AUSTIN (KXAN) — An all too common problem returned to Texas this summer.
In the past few weeks, Texas has experienced two mass shootings, adding to a violent history in the state: from the University of Texas Tower, to Luby’s, to Waco, to Fort Hood, Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Odessa.
But it feels like something has changed after Odessa.
So much so, that longtime Second Amendment advocate and powerful Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, announced he will break with the National Rifle Association and support adding background checks for some private gun sales.
Ten Democratic candidates come to Houston to debate this week and they’ll try and move the line on what is acceptable. KXAN wanted to look at that landscape they’ll walk into and what forces will push back.
Truly, there are hard things politically and logistically to do, then there is trying to confront the Second Amendment of the Constitution and redefining what it is to be an American for millions of people.
There are more guns than people in America. Civilians own 393 million guns.
Rachel Malone from Guns Owners of America told KXAN at a Capitol press conference: “Armed civilians save lives. So we believe Texas is safer and more lives are protected if we reduce the bans on carrying guns and the infringements.”
But you find an interesting story digging deeper.
According to the census: 50 million households have guns. So each gun-owning family has eight of them on average. Some studies even go on to predict that just 3% of Americans own half the guns in the entire country.
The people with the guns are extremely vocal and politically active.
The NRA and a coalition of smaller grassroots groups can mobilize powerful “single-issue voters,” or people who vote on guns and guns only.
Nearly all the Democratic candidates this week will have similar policy proposals: requiring background checks on all gun sales, red flag laws or extreme risk protection orders, banning high capacity magazines and waiting periods for gun sales.
But one Texan in the race goes farther than many others: former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He wants to create a gun licensing system, a national registry, and he wants to make owning, selling or making many semi-automatic rifles against the law.
Then there’s what many gun rights advocates hate the most, a mandatory buy-back of millions of those rifles. So the government would give you money for your AR-15, AK-47, or M-16, but you would have to give it them or you’ll be fined. Banning a certain type of gun runs right into the United States Constitution and the Supreme Court.
“We should be honest with ourselves. Universal background checks will help. Ending the sale of weapons of war will help. But if millions of them stay on the street, they will still be instruments of terror,” O’Rourke told CNN earlier this month.
Let’s look at that.
One of the most important decisions on this issue came in 2008 with the District of Columbia vs. Heller. D.C.’s handgun ban violated an individual‘s right to have a gun.
“After examining many uses of keep arms and bear arms, contemporaneous with and prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment. That it means pretty much what it means today: to have and carry weapons,” said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, while announcing his majority opinion.
But then he said this in his opinion, laying out limits based on an older case.
“Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected, are quote, in common use at the time, end quote,” said Scalia.
“In common use at the time.”
Does “common use” refer to the number — the millions of AR-15s out there in America? Or are we talking about people? Because if 3% of the people own most of these weapons, are they really in common use?
This is one of the hardest political issues to work through and we’re not going to do it today, these Democrats aren’t going to do it in the debate. It’s really up to voters, the constitution, and the courts.