How to hold Texas legislators accountable for gun violence on their watch

Beto O'Rourke
9 min readFeb 13, 2020

Follow this link to use a new resource to hold Texas legislators accountable for their actions on gun violence. This powerful spreadsheet tool tabulates and compares, by name, the votes of our state representatives on gun-related bills in the last legislative session. Read up on your Rep, learn more about the bills below, and take action.

Texas is in crisis when it comes to gun violence, but you wouldn’t know it from the lack of action we see from our state government.

More than 3,500 Texans died in firearm deaths in 2017, the most recent year for which we have data. We claim four of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. And in our state, women are 24% more likely to be the victims of gun homicides compared to the national average, due in part to our weak laws to disarm domestic abusers. There’s also alarming inequality when it comes to the race of the victim: the vast majority of the state’s gun homicide victims are black or Hispanic.

Though some Democratic members of the legislature introduced bills last year to disarm domestic abusers, close the gun show loophole and outlaw straw purchases, common sense measures like these went nowhere.

The Democratic minority also called for an emergency session to address gun violence legislation after the massacres in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, but that was rejected by Governor Greg Abbott.

Most Texans agree that gun violence is an urgent problem and want something done about it. Common sense measures like universal background checks enjoy broad bipartisan support in our state. Why then have we not made any progress?

It might have to do with a lack of transparency and accountability for the way our elected representatives vote on gun-related issues.

In response, we’ve put together a resource that shows how each state representative in Texas voted on gun legislation in the last session (2019). Our hope is that making this available to the public introduces greater accountability and ensures that we are able to make more informed decisions at the ballot box.

We looked at the eight gun bills that became law last year to see how each of the 150 state reps in Texas voted. The consensus from gun safety organizations is that these bills represent an expansion of gun rights at the expense of public safety.

The linked spreadsheet shows you how Texas representatives voted and allows you to draw your own conclusions. A “no” vote (coded orange) is generally seen to be an effort to maintain common sense gun safety and a “yes” vote (coded red) is seen to reduce gun safety. But read the descriptions of the bills below or read the full text of them (linked in the spreadsheet) yourself and come to your own conclusion. And if you’d like to hear your representative explain their vote, we’ve linked their names in the spreadsheet to a page with their phone numbers and emails so that you can follow up with them directly.

>> Click here to see our Texas gun legislation spreadsheet

>> Click here to see our Texas gun legislation spreadsheet

Here is a brief explanation of the eight bills in our spreadsheet (taken from House Research Organization):

HB 121

HB 121 will make it more difficult for business owners to keep guns off of their property. License holders can ignore signs prohibiting guns on a property until they are told otherwise. Gun sense advocates argue that license holders should be held responsible for noticing and following posted signs, and property owners who post the required signs should not have to take the extra steps of tracking down patrons and giving verbal notifications to keep guns off their property.

HB 1177

Texans who can legally own firearms will be to able to carry their handguns, open or concealed – without a license to carry – for a full week after a disaster declaration. The bill was filed in response to calls from pro-gun groups who said Texans couldn’t arm themselves when Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in 2017. It will place an additional burden on first responders and shelter operators during an already stressful period of disaster response. The bill will allow a person to carry a handgun into an otherwise prohibited place if it is operating as a shelter following a disaster. Because HB 1177 does not establish a standardized way for shelter operators to notify evacuees of whether or not handguns were authorized on the premises and of any requirements for safe gun storage, the bill will inappropriately give individuals the discretion to set aside existing law without clear rules or guidelines.

SB 772

This bill grants businesses that allow handguns on their property immunity for risks caused by that decision.

HB 1387

This bill removes limits on the number of designated staff members who can carry guns at schools, known as school marshals. Until now, a school could have one marshal for every 200 students, or one marshal per building. HB 1387 further promote a school safety strategy that is not evidence-based and could negatively and disproportionately impact classroom culture, especially for certain student populations. There is no evidence supporting the idea that the school marshal program increases safety. This promotes a fear-based response that has not been proven to effectively address a potential active shooter scenario. An increase in armed individuals who were not law enforcement officers could increase the risk of someone being harmed. Other evidence-based strategies could more effectively address or prevent a potential active shooter problem, including hiring more school counselors, hardening school campuses, and increasing mental health programs for students.

HB 1143

This bill prohibits a school district or open-enrollment charter school from regulating how a handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored on school property. It allows licensed gun owners – including school employees – to store a gun in a locked car in a school parking lot, so long as it’s not in plain view.

HB 2363

This bill loosens restrictions on foster parents storing guns and ammunition in the same locked location, so long as it’s properly secured. As a result of trauma, foster children are more likely than their peers to consider suicide. Making it easier for vulnerable children to access firearms and ammunition may result in more suicides and accidental injuries.

SB 535

This reduces the penalty for the unauthorized carrying of a handgun into a place of worship by a license holder from a class A to a class C misdemeanor. This change could send a message that guns are welcome in churches, inappropriately addressing incidents of gun violence by potentially encouraging license holders to carry handguns on the premises of churches or other places of worship rather than emphasizing gun safety.

