Missing the Mark: Texas Lawmakers Stick To Their Guns, Obama Considers Executive Action

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A new poll by Gallup shows attitudes about gun regulations have warmed since the tragedies of Sandy Hook and Aurora but there is no evidence to suggest it will be sustained. If history serves Vice President Joe Biden has a limited time frame to lead the administration's task of substantive changes, including an assault weapons ban, to the nation's laws regarding gun safety. According to Gallup, “they [Americans] are clearly more open to further restricting the sale of guns, including with more background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines.” Gallup also concludes Americans are not willing to budge on handgun ownership even though they make up the bulk of casualties.

The debate so far has given more ammo to Texas lawmakers who have made a career of fighting the federal government. Tuesday a Freshman Steve Toth (R-Woodlands) said he would file a “Firearm Protection Act” to prevent Obama's 19 possible executive orders from being enforced, adding, “It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama,”. Returning East Texas Congressman Steve Stockman threatened the President with impeachment, calling his actions, “an existential threat to this nation.” and a “direct attack on Americans”.

Thursday morning the Texas Education Commissioner was asked if he supported arming teachers in the classroom to protect against a potential gunman. He answered in the affirmative, but stated that decision should be left to local school districts. That sentiment is high among state Republican leaders. The Governor has also expressed his support for the “local option”, and incoming freshman Republican Jason Villalba plans to file a bill to create a program of on-campus “marshals”. But, the Kumbaya for local control ended last week when Attorney General Greg Abbott promised a “double barrel” lawsuit if Travis County and the City of Austin move forward with plans to limit gun shows in public venues. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson also chimed in saying, “The greatest threat to liberty is the City Council…It's full of people … who are do-gooders and don't understand the Constitution.”

Top Republicans have generally been cool to the idea of increasing funds for public education, but Lt. Governor Dewhurst announced his support funding for specialized training for teachers that would include preparing for scenarios similar to what happened in Newtown, CT. Arming teachers has been floated as a solution, but not likely to be an effective or equitable way to protect the 8,317 schools across the state. Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said, “Even well-trained security guards with pistols are going to be at a disadvantage to a suicidal maniac with an assault rifle.” This also doesn't take into account multiple shooters as was the case in Columbine, CO. Last week, at Taft High School in California a teacher and administrator was credited with disarming a shooter who had injured one student and threatened another. Neither adult was armed with a deadly weapon but managed to get the shooter to put down his shotgun before police arrived and arrested him. I'm not suggesting ever shooter can but talked down, but in the “what if” scenario of an armed teacher, they would be forced to shoot their own student. Also in the most technical sense arming public school teachers is still putting more guns in the hands of government.

The unfortunate fact is in 2011 there were over 32,163 injuries, 19,766 suicides, and 12,281 homicides by guns in this country, but the statistics have been abused by both sides to fit into their corresponding ideological framework. Events like Sandy Hook and Aurora bring attention to mass shootings yet the national conversation has not been used to debate the most important drivers of gun violence which are drug policy and disparities in education, opportunity and poverty. There is also an overarching correlation between race and the aforementioned indicators, but the Right and Left have settled on “mental health” as a distraction point. Funding mental health services should not be used as a bargaining chip with regard to gun control. Ensuring individuals who purchase or carry weapons are mentally competent is a basic function of public safety.

The 2nd Amendment guarantees we can not prevent “law abiding citizens” from owning guns but it doesn't prevent us from lessening the conditions under which they are fired. Opponents of the assualt weapons ban argue that the Amendment isn't there to protect hunters or sportsman but the right to defend one's self. The civilian turned vigilante scenario though is a pretty rare occurrence on its own. About 250 “justifiable homicides by citizens” were recorded in 2008 in a downward trend since 1980. Its much more likely (about 3.5 times) that someone will be shot and killed by a friend or family member.

The consistency of our findings across metro and state levels strongly suggest that gun violence is not just the product of troubled or deranged individuals, as is commonly portrayed, but is both associated with and embedded within the economic and social context of places. Whether looking at the state or metro level, we find strikingly consistent associations between gun violence and key markers of socio-economic disadvantage – poverty, income, education, class, and race.Richard Florida

Monday on the Sean Hannity show Ann Coulter said, “If you compare White populations we have the same murder rate as Belgium…Perhaps um its not a gun problem its a demographic problem.”  This is an overstatement of the facts and an over simplification of the problem to the point of being overtly racist, and I don't use that word lightly. But, the facts bear out that young black males are killing each other at a high rate with handguns in mostly urban areas and in many times drug-related crimes. According to the Department of Justice, “Blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide victims and o?enders. The victimization rate for blacks (27.8 per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000). The o?ending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost 8 times higher than the rate for whites. Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% offenders. Approximately a third (34%) of murder victims and almost half (49%) of the o?enders were under age 25.”

Violent crime has steadily fallen over the last decade, along with household gun ownership (now at 32.3% from 49.1% in 1979), but handguns remain the overwhelming weapon of choice. That's disappointing news to both sides, because banning assault weapons is not a panacea but stats also conclude that arming more individuals does not go hand in hand with lowering crime. The South remains both the most armed and deadly region of the country.

Texas lawmakers debating education funding and how to best protect school children could get the biggest bang for their buck by providing the best educational opportunities to all Texas students instead of liberating some through vouchers and damning the rest to “failing schools”.


About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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