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What are Gun Crimes in El Paso, Texas?

Gun crimes in El Paso are offenses committed using a gun or with the intent to use one. Typically, Texans who meet specific criteria can carry or use firearms under the state's laws. However, the use or possession of a gun may be considered criminal when:

  • A person is shot
  • A thief uses or exhibits a firearm during a theft crime such as robbery or burglary
  • A person uses a firearm to intimidate others
  • A person is in possession of a gun in an area where firearms are prohibited.

Gun and firearm offenses in El Paso

Texas has laws governing who may possess a firearm and how it may be carried, used, and legally transferred from one person or entity to another. These gun laws are strict, and violating them can result in serious consequences. Overall, an individual may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the nature of the offense.

The following are examples of gun charges in El Paso:

Unlawful possession of a firearm

Even though Texas is one of the most pro-gun states in the country, the state's Penal Code imposes certain restrictions on gun ownership and possession, particularly in public places. According to Texas Penal Code Section 46.04, it is unlawful for an individual to possess a firearm if:

  • The individual was convicted of a felony and has not been released from prison for up to 5 years
  • The individual has a protective or restraining order issued against them
  • The individual was convicted of domestic violence and has not been released from prison or community supervision for up to 5 years.

This charge is typically classified as a Class A misdemeanor. Unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon is a third-degree felony.

Unlawful firearm sales and transfer

A person commits this offense when weapons such as a handgun are sold or given to someone who intends to use them illegally. The act also forbids the sale of firearms and weapons to minors, intoxicated people, felons (those who are within five years of being released from prison or parole), and people who are subject to protective orders. Unlawful transfer of certain weapons is deemed a Class A misdemeanor. When the firearm in question is a handgun, the charge can be upgraded to a state jail felony.

Unlawful possession in a weapons-free zone

There are several locations listed in Texas Penal Code 46.03, where individuals are generally prohibited from possessing or using firearms. Examples of such locations include schools, properties where school activities occur, school buses, government agencies, election polling stations, secured areas of airports, and so on. However, there are some exceptions for specific groups of people, such as peace officers and members of the United States armed forces. A violation of this section is a third-degree felony with potentially severe consequences.

Illegally or publicly discharging a firearm

A firearm should only be discharged under specific and legal circumstances. For instance, discharging a firearm while hunting, practicing on a gun range, or in self-defense are all deemed legal. However, firing a firearm outside of these circumstances may result in criminal charges.

According to state law, a person commits an offense of deadly conduct if they engage in conduct that puts others in imminent danger of severe bodily harm. As a result, pointing a firearm at another person, residence, or vehicle is reckless, regardless of whether the person believes the firearm is loaded or not.

Penalties for gun and weapon crimes in Texas

In El Paso, the penalties for committing a gun crime are severe. These penalties vary depending on the type of offense (whether the weapon was displayed or used), prior criminal record, and the crime class. Convictions can result in the following penalties:

  • Class B misdemeanor: Crimes in this category are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000
  • Class A misdemeanor: Crimes in this category are punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000 
  • State jail felony: Crimes in this category are punishable by 180 days to 2 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000
  • Third-degree felony: Crimes in this category are punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000
  • Second-degree felony: Crimes in this category are punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000
  • First-degree felony: Crimes in this category are punishable by 5 to 99 years in prison or life in prison, plus a maximum fine of $10,000.

In addition to these penalties, a person convicted of a firearms offense in Texas may be ordered to surrender their right to own or possess firearms. Because the penalties for criminal possession or use of firearms in El Paso are so severe, it is critical to consult with an experienced El Paso gun/firearms crime defense attorney to avoid conviction.

How Many Gun Crimes are Committed with a Legally Obtained Firearm in El Paso, Texas?

In 2019, the Texas Department of Public Safety(DPS) reported 215 Convictions of LTC holders (License to Carry). All these convictions involved individuals who had valid licenses to carry a firearm at the time of the offense.

The mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 2019, was an act of domestic terrorism committed with a legally obtained firearm. The gunman used a legally obtained Romania A-K 47 rifle to shoot and kill more than 20 people while injuring 23 others.

Who Can Possess a Gun in El Paso, Texas?

Article I, Section 23 of the Texas Constitution protects the right to bear arms for self-defense. Still, it also grants the state the authority to regulate the use and possession of firearms to prevent crime. Violation of these regulatory laws may constitute a violation of both state and federal firearms laws.

