HOUSTON — Tony Earls hung his head before a row of television cameras, staring down, his life upended. Days before, Mr. Earls had pulled out his handgun and opened fire, hoping to strike a man who had just robbed him and his wife at an A.T.M. in Houston.
Instead, he struck Arlene Alvarez, a 9-year-old girl seated in a passing pickup, killing her.
“Is Mr. Earls licensed to carry?” a reporter asked during the February news conference, in which his lawyer spoke for him.
He didn’t need one, the lawyer replied. “Everything about that situation, we believe and contend, was justified under Texas law.” A grand jury later agreed, declining to indict Mr. Earls for any crime.
The shooting was part of what many sheriffs, police leaders and district attorneys in urban areas of Texas say has been an increase in people carrying weapons and in spur-of-the-moment gunfire in the year since the state began allowing most adults 21 or over to carry a handgun without a license.
from Maine to Arizona, will not require a license to carry a handgun.
The state-by-state legislative push has coincided with a federal judiciary that has increasingly ruled in favor of carrying guns and against state efforts to regulate them.
But Texas is the most populous state to do away with handgun permit requirements. Five of the nation’s 15 biggest cities are in Texas, making the permitless approach to handguns a new fact of life in urban areas to an extent not seen in other states.
national debate over crime. Researchers have long argued over the effect of allowing more people to legally own and carry guns. But a series of recent studies has found a link between laws that make it easier to carry a handgun and increases in crime, and some have raised the possibility that more guns in circulation lead to more thefts of weapons and to more shootings by the police.
“The weight of the evidence has shifted in the direction that more guns equals more crime,” said John J. Donohue III, a Stanford Law School professor and the author of several recent studies looking at gun regulations and crime.
Much of the research has been around the effects of making handgun licenses easier to obtain, part of what are known as right-to-carry laws, and Mr. Donohue cautioned that only limited data is available on laws that in most cases require no licenses at all.
“I think most people are reasoning by analogy: If you thought that right-to-carry was harmful, this will be worse,” he said.
But John R. Lott Jr., a longtime researcher whose 1998 book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” has been influential among proponents of gun rights, said the newer studies did not take into account differences between state handgun regulations that might account for increases in crime. He also pointed to some recent crime declines in Texas cities after the permitless carry law went into effect, and to what he saw as the importance of increasing lawful gun ownership in high-crime areas.