After the mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school, gun control advocates renewed calls for restrictions. But Texas Republicans, who control the state Legislature and have passed some of the loosest gun laws in the nation, were pushing back.
Texans have been able to carry a handgun in public without a license or training since Sept. 1, 2021, after Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation allowing permitless carry that he called the “biggest and best” gun law of the 2021 legislative session.
By signing the divisive measure opposed by police groups, the Republican governor delivered a major win to conservative activists, who long sought to do away with the state’s handgun license requirement. It also underscores the strong political sway of gun rights groups in Texas, where polling shows a majority of voters say they want tighter gun laws.
“Surely there’s no state in America that’s ever done as much protecting gun rights,” Abbott said at a signing ceremony in San Antonio on June 17, where he appeared alongside National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre.
The NRA holds its annual meeting in Houston this weekend, with Abbott, former President Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz expected to appear Friday. Sen. John Cornyn had said previously that he had to withdraw from the event.
Here’s what you need to know about Texas gun laws.
Where can guns be carried in Texas?
People 21 and older who can legally possess a handgun no longer need a state-issued license to carry one outside their homes or vehicles. At least 20 other states also have some form of permitless carry.
Before the law went into effect, Texans had to clear a background check, pass a safety course and show they can shoot to get a license to carry a handgun in public.
More than 1.6 million gun owners were licensed in Texas. Each year the state would reject a few thousand applicants, mostly because of criminal history.
The licensing process was left intact for people who still want to get one. And the state did not have a law requiring a permit to carry a long gun in public.
Texas has long held an “F” from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, primarily because it did not require universal background checks on all gun purchases, including private sales and purchases at gun shows.
What guns can Texans own?
Most arms, including military-style weapons, can be owned in Texas, but there are a few exceptions and age requirements.
You must be 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer, but you can buy a rifle at 18 as long as it’s not prohibited.
There is no minimum age to possess firearms under Texas law, according to the Giffords Law Center. Parents and legal guardians are allowed to give written permission for the sale of one or consent for the minor to be given one as a gift.
Under federal law, it’s illegal for someone younger than 18 to possess a handgun except during hunting and self-defense situations.
Texas’ criminal code and federal law prohibit rifles with a barrel length of less than 16 inches and shotguns with a barrel length of less than 18 inches. But you may be granted an exception for such weapons, as well as for machine guns and silencers, if you register them with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and pay a $200 tax.
Other Texas gun laws
- Guns are still restricted in certain places such as schools, polling places, courtrooms, secure airport areas and some private businesses.
- Texas’ campus carry law, also signed into law in 2015, allows handguns in campus buildings and dorms. It was challenged by University of Texas at Austin professors who said it could chill free speech on campus, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2018.
- Houses of worship are required to give notice to their congregations if they want to ban guns, according a 2019 law. Churches, synagogues and mosques were previously off-limits to gun owners, but lawmakers decided to lift the restriction as a response to the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting.
- Texas no longer limits the number of school faculty and staff that can be designated as armed school marshals, a 2019 response to the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting. A 2021 law allows the marshals to carry them in the classroom instead of keeping them locked.
- Also under a law passed in 2019, landlords can no longer ban renters from having guns in their units.
- In addition to permitless carry, Abbott signed several other gun bills in 2021 that would ensure gun retailers and manufacturers can stay open in a declared disaster, such as a pandemic; let people carry firearms to and from their hotel room and block the state from contracting with companies that refuse to work with the gun industry.
- Texas’ “Castle Doctrine” gives people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves while in their home.
- The “Stand Your Ground” rule extends the Castle Doctrine to individuals in public spaces if they have a right to be there and are not committing a crime.
- A Texas resident, unless otherwise prevented by law, is permitted to purchase rifles and shotguns, ammunition and firearms accessories in neighboring states.
What does the state constitution say?
Texas gun laws generally focus on regulating the carrying of guns as opposed to restricting gun ownership. The constitution guarantees every Texan the right to “keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the State” but gives the Legislature the power to “regulate the wearing of arms” to prevent crime.
Austin correspondent Allie Morris and information from The Dallas Morning News archives contributed to this report.