Before September 2021, people in the city of El Paso could own and carry guns legally with the help of a permit issued by Texas DPS. This permit is known as the LTC (License To Carry). The license allows individuals to carry a handgun openly or otherwise. Texas issues these licenses to applicants who meet the basic requirements for purchasing a handgun, such as being 21 years old. In contrast, many other states give law enforcement the discretion to deny an applicant despite meeting all of the requirements.

Gun licenses are restricted to those who meet specific requirements. To get a handgun license, a person must meet the following requirements outlined in Texas Government Code 411.172:

  • The applicant must be at least 21 years old
  • Applicant must have no prior convictions for Class A or B misdemeanors or a disorderly conduct offense within the last five years.
  • Applicant must not have engaged in delinquent behavior that would constitute a felony offense within the last 10 years.

Qualified applicants must submit fingerprints, complete 4 to 6 hours of training, pass a written exam, and pass a shooting proficiency test to be considered. They must be capable of exercising sound judgment in the storage and use of a handgun. and not be in arrears on child support or tax payments. They must also not be chemically dependent.

However, from September 1, 2021, under the new legislation (HB 1927), those who are 21 years old or older will no longer be required to obtain a license to carry a handgun in Texas. People who meet the requirements can now carry a handgun in a public place in Texas without obtaining a license to do so. Notwithstanding, Texans can still apply for the license because of its additional benefits.

Under this new legislation, to carry a handgun in public in Texas without an LTC, a person must meet the following requirements: 

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Cannot have a prior felony conviction 
  • Not be subject to an active protective order.

The new Texas law does not grant the right to carry a handgun to anyone who was barred from doing so before implementing the new law. As stated in Section 2 of HB 1927, persons who are currently prohibited from possessing firearms under state and federal law will not be granted the right to possess or carry a firearm under the provisions of this legislation. These are people who have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor domestic assault. But, after five years have passed since completing their sentence, community supervision, parole, or probation, the individual is no longer prohibited from possessing a firearm under state law.

What if My Gun is Stolen and Used in a Crime in El Paso, Texas?

Stolen firearms are frequently recovered only after being used in a criminal act. Stolen guns pose a serious threat to the residents of El Paso because illegally obtained firearms account for the vast majority of firearms used in criminal activity. 

Mandatory lost and stolen reporting requirements have been advocated as a means of averting such tragedies by increasing the likelihood that officers will be able to locate missing weapons before they are used in a criminal act. As a result, when a person becomes aware that their gun has been stolen, it is critical that they do not become mistaken as accomplice(s) to the crime. They can prove their innocence by doing the following:

  • Keeping track of their firearms: This is recommended when the firearm is purchased and even before a loss or theft has occurred. Keeping accurate records about their firearms, including documenting the make, model, and a serial number of their firearms is highly recommended to assist local law enforcement to do their jobs. As an added precaution, it is recommended that the gun owner retains a copy of the proof of purchase, such as a sales receipt. 
  • Contacting an attorney: After a gun has been stolen, the next critical step in protecting oneself is to speak with an attorney about the incident and seek legal advice. This is due to the possibility that the circumstances surrounding the theft could incriminate the gun owner. How the firearm was stored, the location where the firearm was carried, the gun owner’s negligence, the legality of the firearm, and other factors will be considered. As a result, it is advisable to seek legal advice on the specific circumstances from a licensed attorney. However, this is only a viable option if the situation is not an emergency.
  • Report the theft: Although Texans are not required to report a stolen firearm, if an unreported stolen firearm is discovered at a crime scene, it may become incriminating evidence against the gun owner. This is because if a stolen firearm is not reported, the records will only reflect that the firearm was never removed from the owner's possession. However, reporting the gun breaks the "chain of custody" in the criminal justice system. It clearly delineates when the gun was in the owner's possession and when it was stolen.

However, suppose the authorities discover that the gun owner leased, rented, or gave the weapon to someone they knew would use it illegally. In that case, the individual will be charged with Unlawful Transfer of Certain Weapons. 

If the gun thief is eventually apprehended, they will be charged with stealing a firearm. This crime is a state jail felony Alternatively, suppose the stolen firearm is used as a deadly weapon during the theft, regardless of the firearm was actually fired. In that case, the charges will be automatically upgraded to a third-degree felony. They may also be charged with other offenses such as illegal possession, which is particularly serious if they are not permitted to possess a firearm.

