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What are Gun Crimes in Houston, Texas?

Gun crimes in Houston involve committing weapons violations according to the Texas Penal Code. While Texas has looser gun laws compared to the rest of the country, there are still a number of gun crimes that one can commit in Houston. Specific gun crimes in Houston include:

  • Prohibited weapons - a 3rd-degree felony with charges including up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000
  • Unlawful carrying of weapon - class A misdemeanor with charges of one day to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000
  • Carrying weapon prohibited place - a 3rd-degree felony with charges of a minimum of two years to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000
  • Unlawful carrying handgun by license holder - either a class A misdemeanor or a 3rd-degree felony depending on the specific offense
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm - either a class A misdemeanor or a 3rd-degree felony depending on the specific offense
  • Unlawful possession of body armor - a 3rd-degree felony with charges of a minimum of two years to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Unlawful transfer of firearm - class A misdemeanor or a state jail felony if it involves a minor
  • Gun smuggling - more than two guns is a 2nd-degree felony with charges of a minimum of two years up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of up to $10,000; one or two guns is a 3rd-degree felony with charges of two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

How Many Gun Crimes are Committed with a Legally Obtained Firearm in Houston?

As of 2018 in Texas, there are nearly 1.4 million people who have a state-regulated license to carry a firearm. It is estimated that in 2019 at least 36% of people in Texas own guns. These glaring statistics of legally obtained firearms in Texas contribute to the gun crimes and firearm violence that occurs in Texas. There were approximately 3,683 gun-related deaths in Texas in 2019 and other gun crimes include fatal domestic violence cases, minor deaths in accidental shootings, and illegal export of firearms. 

From the years of 2009 to 2014, a number of crime guns were recovered in Mexico, and it was discovered that 41% of them originated in Texas. This is an unsurprising statistic as the Houston Police Department reported that in 2021, 2,604 guns were stolen from vehicles in Houston and ended up in the hands of criminals. The statistic seems to rise every year as in 2020, it was reported that 2,368 guns were stolen from vehicles in Houston. 

In 2020, 228 people in Texas were killed as a result of domestic violence. Approximately 67% of those killed by their intimate partners were killed with a firearm. Texas law prohibits people who have domestic violence convictions from purchasing a firearm, and it is the second-most frequent reason for a rejected firearm purchase application. The background check for purchasing firearm checks whether a person has been convicted of domestic violence or if they are under a protective order due to family violence and prohibits such people from legally owning a firearm.

Who Can Possess a Gun in Houston?

In Houston, a license is not required to own a firearm or to carry a handgun, openly or concealed. However, a background check is still needed before purchase. According to Texas law, a person can possess a gun in Houston under the following requirements:

  • Legal resident of Texas for at least six months prior to the application date (or can be eligible for a non-resident license)
  • Must be at least 18 years old to buy a rifle and at least 21 years old to buy a handgun
  • No felony convictions
  • No Class A or Class B misdemeanor convictions currently and in the last five years
  • Not a fugitive from justice
  • Not a chemically dependent person
  • Able to exercise sound judgment in regards to how to properly store a handgun
  • Fully qualified under federal and state law to purchase a handgun
  • No delinquencies in making child support payments
  • Not currently under a court protective order or a restraining order in a spousal relationship
  • Has not been adjudicated as having engaged in delinquent conduct, which violates a penal law of the grade of felony
  • Has not failed to disclose or make any material misrepresentation in a submitted application.

The following people are prohibited from owning a gun in Texas:

  • A person who has been convicted of a felony within five years of being released from confinement. After five years, a person convicted of a felony may possess a firearm only at the premises where they live
  • A person convicted of domestic violence offenses within five years of being released from confinement
  • A person under 21 years of age outside of the premises of his property.

What if My Gun is Stolen and Used in a Crime in Houston?

In Houston, every year, there is an increasing amount of guns being stolen, mostly from vehicles, and ending up in criminal hands. In 2021, the number of firearms stolen from vehicles was 2,604. Texas leads the nation in the number of guns stolen, with 186,548 stolen firearm reports between 2007 and 2016. Additionally, this statistic is likely undercounted as Texas does not mandate the reporting of stolen firearms to the police. 

There are steps one can take to protect themselves against this crime. One may be in serious legal trouble if a personal gun is stolen and used in a crime, such as being accused of conspiracy to commit a crime. Steps must be taken to help prove that the gun was genuinely stolen, or else the gun owner risks being accused of knowingly transferring a weapon into the hands of a criminal, which is a serious gun crime in Houston.

Although there are 1.4 million people in Texas who have a state-regulated license to carry, there are only 725,368 guns registered in Texas. This is because there is no mandatory gun registry in Texas. Therefore, to protect against the consequences of gun theft, the first step is to keep a personal record of firearms. Document each firearm’s make, model, and serial number, and keep a copy of the receipt proving purchase. The next step is to contact an attorney to discuss the details of the incident. It is crucial to discuss the situation with a lawyer before contacting the police to be sure not to incriminate oneself. After contacting a lawyer, report the theft to the police. 

