FSG Blog
May 13, 2023

Texas, Tennessee and a Tipping Point on Guns?

FSG Principals

In our recent Signals blog about Texas we neglected to raise the issue of guns. Specifically: Whether Texas’s permissive gun culture might possibly spread to other states worried about crime and violence or, going the other direction, whether Texas might somehow lead pro-guns states in a tightening in gun ownership laws.

Since posting our Signals piece, another major gun tragedy has occurred. This time at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas. The gunman, who killed eight people, including three children, wielded an AR-15-style rifle. Nationally, there have been more thoughts and prayers, more calls for meaningful gun control, but no evidence of a groundswell in public opinion that would cause lawmakers across the US – and not merely in blue states with relatively strict gun control regulations – to act in meaningful ways to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings in the future. 

It’s worth noting that a very small sign of change emerged in Texas this week. A House committee passed a bill to raise the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21. The bill has bipartisan support – but only in the House. Political observers say the odds of it getting through the Texas Senate are close to nil. Yet the fact that the proposal made its way out of a House committee is itself considered significant in a pro-gun state like Texas. 

There are early signs of a shift elsewhere, too. As in Texas, the reform impetus follows tragedy. Six weeks following the Covenant School tragedy, Tennessee’s Republican governor Bill Lee is holding a special legislative session to discuss gun reform. 

He’s hardly going out on a political limb.  Citing a new Vanderbilt University poll, New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl writes that “the vast majority of Tennesseans — including a majority of self-described MAGA Republicans and N.R.A. supporters — expressed support for several legislative approaches to gun reform.” This includes, she notes, “strengthening background checks, passing a red-flag law and requiring secure storage of firearms.”

Modest beginnings, for sure. But beginnings nonetheless and, for the majority of Americans wanting stricter gun control,  grounds for hope.

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