In a new twist, some Republican officials have started to push back against the Supreme Court’s landscape-shifting decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
In August, a federal district court found that the state of Texas could not restrict law-abiding adults under 21 from carrying a firearm for self-defense under the text-and-tradition standard set in Bruen.
“Based on the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, the Court concludes that the Second Amendment protects against this prohibition,” Judge Mark Pittman wrote in his August order. “Texas’s statutory scheme must therefore be enjoined to the extent that law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds are prohibited from applying for a license to carry a handgun.”
The decision opens up the potential for young adults to participate in Texas’s recently adopted permitless gun carry regime. But Judge Pittman stayed his decision for 30 days to allow the state to consider whether to seek an appeal. And now Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R.) has appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
That means a Republican administration is in the uncommon position of fighting to have a ruling that liberalized gun-carry laws overturned. And it isn’t just in the case of carry rights for adults under the age of 21.
The decision to fight back against a major Second Amendment ruling by an ostensibly pro-gun administration marks one of the first significant instances of Republicans playing defense against the Bruen standard. Up until this point it has largely been Democratic administrations in deep-blue pockets of the country that have been scrambling to react to the decision through court battles and new legislation.
A push back from Republican politicians against Bruen‘s legal implications could run the risk of alienating pro-gun constituencies and even certain gun-rights advocacy groups that are typically considered political allies of red-state officials.
For now, groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC)–which sued the state of Texas over its ban on gun carry for young adults back in November of last year–have issued measured responses to the state’s appeal.
“Texas Public Safety Director McCraw is welcome to appeal to a higher power, as is his right,” Bill Sack, FPC Director of Legal Operations, said in a press release. “But we fully expect that he will be equally disappointed when the Fifth Circuit properly applies the Bruen standard, just as the District Court has done, and strikes down Texas’ ban.”
However, others have been more forceful in their denunciation of Texas’s willingness to put up a legal fight.
“Judge Pittman rightly ruled that all adults should be allowed to carry their handgun openly or concealed, but once again, government officials in the state of Texas are proven to be anti-gun stooges,” Dudley Brown, President of the National Association for Gun Rights, said. “Steven McCraw and DPS leadership don’t want young single mothers or military aged adults to have their rights restored – it’s pathetic, and quite frankly, a violation of their oath of office.”
State-based groups have also called out Governor Greg Abbott (R.), who is up for reelection this November, over the decision of his Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“Gov. Greg Abbott needs to lead this state and get the Texas DPS in line,” Chris McNutt, Executive Director of the group Texas Gun Rights, said in a statement. “We fought hard and successfully passed Constitutional Carry in Texas, and the ruling by Judge Pittman rightly uses the Bruen decision from this summer to restore gun rights to a large segment of adults who’ve been wrongly stripped of their constitutional rights.”
Pressure has been building on Governor Abbott from some in the state to crack down on gun access to adults under the age of 21 following the mass shooting in Uvalde, where an 18-year old used a legally purchased rifle to commit his crime. A recent Dallas Morning News survey of likely voters found 73 percent support for raising the age to buy “semi-automatic assault-style rifles”, for instance. Abbott previously poured cold water on the idea by suggesting bans targeting that age bracket would violate the Second Amendment.
“There have been three court rulings since May that have made it clear that it is unconstitutional to ban someone between the ages of 18 and 20 from being able to buy an AR–that came out of the court of appeals and then there was a Supreme Court decision that upheld it,” he said at a campaign event late last month. “And most recently, a federal court in the State of Texas struck down a Texas law that banned people between the ages of 18 and 20 from buying a handgun. So, it’s clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde, as much as they may want it, has already been ruled as unconstitutional.”
It is unclear what changed between those statements and the Department of Public Safety he oversees challenging something he labeled “unconstitutional.” It could be that the burgeoning conflict between public opinion and recent jurisprudence on gun rights for young adults and the prospect of a looming general election played a role. Both Abbott and Paxton currently lead their Democratic challengers, though the AG race appears to be much tighter.
Perhaps it’s a ploy to court undecided voters in order to help shore up their leads over their respective challengers–particularly as candidates like Beto O’Rourke (D.) attempt to make Republican support for gun rights a salient election issue. At the same time, such a strategy could also risk alienating gun voters that are usually key to the success of a Republican campaign.
Whether the decision to appeal a significant gun-rights ruling turns out to be a political winner for Paxton or Abbott will likely determine whether other Republicans risk taking a journey down the same path.