Although reporting a stolen firearm to the police is not a legal mandate in Houston, it will decrease culpability in the event of the stolen gun ever being used in a crime. The intention is to break the “chain of custody” in order to protect oneself from any link to the weapon being used to commit a crime. The police will document the firearm as stolen into a database used by law enforcement.

How Often is a Gun Used to Stop a Crime in Houston?

Texas recently passed a permitless carry law that allows citizens to carry handguns in public without a permit or proper training. This law was passed with the justification that it can help prevent crime because people will have a way to protect themselves in the face of criminals. However, research suggests that there is an increase in crimes following permitless carry mandates because more people resort to gun violence to settle disputes and disagreements. Certain studies have suggested that crime rates go up 10% to 15% in states with open carry laws. Authorities in Houston, Texas, worry that this new law will increase crime and violence, as well as result in more firearms being stolen and ending up in criminal hands. The Police Assistant Chief of Houston stated that most stolen guns are used in shootings, homicides, and violent crimes. 

Consequences for Immigrants with Gun Crime Convictions

Under U.S. immigration law, immigrants convicted of either a misdemeanor or felony firearm offense could face deportation, a downgrade of legal status, or even be banned from ever reentering the United States. A non-citizen immigrant in the United States is prohibited from purchasing and owning firearms. There are a number of crimes and non-criminal acts that could result in an immigrant being removed from the country, including trafficking of firearms and concealed weapons charges. However, these consequences apply to immigrants who have been convicted, not merely accused, of a gun violation. 

Immigrants who were granted asylum in the United States will only be deported if they commit a particularly serious or aggravated offense. In Houston, Texas, criminal offenses that involve firearm possession are considered aggravated felony offenses and have the same consequences as other serious crimes, such as rape.

The following federal firearm offenses are considered deportable crimes for U.S. non-citizens:

  • Purchasing a firearm
  • Selling a firearm
  • Offering for sale
  • Exchanging a firearm
  • Using/owning a firearm
  • Carrying a firearm
  • Attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the above.

Houston Weapons and Firearms Violation Attorneys

Weapons charge attorneys in Houston defend all gun violations, including unlawful possession of a weapon, felon in possession of a weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, a threat with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, theft of a firearm, sale of an illegal weapon or gun, and unlawful possession of a weapon in an airport.

There are numerous exemptions that apply to most gun charges that only an experienced criminal defense lawyer can use to defend against gun violation charges. A weapons and firearms violation attorney will be educated about gun laws and Constitutional protections the police have to abide by which will aid in representing the defendant effectively against gun crime charges.

In Houston, a criminal defense lawyer can help defend a gun charge by examining certain circumstances surrounding a gun violation. Such examinations include the intention with the weapon, how it was used, criminal history, state of mind at the time of the offense, what led to the event, and how the evidence was handled.

Common defenses that an attorney will use against a weapons violation include:

  • Claiming the defendant (the person accused of a gun violation) lacked the intent or knowledge required to be convicted of an offense
  • Illegal obtainment of evidence by the police is in violation of the defendant’s rights
  • Claiming the defendant was not involved in the crime by proving that a witness misidentified the defendant
  • Interpreting the evidence to exonerate the defendant
  • Claiming defendant was unaware of the fact that they were violating a weapon law
  • Exemplifying that the defendant has no previous criminal record and has outstanding moral character 
  • Challenging true possession of a weapon
  • Fourth Amendment violations
  • Fifth Amendment violations
  • Self-defense legal justification.

Gun Enhancement Defenses

A gun enhancement charge is a charge added on top of an underlying offense that one was charged with in order to lengthen the punishment for the perpetrator. The prosecution will often try to tack on additional charges to an existing offense. For example, someone charged with assault can also be charged with a weapons charge if they allegedly used a weapon in the assault. This will increase the consequences for the defendant exponentially as well as create difficulty for the defense as now there are two separate charges that the defendant’s legal team must fight against.

Typical defenses for gun enhancement charges include claiming that law enforcement violated the defendant's Second, Fourth, or Fifth Amendment rights. The most common defense for a gun enhancement charge is that of the Second Amendment, more commonly known as an individual's right to self-defense. An attorney can argue that the defendant reasonably feared imminent harm and used the firearm to protect oneself or others, which is a constitutional right. A defense claiming violation of the Fourth Amendment will state that any evidence gathered was done so illegally, or during an “unreasonable” search and seizure from the government. This will eliminate any evidence gathered. A Fifth Amendment violation defense will protect the defendant from incriminating oneself, therefore the burden of providing evidence and proving the crime beyond a reasonable doubt is on the prosecution.