Firearms and Texans. Texans and firearms. There are few words in the popular lexicon that go together with greater ease than these. Our history tells us why, and our treasured historical documents remove any doubt. These same documents also rebut the claim by the anti-gun left that the NRA and evil gun manufacturers are to blame for Texans’ belief that the right to arms is God-given, and that without that right we would be serfs, not citizens.
Both the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Texas Declaration of 1836 list specific reasons for seeking independence. However, the 1776 declaration makes no mention of the right to arms. The Texans gathered at Washington on the Brazos in March 1836 apparently thought that was a mistake.
The Texas declaration in 1836 stated in part, Mexico “has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence — the rightful property of freemen — and formidable only to tyrannical government.” It’s not known if these Texas patriots were referring to the Gonzales cannon, but what other state can today claim a flag that says “Come and Take It?”
I doubt when James Madison wrote the Second Amendment, “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” he had any idea how much consternation the term “well regulated militia” would cause America. Once again, the boys on the Brazos opted for more clarity.
In the Texas constitution of 1836, a Bill of Rights provision was adopted that stated, “Every citizen shall have the right to bear arms in defence of himself and the republic.” Simple and direct, and with no pesky reference to a “well regulated militia.” Instead, “every citizen” was a beneficiary.
In, 1876 Texas adopted our current constitution, and by a vote of 69-9 included Article 1 Section 23, which provides: “Every citizen shall have the right to keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the state; but the legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” During debate on this section, an amendment was offered to insert the words “prohibit and” in front of the word “regulate,” and it failed to get a second. It was then made clear that prohibition was unconstitutional, and by the use of “wearing,” it was also clear that wearing a six-shooter on the hip was a protected right, only to be regulated, not prohibited.
Notwithstanding the 1876 constitution, an 1871 law passed by the carpetbagger reconstruction government prohibiting the carry of handguns remained Texas law until the concealed handgun law was passed in 1995. However, the unlawful carry of a handgun was generally a misdemeanor and selectively enforced, allowing those who were “obviously law-abiding citizens” to go without prosecution. Shotguns and rifles were essentially unrestricted, and one could then (and can now) walk down Main Street with any kind of long gun, even today’s so-called assault weapons such as an AR-15, without breaking the law. Open carry of long guns has never been unlawful in Texas.
Why was the right to arms so important in Texas’ first half-century? The answer is, Texans were the quintessential citizen soldiers of many conflicts. In 1836, the American Revolution had been the war fought by the fathers of these newly arrived Texans. The independence won by these Texans at San Jacinto in 1836 was defended in continued armed conflict with Mexico, on land and on sea, until we became a state in 1846, and then we fought a war with Mexico as part of the U.S. Army.
In 1861, Texas seceded and once again sent her young men off to fight, and when they returned to shattered homes and hearth, the Comanches were fought again over ground lost while the soldiers were off at war. After Quanah Parker surrendered in 1875, the Indian wars were over, and the threat requiring the use of arms came from within. There were a lot of horse thieves, highwaymen and desperadoes to defend against.
In the eighth grade, I took a Civil War musket to school for show and tell. Doing so today would generate a lockdown, national news coverage, and assignment to alternative school for delinquent kids. Texans’ opinions on firearms today are more polarized, in my opinion because there are a lot of new Texans from other states and countries, with no historic connection to firearms, who have chosen to make Texas their new home.
They don’t know our history. And they don’t understand that we believe very strongly that, even with Texas firearm homicides down more than 40 percent in the last 20 years, and no current threat of invasion from within or from without, our duty is to preserve and pass down our right to arms to future generations of Texans, however unlikely the need for arms may seem today. — by Jerry Patterson, contributing editor to Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog
Jerry Patterson is a retired Marine Vietnam veteran. He is a former Texas Land Commissioner and former state senator. He authored the Texas concealed handgun law in 1995.