How Often is a Gun Used to Stop a Crime in El Paso, Texas?

In El Paso, guns and firearms can be used to defend against criminals. Using a gun to stop a crime is primarily considered Defensive Gun Use (DGU). This is the use or display of a firearm for self-defense, defense of others, or property protection. Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code states that someone is justified in using force against another if and to the extent that they reasonably believe that using force is immediately necessary to protect themselves, others, or their property against the other person's unlawful use or attempted use of unlawful force.

Armed local law enforcement officers can also use deadly force to stop a crime in El Paso. The term "deadly force" refers to force capable of causing serious injury or death, and this may include the use of a gun or firearm. However, police officers may only use deadly force if they believe that a suspect poses a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm to them or others. If an officer uses deadly force that was not justified in the circumstances, they could be held liable for any deaths or serious injuries that resulted.

Conflicting opinions exist about whether defensive gun use is effective in providing safety and deterring gun crime in the United States' gun politics and criminology. As a result, data on defensive use of force and averted crimes resulting from the presence of a defensive gun are contested, and varied. 

Consequences for Immigrants with Gun Crime Convictions

Non-citizens (including those who have obtained citizenship) convicted of gun crimes in El Paso may face various immigration consequences, including losing their immigration status, becoming ineligible for various forms of immigration relief, and even being denied bond. Convictions for firearms offenses can result in deportation under federal immigration law, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can initiate deportation proceedings against the convicted.

El Paso, Texas Weapons and Firearms Violation Attorneys

An El Paso weapons and firearms violation attorney is a criminal defense attorney who specializes in violations of state gun laws. This type of attorney protects the rights of gun owners who have been accused of committing a crime under Texas state law. Texas has some of the harshest criminal penalties in the country. Thus, it is critical for those facing criminal charges to take proactive measures to safeguard their rights and interests. One of these steps could be consulting with an El Paso, criminal defense attorney about their case.

This El Paso criminal lawyer could devote the necessary time and resources to ensuring that someone facing gun charges has the best possible chance of obtaining a favorable outcome. The attorney may employ techniques such as conducting an independent investigation and filing motions in court to challenge evidence's admissibility.

The legal defenses that can be asserted in a gun charge in El Paso depend on the specific type of case and its circumstances. The prosecution bears the burden of proof in gun crime cases, just as it does in any other criminal prosecution. The prosecution must show that the accused had a firearm, was aware of its presence and broke a firearm law, such as failing to have a valid permit to possess the weapon or discharging a weapon unlawfully.

Depending on these elements and on the unique case, common defenses include:

  • Lack of criminal intent required mental state for a conviction 
  • The weapon does not belong to the defendant
  • The firearm was discharged unintentionally or accidentally
  • Self-defense or defense of others 
  • Crime prevention
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Insufficient evidence to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • The alleged firearm is not a firearm
  • The accused possessed a firearm under the authority of a permit or license.
  • Police misconduct/entrapment
  • The defendant's rights were violated (including illegal search and seizure, coerced confessions, right-to-counsel violations, and Miranda violations).

Gun Enhancement Defenses

A common defense to a gun enhancement charge is that the defendant did not commit the principal crime. If the prosecution is unable to establish that a defendant was the primary offender of the underlying charge, the enhancement will not be applied.

Another defense is claiming self-defense or defense of others. A person may have a valid self-defense claim if they believe they are in imminent danger of being killed or injured, and they use force (such as a firearm) that is reasonably necessary to prevent or stop the harm. However, this claim only applies if the accused did not use more force than reasonably necessary,

In some cases, it may be in the individual's best interests to negotiate a guilty plea to the underlying offense in exchange for the prosecutor dismissing the enhancement charge.

An offense can be enhanced under Texas law if a gun was displayed or used during the commission of the crime or if the offender is deemed a repeat or habitual offender. These laws have the potential to extend sentences far beyond the maximum punishment for the underlying crime. For example, if a person is charged with assault and it is alleged that they used a weapon, the individual will be charged with assault, with the use of a weapon added as an enhancement to the assault charge. Any penalty imposed for the assault will be enhanced or increased in proportion to the gravity of the offense due to the use of the weapon.