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The State of the Gun

Texas is a gun state, more likely to expand gun rights after a mass killing than to restrict them. While there are proposals to buy back guns or restrict sales, Texas leaders are pushing to allow guns in more places.

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Texas is the poster state for guns, and we probably won’t have the same full-spectrum debate on gun violence at the state level that voters elsewhere will see in the wake of the killings at the elementary school in Connecticut.

Even in those other precincts, the meaningful part of the debate probably won’t last long; those who hope to change the gun laws will have to act quickly, before everyone drifts back to whatever position they held before Newtown.

The proposals cover familiar ground, from disarmament and new restrictions on guns and accessories to escalation and expanded rights. From the argument that a downsized gun culture will result in less violence to the argument that everyone will be safe if there is always a gun in the hand of someone who can return fire. Guns nowhere vs. guns everywhere.

Washington finds itself in one of those rare windows where a trauma reopens an issue where negotiation has become impossible, forcing one side or the other to give a little.

Texas might get some new laws, but don’t bet on new restrictions. Texas is more likely to to beef up security than to disarm, more likely to to allow guns in more places than to back away from them.

Rep.-elect Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, announced he is filing legislation that would allow school districts to designate trained and certified faculty members to carry guns in public schools. Not every teacher would be included; the idea is to put defensive guns in place. On the other side, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, will file legislation that would require training for buyers of certain guns, ban high-capacity ammunition clips, and use tax credits to finance a gun buyback program.

Gov. Rick Perry told a group in North Texas that the state should allow more guns for self defense in more places, including schools, and should watch out for a “knee-jerk reaction” from the federal government in the wake of the Connecticut killings.

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner and the former state senator who authored the state’s concealed handgun law, said he fears changes that would do no good: bans on sales of assault weapons or on high-capacity clips. He is all for keeping guns away from people with mental problems and said the laws could be changed there to some benefit. But he is in the camp that favors ubiquity over scarcity.

“In all these mass shootings where we have a deranged person in complete and absolute control, another person there with a handgun or a firearm would change the dynamic, even if that person was a terrible shot,” Patterson said.

“It’s not a matter of whether we should have armed people in the schools,” he added. “It’s a matter of how many, and what’s their training.”

Patterson might be the best-known gun advocate in a state full of them. He is popular in his party and in particular, with its passionate Tea Party wing. To the extent that that’s the mainstream of Texas politics, he’s right in the middle of it.

Here’s a one-sentence peek into state gun policy: The fastest way through security at the Texas Capitol is with a concealed handgun permit, which allows the bearer to skip the lines, the metal detectors and the scanners, and to enter the seat of government conveniently armed and unsearched.

We wouldn’t want to irritate someone with a handgun.

Frequent visitors can pay for gun permits or for another registration that allows them past the state troopers without the gun. It’s a funny setup: The state charges people to go around an obstacle created by the state, to get into a government building where guns are allowed.

We used to let people smoke everywhere. The police used to stop drunken drivers to tell them to be extra careful driving home.

Maybe more guns will turn out to be a healthier choice. Whether or not that is true, it seems the current political preference in Texas is to expand the presence of guns as a stopgap against gun violence.

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