By Joe Moody and Gloria Aguilera Terry
One of today’s top issues is gun violence. State leaders have publicly promised a crackdown on people breaking the law with guns but protecting our rights while protecting our people can be a difficult balance.
One thing we’ve heard universal agreement on over the years, though, is enforcing the laws we already have. So why aren’t we?
Take someone convicted of domestic violence assault. After a judge or jury says they’re guilty, our laws say the now-convicted criminal can no longer own a firearm, at least for a specified length of time. But in most cases, nothing is done about it besides a brief warning (if even that).
Prohibited possessors are on the honor system here. In fact, less than 10 of our state’s 254 counties have any protocol in place to ensure people ordered by our courts not to possess firearms are actually disposing of the ones they own.
The results speak for themselves. In 2021, Texas Council on Family Violence recorded that 75% of female victims killed in domestic violence incidents in Texas were shot to death, and a significant number of the murderers were legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. In other words, these were preventable deaths.
Additionally, a 2021 study revealed the vast majority of mass shootings in the U.S. – 68% – involved a shooter who had a history of family violence.
These aren’t just numbers. Texans have lost their lives, families have had grief heaped upon them, and the safety of communities has been shredded because we failed to uphold the laws meant to protect our people. People from all across Texas like Trave Jackson of Midland, Ryniscia Sanford of Houston, Dalisha Blate of Jacinto City, and Jennifer Hoekstra of El Paso were all killed by abusers who were legally barred from possessing guns.
But House Bill 3938 by El Paso Rep. Joe Moody is meant to change that. The bill requires a judge who issues an order that prohibits someone from possessing a firearm (like a felony conviction or a family violence protective order) to give that person explicit written notice they must dispose of all guns they possess within 10 days. How that’s done is up to the individual – firearms can be transferred to a lawful possessor, sold, or disposed of through other lawful means. But on day 10, they must give the court a signed affidavit saying they don’t possess any firearms.
That’s it. The bill doesn’t create new laws about gun possession and doesn’t create a registry or record of anyone’s firearms. It even provides a statewide affidavit for courts to use so there’s no patchwork of enforcement.
This may sound like the least we can do, but it’s a critical step. It bridges the chasm between laws and actions. It gives clear direction and a timeline to people who intend to abide by the law, and it gets the attention of those who might not otherwise comply.
It also works. While some argue that criminals don’t follow the law anyway, that’s simply not true (if it was, there would be no point having criminal laws at all). The fact is that thousands of Texans on probation, parole, and pretrial bond abide by legal restrictions every day.
No law can prevent every crime that it’s designed to combat, but some of our most recent tragedies have highlighted that our criminal laws do work. The Robb Elementary School shooter made two failed attempts to have someone illegally purchase weapons for him, forcing him to delay his horrific plans until he could legally make the purchase. The law worked until it didn’t stand in his way anymore.
We endanger Texans when we make no effort to ensure our laws are followed. We can debate what our gun laws ought to be, but House Bill 3938 is a commonsense effort to make sure the laws we already have are more than empty words on paper.
The bill was heard in the Texas House Select Committee on Community Safety on April 4, and now it must move through the House and Senate and achieve the governor’s signature to truly create a safer Texas. We encourage lawmakers to vote for this bill, and invite everyone to use their voice on social media and elsewhere to demand better oversight of prohibited possessors. You deserve to be safe where you live and work.
It’s too late for Trave, Ryniscia, Dalish, Jennifer and many other Texans killed because our laws went unenforced. We can’t shorten the victim list that’s already written. But together, we can keep countless other names off that list.
State Representative Joe Moody represents District 78, located in north and west El Paso, in the Texas House of Representatives. He chairs the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and co-chairs the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus. Gloria Aguilera Terry, a native El Pasoan, is the chief executive officer of the Texas Council on Family Violence, the sole coalition of domestic violence agencies in Texas.