HB 3231

HB 3231 could have a chilling effect on a city’s or county’s authority to adopt ordinances and regulations related to firearms, air guns, knives, ammunition, or firearm supplies and accessories. It sets a vague standard that could invite litigation and expand liability for cities and counties, which would be costly for local taxpayers. In effect, cities and counties likely would choose not to pass any regulations that could affect firearms in any way, even if explicitly authorized by law, for fear of legal liability.

In addition to the legislation above there were a number of good gun bills that didn’t see the light of day. According to Texas Gun Sense, there were more than 20 common sense bills proposed in the State Legislature in 2019 that could have saved lives but were not passed.

Here are some of them:

Airport public safety. The Governor vetoed HB 1168 by Rep. Anchia, a bill that passed the Senate and the House. The bill would have expanded restrictions on possessing a firearm in certain secured areas of an airport.

Closing the “gun show loophole.” These bills would have required all sellers at gun shows to do a background check on buyers. It should be noted that while this is a step in the right direction, with the rise of online gun sales this only gets to one of the loopholes that evade background checks. Rep. Anchia HB 1169, Rep. Reynolds HB 195.

Outlawing “straw purchases.” These bills would have prohibited a person from legally purchasing a firearm in order to give it to another person who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. Rep. Anchia HB 1171, Sen. West SB 388

Restricting 3D printed/ghost guns. A ghost gun is a gun without a serial number that is manufactured at home, generally either by using a 3D printer or by purchasing and building a firearm out of widely available parts that can be purchased without a background check. Rep. Anchia HB 1172, Rep. Canales HB 38

Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns. Rep. Rodriguez HB 1207

Disarming domestic abusers. These bills would have improved systems to disarm abusers: Rep. Rodriguez HB 1208, Sen. Huffman SB 666/Rep. Collier HB 3812, Rep. Ramos HB 1713, Rep. Moody HB 3191, Sen. Rodriguez SB 801/Rep. Farrar HB 3567. SB 1804 by Sen. Kohlkorst/ HB 4751 by Rep. Nevarez would have closed gaps in information sharing in the criminal justice system.

Prohibiting irresponsible firearm-related behaviors. Rep. Rosenthal’s HB 1445 would have prohibited carrying a firearm while intoxicated and Rep. Martinez’ HB 86 would have prohibited celebratory gun fire.

Improving Texas’ Child Access Prevention law. In his May 2018 School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, the Governor recommended three improvements to the state’s Child Access Prevention law: (1) raise the age so that children younger than 18 (instead of younger than 17) are addressed; (2) clarify the “readily dischargeable” statutory definition; and (3) increase the penalty level to a 3rd degree felony when access results in death or serious bodily injury. None of the bills addressing these issues passed — note that none of the bills addressed all three improvements the Governor recommended., SB 158 Sen. Rodriguez, SB 204 Sen. Huffman, HB 854 Rep. Moody, HB 4341 Rep. Collier

Prohibiting “lie and try,” and, required reporting. Lying on the background check application to try to purchase a firearm would have been prohibited by state law if one of these bills passed. The bills also required the federal firearm licensee who became aware of the “lie and try” to report the attempt to DPS. Rep. Hinojosa HB 95, HB 4496

Enacting Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law. An ERPO law would allow a civil court judge to order a person who is a danger to themselves or others to temporarily surrender their firearms. Rep. Moody HB 131, Sen. Rodriguez SB 157

Deferred adjudication. This bill would have made it a criminal offense for a person placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for certain violent crimes to possess a firearm. SB 2007 Sen. Lucio

TEXAS GUN VIOLENCE FACTS

  • There were 3,513 gun-related deaths in Texas in 2017. 352 of these were children and teenagers under 19 years old.
  • Women in Texas are 24% more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other states.
  • 687 women were killed by an intimate partner with a firearm in Texas between 2007 – 2016.
  • In 2019, at least 32 Texas children ages 0 – 17 died in unintentional shootings.
  • Guns were the second cause of accidental death for children in Harris County between 2011 – 2014.
  • 200,000 children are estimated to live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms accessible to them.
  • More than half of all suicides in Texas in 2016 (60%) were by firearm and the firearm suicide rate in Texas increased 18% over the decade prior to 2016.
  • Seventy-eight percent of veteran suicides in Texas in 2017 were by firearm according to the Veterans Administration.
  • The FBI reports that Texas leads the nation in the number of firearms lost or stolen each year. The number of guns reported stolen in the Lone Star State nearly doubled between 2007 and 2016, from at least 13,225 to at least 26,004, although this is certainly an undercount. Texas does not mandate the reporting of missing weapons to police.
  • There were a total of 3,824 hospitalizations with an injury due to firearms reported in Texas in 2015. Total hospital costs that year: $282,434,139.
  • As of October 2019, there were 10,471 federally regulated licensed gun dealers in Texas.
  • 40% of crime guns recovered in Mexico can be traced back to Texas.
  • As of the end of 2018, nearly 1.4 million people have a state-regulated license to carry in Texas. More than 6800 Texas licenses to carry a handgun were denied, suspended, or revoked in Texas between September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019. (Imagine if everyone had to go through a background check to buy a firearm in Texas.)
  • Nearly 75% of the state’s gun homicide victims are black or Hispanic.
  • Gun violence in Texas costs $16.6 billion per year.

(Source: Texas Gun Sense and Giffords Law Center)

Lastly, the links below will help you understand how your member of Congress is voting on common sense gun safety legislation:

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