By: Mark Diaz
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Texas Gun Laws and the Upsurge of Mass Shootings
FBI officials define “mass shootings” as events in which at least four victims are murdered through the use of a firearm by a lone gunman in a public place. Texas has seen its fair share of incidents recently, and the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde is still fresh in the minds of many.
Including this tragedy, there have been a total of eight mass shootings in Texas over the last 13 years. The state leads the US in deaths according to the FBI definition, and it ranks second for the highest number of victims killed. In addition, statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety are as follows:
- From 2009 to 2020, 1,363 victims were killed in mass shootings. Another 947 people were shot and injured.
- One in three perpetrators of mass shootings were prohibited from possessing a gun at the time, at times because of a prior felony conviction.
- In the eight Texas mass shootings that took place from 2009 through May 2022, 171 people have been killed and 253 were injured.
These figures lead many people to question why Texas tops other US states in terms of mass shootings. The truth is that there are numerous factors, and gun laws do play a role. The popular view is that Texas is lax on gun control. However, you might be surprised to learn that law enforcement is diligent in apprehending offenders, and prosecutors aggressively pursue gun crime charges. Retaining a Galveston criminal defense lawyer is critical if you were arrested, but some information on the relationship between mass shootings and Texas gun laws is important.
Possible Factors Affecting Mass Shootings
There is no one factor known that drives someone to descend upon a crowd in a public place and start firing a weapon, but a combination of issues may drive these tragedies. Consider the following points about firearms in Texas:
- The Lonestar State has twice as many licensed gun dealers than any other state, at more than 6,000 total.
- Texas leads the nation in the estimated number of firearms sales, as well as with multiple gun purchases in a single transaction. From 2016 to 2020, more than 53% of all multiple rifle transactions across the US took place in Texas.
- Some argue that police do not enforce gun laws by making arrests, and prosecutors do not pursue charges against criminals after an arrest. Locally, we do not see this.
- Another argument is that lawmakers did not take appropriate action after mass shootings over the last few years. Though studies were commissioned, and research groups offered recommendations, some contend legislative measures that did pass were ineffective.
- Those who oppose the Texas constitutional carry law, which went into effect in September 2021, assert that people have more access to guns. The statute allows qualifying individuals to carry a handgun in public without a license.
Overview of Texas Gun Laws
A person who engages in a mass shooting may face a number of firearms charges since there are multiple violations involved with the single event. The statutes cover a range of conduct that is either illegal because of the act or the person who commits it. Examples include:
- Unlawful Carrying Weapons, which is a crime if the person is under 21 years old (with a handgun) or has a criminal conviction for certain offenses within the last five years
- Violations of the Places Weapons Prohibited law, since it is illegal to possess a firearm in
- Polling places
- Secured sections at airports
- Places where scholastic sports and events are being held
- Correctional facilities
- Other areas designated by law
- Unlawful Carrying of Handgun by License Holder, where a person who has a concealed carry license intentionally displays a handgun
- Unlawful Possession of Firearm by a person who is a convicted felon, a member of a gang, and someone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence
- Possession of Prohibited Weapons, such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and armor-piercing ammunition
How Police Investigate Gun Crimes
Mass shootings actually represent a minuscule number of gun offenses in the US and in Texas. Everytown for Gun Safety reports that more than 99% of all firearms fatalities do not involve a single shooter killing at least four people in public. As such, police dedicate the bulk of their efforts to enforcing gun laws like those above, as well as many others. During investigations, officers may:
- Stop you in a public place and ask questions about involvement in gun crimes
- Detain you and request that you produce identification
- Conduct a “stop and frisk,” in which police do a pat down to determine the presence of a firearm on your person
- Perform a full search of your body, clothing, vehicle, and other areas within your control
These and other actions by police may be legal under certain circumstances, but there may be civil rights violations in some cases.
Penalties for Violating Texas Gun Laws
It is somewhat of a surprise that Texas leads the nation in mass shootings when you consider the punishment for a conviction. The state viewed as being lenient on firearm laws will aggressively seek the maximum penalties in most cases. If convicted for a gun crime, you could face serious penalties:
- There is no jail time for a Class C Misdemeanor, but a judge could order you to pay a fine of up to $500.
- A Class A Misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
- It is a Third-Degree Felony to be in possession of an illegal firearm. If convicted, you face a minimum of two years in prison, though a judge could issue a sentence up to 10 years of incarceration. You might also be ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
- Second-Degree Felony charges apply to unlawful carry of a gun by a person who is prohibited from doing so by virtue of a prior felony conviction. The mandatory minimum prison sentence is also two years, but a judge could order up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Defending Gun Crimes Charges
The penalties can be life-changing, but the key is that these only apply if you are convicted. After an arrest, you have multiple opportunities to defend the allegations. The timing for presenting them may vary, so you might leverage the following strategies at different stages of the criminal process:
- The prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to each element of the gun crimes case, which is a heavy burden. You could prevent the government from meeting this standard by exposing weaknesses in the evidence.
- If you were subjected to an unlawful stop, frisk, search, or seizure, you may have a defense on constitutional grounds. A violation of your civil rights means all evidence must be tossed out of court.
- Possession is a tricky concept, since a case may be based upon actual or constructive possession. Actual possession means you have a firearm in a pocket, holster, a bag that you are carrying, or otherwise on your person. You might defend the charges on the grounds that you did not have constructive possession, because the prosecution must prove that you were able to exercise control over the gun.
With any Texas gun crimes case, keep in mind that plea bargaining is also an option for resolving the charges. There may still be penalties, but you could reduce the charges and/or punishment.
Legal Help from a Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer
It is a relief to know that defenses and other strategies are available when fighting gun offenses. However, you will need experienced legal counsel to take advantage of them. Instead of putting your rights at risk, rely on a gun crimes defense attorney to:
- Represent you at arraignment, the first court hearing where the charges are read, you enter a plea, and the judge addresses bond for pretrial release
- Raise motions regarding your defenses, such as a motion to exclude unlawfully obtained evidence or a motion to dismiss for lack of evidence
- Appear with you at all required court hearings during the pretrial process
- Attack the prosecutor’s evidence when the government is presenting its case-in-chief
- Present testimony, exhibits, and other evidence when it is your turn to defend the charges
At different stages of the process, your attorney can also discuss plea bargaining options with the prosecutor. Note that the judge must still approve a plea deal before entering an order.
Trust a Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer to Fight Gun Charges
Texas may lead the US in mass shootings but, as you can see from this summary, gun laws still involve harsh punishment if you are convicted. Legal support from an attorney is critical for handling the tasks mentioned above, as well as many others.
For more information on defenses to gun charges, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz to schedule a no-cost consultation. Our team has extensive experience representing clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County, so we have the skills to fight for your rights. You can reach a Texas gun crimes defense attorney at 409-515-6170 to learn more about potential strategies.