrols this summer after a surge in road-rage violence left eight people shot or killed in four weeks. Police groups have spoken out about their fear that permit-less carry will inevitably make their jobs more dangerous, and a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that most Texans share their concerns about the law. Yet Texas lawmakers’ answer is to enact this siren of a law to seduce even more people into the state’s pervasive gun culture.
Gun culture is the key concept in trying to square this madness. It’s what makes it so hard to have a reasoned debate about guns. There’s no getting around the fact that, for many people, shooting guns provides a sense of pleasure and feeling of protection. A family friend who owns guns and has shot AR-15s at ranges recently told me enthusiastically about just how good it feels. There is a strong social ecosystem around guns that provide people with connection and community. That was clear enough during my visit to DFW.
And while White gun culture was birthed around White people’s feelings that they need protection from government, the rise of gun groups for Black women and other minorities suggests that many of us are feeling a need to protect ourselves in an anti-Black and misogynistic society — and are finding community in taking action together. I can easily imagine how it feels just for the formerly oppressed to embrace the legal sanction to carry openly. That’s Texas “gun culture,” too.
But we should tread carefully here. The siren song of guns is full of menace.
Because in the end, an even more heavily armed Texas can only increase the perils faced by women and minorities. White men have historically enjoyed the freedom to surveil and wield lethal violence against less powerful groups — and how deeply has that changed? Women and minorities face harsher legal punishments for using a gun in self-defense. The fear of Black people having guns is often the justification for police violence. We know that having a gun in the house increases the chances that a woman will be killed by her partner.
I thought about all these things as I went through the 20-minute safety tutorial with the Glock and dummy bullets. I struggled to get the correct grip, and it wasn’t easy to get the feel for loading and discharging the bullet chamber. Frankly, the idea that someone as untrained as me can now buy and openly carry a gun without mandated permits or safety training is absolutely crazy.
“So, are y’all ready to shoot?” the instructor asked. The other women said yes. But I said no. I was able to resist the seduction of Texas gun culture. At least for now.