The false narrative of Texas gun culture

Photo by Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

I was born and raised in Texas to parents who were high school sweethearts at a rural Texas high school. I went to Texas public schools. I had a horse as a kid. I attended UT Austin. My drink was Dr Pepper. I spend holidays on a ranch. I am a Texan through and through, and I can tell you that the gun-slinging image of Texans who don’t leave home without a gun attached at the hip is a caricature, likely fantasized and projected onto us by non-Texans. It trivializes the experience of a confident and hard-working people. 

When I was growing up, guns were for hunting and for killing rattlesnakes. I remember eating venison tamales at my grandmother’s dinner table as part of the bounty from a friend or relative’s hunt. Guns are part of our strong connection to the land and nature, and as such, have always been used for food, sport and protection — not protection from other Texans, but from wild animals. 

As a boy, my husband witnessed his grandmother on her working farm outside of Brenham taking out two rattlesnakes with a shotgun in one hand while using the other hand to hold back the dogs. Texans carried shotguns, not handguns. And most self-respecting Texans would never carry an assault weapon — where’s the sport in that? In my day, if someone needed something more than a shotgun, eyebrows were raised. In a mostly rural, mostly poor, but always proud Texas, guns were a tool — not a status symbol.

In my part of the world, no Texas civilian ever carried a handgun for “self-protection;” until fairly recently,  that was illegal.  In fact, Texas was the first state to ban the carrying of handguns in 1871. Gun restrictions in Texas were originally an effort to keep guns out of the hands of Blacks and Latinos, but they stayed on the books for 125 years. It wasn’t until after George W. Bush unseated Gov. Ann Richards in 1994 that handguns were legal to carry in the state of Texas. 

To millennials, 1994 may seem like a long time ago, but I was two years out of high school and had already left my hometown in South Texas to test the waters of Austin. I couldn’t tell you if many Texans started carrying guns after the law was passed. No one I knew did. And, before 2015, guns in Texas had to be concealed. It wasn’t until 2015 that Texas law allowed for the “open carry” of handguns. Today, the sight of someone carrying a gun still seems unnatural to me. 

Granted, my family’s relationship with guns in a mostly agrarian part of the state may be different from that of someone from West Texas, for example. To say Texas is a big and diverse state is an understatement. Still, the current prevailing political narrative that we Texans cling to our guns with no room for reasonable compromise does not square with our state’s history or with my reality as a native Texan. Invoking a presumed "Texas gun culture" as a reason to resist or be pessimistic about reasonable gun law reforms rings hollow, especially in the wake of increasing carnage on Texas soil due to gun violence.

Our heritage as Texans is in what matters, in substance: family, hard work and integrity. It demeans our identity to tie our legacy to guns. In fact, in Texas we have a saying for putting style before substance: “All hat and no cattle.” With 88% of Texans living in metropolitan areas, and far too many in fear for their safety and that of their families, it is long past time to set aside superficial clichés about who we are, and to confront gun violence head on in the only way befitting of Texans: with hard work and integrity.

Gina Hinojosa

State representative, HD-49