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Harris County’s Options To Counter Gun Violence Limited

Texas state law preempts city and county governments from regulating most gun ownership and sales.


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Harris County leaders are looking at options to toughen gun control in the wake of El Paso's mass shooting. But Judge Lina Hidalgo acknowledges state law sharply limits the county's ability to pass gun control measures.

"Our hands are tied by state legislation around how the county can regulate access to guns," Hidalgo said.

Dave Fagundes, research dean of the University of Houston Law Center, says the state has effectively preempted all cities and counties from passing gun control measures tougher than those passed by the State Legislature.

"The law basically says Texas municipalities can't regulate the transfer, private ownership, keeping, transportation, licensing, or registration of firearms," Fagundes said. "Most things that have been proposed that would seek to regulate gun use or address gun violence fall into one of those categories."

Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University, says that any new county gun control ordinance would likely be overturned by the next state legislature, if not by the courts. Still, while the county's options to restrict gun violence are limited, they do exist.

"What the county probably could do is place a ban on gun shows on any county property, which would restrict shows at, say, NRG [Center]," Jones said. "You could [also] engage in more vigorous enforcement of gun violations in both the county as well as the City of Houston and prosecute those cases more zealously than say has been the case in the past."

Hidalgo says the county will take a fresh look at whether to allow gun shows on its property.