Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other state lawmakers have weakened Texas’ gun control laws in recent years, even after deadly shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, a high school in Santa Fe and a church in Sutherland Springs.
Abbott signed a law last year that allows Texans to carry handguns without a license, so-called permitless carry. Before the law went into effect in September, Texans needed to be licensed, fingerprinted and trained.
Earlier, in 2015, Texas passed a law permitting those with concealed handgun licenses to carry a concealed weapon on a college campus. One lawmaker has wanted to extend that measure to public schools.
Now after Tuesday’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, where 19 children and two adults were killed, Abbott and other politicians are being blasted by gun control advocates.
“School shootings are not acts of nature, they’re man-made acts of inaction, of cowardice, of corruption by all lawmakers who refuse to pass laws proven by data to stop preventable senseless shootings like in Uvalde,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We cannot and will not accept a reality in which our children aren’t safe in schools or their communities.”
Shooting in Uvalde
On Tuesday, Abbott tweeted that Texas was grieving for the victims of the senseless crime and for the Uvalde community.
“Cecilia & I mourn this horrific loss & urge all Texans to come together,” he wrote.
His office did not immediately return a voicemail but last year, when Abbott signed seven pieces of law to protect gun ownership, he said in a statement, “Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns from law-abiding citizens — but we will not let that happen in Texas. Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session."
Texas has the 15th weakest gun laws among the 50 states, according to the Giffords Law Center. Gun homicide rates have spiked more than 90% in the state in the last decade, rising almost every year since 2011, according to the center, founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot at a constituent meeting. Texas is the leading source of guns trafficked across the border with Mexico, the center says.
The center worked with Texas in 2019 when Abbott convened a Texas Safety Commission after the deadly shooting in El Paso. Abbott tasked the commission to make recommendations to lawmakers to keep residents safer from violence.
“Unfortunately, the commission proposed largely symbolic or unrelated half-measures that ignored the central threats fueling gun violence across Texas,” Giffords’ state policy director, Ari Freilich, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We released statements criticizing the commission's recommendations as political half-measures and called on Governor Abbott and Texas lawmakers to come together to enact real solutions to protect Texans from gun violence. Instead, Texas has continued to weaken its gun safety laws, instead of strengthening them.”
The Giffords Center outlined reforms that it believed could help prevent gun violence in Texas:
- Close gaps that allow people to buy guns without passing background checks.
- Pass an extreme risk protection or red flag law that allows weapons to be temporarily taken from someone who poses a risk.
- Strengthen protections for survivors of domestic violence and violent hate crimes by tightening its eligibility standards for access to firearms.
- Limit the sale and manufacture of military-style weapons, including large-capacity magazines.
- Raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase the firearms most commonly used in shootings.
- Strengthen laws to curb gun trafficking.
“In Texas, you can buy semiautomatic rifles at age 18 and carry them around in public without a background check or training, but you’re not old enough to buy beer or cigarettes,” Watts tweeted. “Uvalde.”
The gunman who opened fire at the Robb Elementary School in Ulvadle on Tuesday had a handgun and possibly a rifle, Abbott said. He was 18 and was killed by police officers.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez said he had been told by Texas Rangers that the gunman had bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday in Uvalde.
“We are heartbroken for everyone impacted by this senseless act of violence in a predominantly Latinx community,” said Rena Estala, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Students Demand Action. “School is the last place where kids should have to worry about gun violence. We need leaders at every level to prioritize gun safety now.”
Texas has had some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent years. In 2017, a gunman entered a church in Sutherland Springs and killed 26 people before shooting himself later that day. He had served in the Air Force but was discharged for bad conduct. The Air Force had failed to report his conviction for assaulting his wife.
At Santa Fe High School in 2018, a young man opened fire, killing 10.
And in El Paso, the gunman shot back-to-school shoppers at a Walmart in 2019. The gunman targeted Latinos and immigrants and killed 23.
Gun control advocates argue that the United States would be safer with fewer guns. But after the Santa Fe shooting, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the opposite.
"When you're facing someone who's an active shooter, the best way to take that shooter down is with a gun," he said. "But even better than that is four or five guns to one."