THE GUN STORE — “Hi,” I say. “Do you sell guns?” The clerk gives me a strange look. “No, we’re a French pastry shop. Watcha need? We got pistols and rifles and sniper guns. We got ammo, body armor and we used to carry heavier stuff for your home’s protection — mortars, anti-tank missiles and howitzers, but Biden gave them all to the Ukrainian Army.”
“I used to be a cannon-cocker in the Marines, but I ended up in infantry because I could never figure out how to put a bayonet on the muzzle. Anyhow, I thought I’d buy a gun. But first I guess the law requires that I qualify.” The clerk pulls out a clipboard and pen, then asks if I am over 18. “Yes, just barely. It’s odd that, in Texas, an 18-year-old can’t buy a package of cigarettes or a beer, but can buy an AR-15 style rifle.” The clerk nods. “Now, do you have a criminal record, mentally deranged or have shot up Walmarts, schools or churches in the last 48 hours? You don’t look the sort, so I’ll put down ‘probably not.’ Are you a terrorist, pirate or are stalked by black helicopters?”
“No,” I reply. “They’re usually green camouflage. But I need to buy a gun right because I want to go hunting. I suppose there’s a waiting period.” He looks at his watch. “Time’s up.” This whole conversation is rather upsetting and I probably need to cool off before buying anything, so I leave. Back home, I do a little research and it underscored my need to have a gun, particularly to avoid a mass shooting. Since 2009 more than 1,500 Americans have been killed in over 270 mass shootings. In the last five years, Texas leads the list with 87 dead in five mass shootings. (The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings as multiple, firearm and homicides involving four or more victims at one or more locations close to one another.)
Texas’ leadership in this bloody category may stem from our laws. State law allows 18-year-olds to buy certains. But federal law restricts handgun purchases to those over 21, with a few exceptions. So in Texas most 18-year-olds can legally buy an AR-15 but not a handgun. There is a loophole for youths “engaged in an agricultural enterprise” or for hunting, sporting “or other lawful purposes” with adult supervision. Also, if a friend or relative or a guy on a street corner sells you a gun, that’s a private matter so you don’t need to run a background check or register it with the DPS, Toll Road Authority or your neighborhood homeowners association. Same thing with purchasing a firearm at a gun show. You can even pack heat by buying online. You can own machine guns and short-barrel rifles, armor-piercing ammunition and improvised explosive devices if you registered them with the feds.
In Texas, “gun control” means holding it with both hands. So our state leaders run from any proposed law that would even slightly mess with Texans’ Second Amendment right to shoot you. After the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, top state leaders discussed (discussed?) possible new laws for gun control. Several bills to this effect were filed by members of both parties during the 2019 session; none was passed. Also in 2019, Texas made it easier for people to carry guns into churches and passed a law prohibiting landlords from banning guns in their rental properties.
In 2021, Texas became the largest state to legalize unlicensed open and concealed carry of handguns. Texas lawmakers proposed at least 180 gun-related bills, including universal background checks, “red flag” proposals and raising the age to purchase an assault weapon. All of those bills were introduced by Democrats, and none of them made it to the floor of either chamber. Very few had hearings, and only in the House. The lawmakers approved at least 22 bills to loosen rules on differents. The NRA called it a “groundbreaking session for gun owners,” and Gov. Greg Abbott called the permitless carry bill “the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history.”
Speaking of our Guv, he said that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health,” yet in April he slashed $211 million from the state department that oversees mental health programs. Texas already ranks last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care. Beto O’Rourkewho is running against Abbott for governor, confronted him during a press conference in Uvalde. “The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing,” he said, adding, “This is on you.”
Don McLaughlin, the Republican mayor of Uvalde, called O’Rourke a “sick (expletive),” and accused him of making the shootings “a political issue.” Sen. Ted “Cancun” Cruz said, “I get tired of all the politicking.” Cruz has an A-plus 100 percent standing with the NRA.During the 2018 election cycle, Cruz was the biggest recipient of money from gun rights backers. So far, the NRA alone has contributed $176,284 to Cruz. Gov. Abbott has received NRA contributions of $16,750. Lite Guv Dan Patrick has pocketed $12,500.
Like many other Republicans, Cruz says the answer to the outbreak of mass shootings is to fortify our schools, hire more guards and teachers require to be armed. I suppose we could transfer those 10,000 Texas National Guards on our southern border to protect our schools, add watchtowers and barbed wire. Maybe give our teachers bodyguards, flak jackets and combat pay. What might help is to simply pass some meaningful laws on gun control.
Back at the gun store I am ready to buy. “I want 14 rapid-firing guns, lots of ammo and a permit from Governor Abbott.” The clerk smiles. “Give the deer our thoughts and prayers.”
Ashby is targeted at [email protected]