Editorial: Abbott all talk, no action on gun violence

Gun Rights

Gov. Greg Abbott’s gun talk is neither sustainable nor honest.

On Thursday, after a shooting at a Uvalde park left two wounded, the governor said in a statement that he “was outraged to learn that gang violence has endangered the Uvalde community and innocent Texans.”

He framed the shooting as a gang problem, with no mention of guns or easy access to them, and pledged more state troopers to help the small city “bring the full force of justice down on these heinous criminals.”

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The shooting came more than three months after an 18-year-old used an AR-style rifle to murder 19 children and 2 teachers at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. And the governor’s pledge to battle gang violence followed a recent claim that he can’t do anything to raise the purchase age of assault-style rifles from 18 to 21.

“There have been three court rulings since May that have made it clear that it is unconstitutional to ban someone between the ages of 18 and 21 from being able to buy an AR,” Abbott said on the campaign trail Aug. 31. “It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde, as much as they want it, it has already been ruled to be unconstitutional.”

But, as we’ve seen before, the governor’s comments are bereft of context.

While some lower courts grapple with the issue, the Supreme Court hasn’t taken a stand on age restrictions for any type of weapon.

“I think the governor is wrong,” Al Kauffman, a constitutional law expert and professor at St. Mary’s University, told us. “I think the states could increase the age for access to unusual weapons like an AR 15, and that would be upheld.”

Kauffman said there’s no doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court has supported gun rights—in 2008 for self-defense in the home and this year for self-defense outside the home—but these rulings have been about handguns.

“All of these cases have tried to make it clear that they’re not throwing out all gun regulations or gun control,” he said. “I think there’s a very good chance that if Texas were to extend the age for access to things like AR-15-type guns, to 21, that that would be upheld.”

According to Kauffman, the high court hasn’t restricted reasonable gun laws in states and communities. Nor has it thrown out laws in 43 states that outline various requirements, including licensing, for gun ownership.

The U.S. Supreme Court has “always said that the government controlled access to unusual weapons, and that would include the AR-15,” he said. “We’re talking about these extremely dangerous weapons—I just think that the courts are not going to give carte blanche to more people having those guns than if the state were to take that position.”

We are reminded of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s words in the 2008 Heller decision: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Kauffman also disagrees with Abbott’s claim that increasing the age to purchase assault-style rifles is unconstitutional, and the idea that possible unconstitutionality would stop the state in trying to pass a law. Just think of how aggressive the state has been with anti-abortion legislation. Earlier this year, Abbott mused about overturning the landmarke Plyler decision, which ensures states cannot deny public education for migrant children.

“The state of Texas has never been shy about proposing legislation or passing legislation that on its face would appear to be unconstitutional,” Kauffman said.

Uvalde parents have been outspoken about the need to raise the purchase age for assault-style weapons, but the governor has ignored these calls.

The most recent shooting in Uvalde merits outrages. But we should be outraged by all acts of gun violence — gang violence, mass shootings, suicides, domestic violence, accidental shootings — wherever they occur. And we should channel that outrage into policies that reduce gun violence. But Abbott is unwilling to go there.

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