Texas has the reputation of a gun-friendly red state, but even the population of the Lone Star State is not politically homogenous. That became apparent this week when 40 Texas high school students signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking the question, “We are dying on your watch. What will you do about it?”
The open letter to the governor appeared in the form of a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday. The ad follows on the heels of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left eight students and two teachers dead. The letter includes classic examples of myths, misdirection and illogical thinking with regard to guns.
The letter begins with the obligatory attack on the NRA. “Our job is to be good students. Your job is to keep us safe. You have failed at your job,” the students say. “Like so many politicians cozy with the NRA, you have steadfastly opposed any reasonable measures that might protect us from gun violence.”
“Instead,” the letter continues, “you’ve signed dangerous policies to force public colleges in Texas to allow guns on campus and make it legal to openly carry firearms in public. You’ve continued to push the notion that guns everywhere for everyone make us safer. By that logic, shouldn’t we be among the safest states in the nation?”
The fallacy here is that guns are not allowed in Texas public schools any more than they are allowed in public schools anywhere else in the country. The murderer was not deterred by the fact that it was illegal to carry his guns into the school.
The letter then attacks the religious beliefs of gun-carrying Texans: “A few months later, you said that gun violence was happening because of ‘hearts without God.’ Do you think that the children who were shot in class this week died because they hadn’t prayed enough? What about the 26 who were killed while they were worshiping in Sutherland Springs? Do you think they are to blame, rather than yourself and other politicians who refuse to allow even a meaningful discourse on reasonable gun violence prevention policies?”
The logical fallacy here is that it is not the victims whose hearts were the problem. The fundamental problem is that there are rogue killers with evil in their hearts who prey on innocent and defenseless people like the students of Santa Fe and the worshippers of Sutherland Springs. The Bible addresses the fact that the human heart is inherently wicked. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Being godly does not necessarily protect people from evil predators. Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis was only history’s first example of a predatory murder. The Bible does teach us that only God’s love can tame the evil tendencies of the human heart.
The fundamental question of the gun debate is how to address the problem of people who are so riddled with evil that they decide to become predators and kill their fellow classmates. The students’ offer a typical solution, saying, “We were happy to hear you mention background checks and responsible gun storage when you spoke on Friday. But here’s the thing: Words only matter if they’re followed by action. And you have no track record of fighting for anyone other than the NRA. The majority of gun owners support laws that disarm domestic abusers or require a criminal background check on all gun sales. Do you?”
In the case of the Santa Fe murders, the Remington shotgun and .38 pistol were legally owned by the killer’s father. The father has not discussed how his son obtained the weapons. It is possible that more stringent laws on securing guns would have prevented the shooting, but background checks would have had no effect in this case. Even the argument that gun storage laws would have made a difference is suspect. Most 17-year-olds are savvy enough to find hidden guns and keys when their parents aren’t looking. Keeping guns locked away also makes it more difficult for them to be used for home defense, a primary reason that many people own guns in the first place.
Likewise, the reference to “disarm[ing] domestic abusers” and “requir[ing] a criminal background check for all gun sales” are red herrings. The Giffords Law Center notes that Texas already prohibits the purchase or possession of firearms for five years after release for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.
The “all gun sales” is an attempt to require universal background checks for private gun sales, but this seems to be a solution in search of a problem. No mass shootings have been committed with guns that were obtained through private transactions and few other crimes seem to fall under this category. Politifact agrees that most gun crimes are committed by people who possess the gun illegally, rather than a legal purchase.
Next, the students again attack the NRA and lax gun laws, saying, “Why is our safety less important than the check you get from the NRA? We know that common sense gun laws make us safer. Since January 2009, Texas has experienced at least 20 mass shootings—more than any other state in the country. Do you think that a culture of guns everywhere and our lax gun laws might have something to do with that?”
The claim that Texas has more mass shootings that any state in the country could be directly related to the fact that Texas is the largest state in the continental US and ranks second in population. The claim, which is unsourced, is apparently not even true. Statistia data from 1982 through 2018 credits Texas with only eight mass shootings. Texas ranks third on this list behind the gun-control mecca of California (16 mass shootings) and Florida (10).
The final three paragraphs of the letter are an emotional appeal to “let this be your ‘come to Jesus’ moment.” The students say, “We appreciate your thoughts and prayers, but without policy change, this crisis will not end.”
The question is how to end the crisis. There seems to be no one-size-fits-all solution to spree killings. There is no evidence that the measures that the students advocate would have prevented this or any other recent mass shooting.
As recent truck and knife murders in Europe show, removing guns from the equation does not change the human heart. A better solution seems to be to re-introduce training in morality and ethics into schools. The core problem is that we are failing at teach our children to have respect for human life. That is what must change.