Off target: Abbott’s words on weapons could be a political misfire

The U.S. Constitution has no restrictions on a person’s ability to drink alcohol; in fact, it doesn’t address the matter at all. But in the state of Texas a person must be at least 21 to buy or drink alcoholic beverages. Nor do any constitutional restrictions exist regarding the use of tobacco, yet Texans must be at least 18 to smoke, snort or dip it.

So Gov. Greg Abbott’s statement that raising the minimum wage for buying and owning semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21 is unconstitutional is clearly wrong, — and likely disingenuous.

The governor made the assertion Wednesday during a campaign stop in Allen, referring to calls that the age restriction be raised following the May 24 massacre at a Uvalde elementary school that left 19 children and 2 teachers dead and 17 others wounded. The shooter there used two AR-15 rifles that he bought a few days after his 18th birthday.

“It is clear that the gun-control law that they are seeking in Uvalde, as much as they may want it, has already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott said, apparently referring to a recent ruling by U.S. federal Judge Mark Pittman in Fort Worth invalidating a state law that placed a 21-year age restriction on handgun purchases. Pittman’s reasoning was that the Second Amendment does not place age limits on gun possession.

That logic, however, would suggest that no age restriction can be placed at all, and a 10-year-old could buy a deadly weapon if they desired.

The ruling applies only to the Northern District of Texas where Pittman has jurisdiction. The State of Texas has not made any attempt to challenge that Northern District ruling.

Remember also that at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted, our country did not have a standing army but relied upon citizen militias for its defense. Even so, the amendment clearly states that such militias must be well regulated.

We note also that Florida, which like Texas is a Republican-dominated “red” state, did impose a 21-year age limit on semiautomatic rifles, in the wake of a similar mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in 2018. That new law has survived various legal challenges.

The Uvalde shooting sent shock waves beyond our state, prompting calls for stronger gun laws within the halls of Congress. Abbott’s Democratic Party challenger on the November ballot, Beto O’Rourke, has supported strong gun laws since his 2020 presidential campaign, and he has made it a major topic in the gubernatorial race. For many Texans, the election will be as much a referendum on gun rights or immigration as it will be about the people and personalities involved.

Abbott, a two-term incumbent, appears to be pinning his political future on support from the far right-wing of his party. That might work if voter turnout, which traditionally has been below 40% in midterm elections, is low. Recent discord over major issues, including weapons laws, could bring out more people, who have sent clear messages that they want to see firearms laws reformed.

On this and other issues, the governor might find that his decision to serve his political base, rather than his statewide constituency, is the wrong choice.

Recent polls have shown that most Americans agree on gun reform efforts. The Dallas Morning News recently reported that more than 50% of Texas voters “favor a great deal” raising the age limit to buy an assault rifle to 21, a number which climbs to 75% for those who favor the same measure by “a moderate amount.”