On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman from Uvalde, a small town in South Texas, barricaded himself inside the town’s Robb Elementary School and murdered 21 people, including nineteen children, in what was the deadliest school shooting since 2012
While little is known about exactly what led up to this horrific massacre, news reports suggest that the crime suspect, Salvador Ramos, who died at the scene, should never have been able to get his hands on a gun. Former friends of his told The Washington Post that Ramos had a fondness for throwing eggs at people’s cars, cutting his own face off “for fun”, shooting random strangers with his airgun and sharing his gun wishlists. fire on social media. Ramos was also known to get into fights during high school and would often lash out at his mother, which neighbors said ended in at least one visit from the police. At one point, Ramos may even have been arrested for threatening to shoot a school. But in Texas, where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, none of that stopped the troubled teen from legally purchasing two military-style semi-automatic assault rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition on his eighteenth birthday, just a week before the shooting.
Now, with the nation still reeling from the tragedy, Texas’ policies on gun sales and gun ownership have come into much sharper focus. That’s because over the past few decades — and particularly the past few years — the GOP-led state legislature has worked tirelessly to ensure that virtually anyone could obtain a gun.
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Ari Freilich, Director of State Policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Texas has “almost nothing” on its books to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a firearm.
“Almost no steps [have been] taken to prevent people with known significant risk factors for violence from accessing weapons designed to kill on a massive scale,” Freilich said in an interview.
On one occasion, Freilich noted, Giffords had the opportunity to participate in discussions and make recommendations to the Texas Security Commission. But the end result, he said, was “essentially a delay tactic, made up largely of symbolic and completely unrelated half-measures, focused on strengthening school safety and making investments that would not show greater safety, such as arming educators.” .
Last June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, stamped out seven measures aimed at expanding gun sales, promising the state would be “the leader in defending the Second Amendment.” As NBC News reported, one was a “constitutional carry” measure, which makes it legal for anyone age 21 or older to carry a gun in public without a license. Another prohibits Texas state and local governments from signing a contract with any company that “discriminates” against the firearms industry. In September, the state required banks like Bank of America, Citibank and JPMorgan Chase — which underwrite Texas’ municipal and state debt — to make a formal pledge not to exclude the gun industry from their financial services.
Furthermore, the Lone Star State has declared itself “sanctuary of the Second Amendment,” a legally dubious status that maintains common-sense gun control measures – such as universal background checks; prohibition of assault weapons; and red flag laws, which allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who pose a clear danger to themselves or their community – are totally unconstitutional.
“Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns away from law-abiding citizens – but we’re not going to let that happen in Texas,” Abbott said in June. “Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a wall around gun rights in this session.”
Abbott, who has an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and has received at least $16,200 from the NRA and Texas State Rifle Association, is a longtime supporter of gun rights. In 2015, as firearm orders surged in the Lone State State, Abbott expressed deep concern that Texans weren’t hot enough. “I’m ASHAMED,” he tweeted at the time. “Texas [is] #2 in [the] country for new arms purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.”
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Two years later, shortly after the state passed a law to reduce eligibility for an open-carrier license, the right-wing governor tweeted a photo of himself enjoying a shooting range. “This is how I celebrate the signing of a law that reduces the license fee for possession. #guns @NRA,” he wrote.
But while the governor has dramatically expanded gun rights, Lone Star State residents have repeatedly been victims of mass shootings, some of which could have been avoided had it not been for the state’s laissez-faire approach to gun rights.
In May 2018, a 17-year-old used an 870 shotgun and a .38-caliber pistol stolen from his father to murder eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. While state prosecutors may file a misdemeanor charge against gun-owning parents who did not prevent anyone age 17 and under from accessing their firearms, the shooter’s parents will not be held responsible for the shooting under the Texas state law, as The Texas Tribune reported. largely because the state’s safe storage regulations are relatively weak compared to the rest of the country.
After the 2018 massacre, Abbott oddly encouraged the legislature to consider a red flag law to “identify those who have the intent of firearm violence”. But even that proposal, which would have received support from about 72% of the state’s voters, was immediately torpedoed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, and by a majority of the state’s Republican caucus. “There seems to be a coalescence around the notion of not supporting what is categorized as a ‘red flag’ law,” Abbott admitted at the time. “What’s important is… that we work together as a legislative body on a solution to make our schools safer and our communities safer.”
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Just a year later, in August 2019, Texas was rocked by another mass shooting in El Paso, where a 21-year-old far-right gunman, motivated by anti-Latin sentiments, killed 23 people at a Walmart with a -automatic, Military style AK-47. According to the Texas Tribune, the firearm was legally purchased abroad and shipped to a gun store in Allen, Texas.
After the shooting, Abbott convened a Domestic Terrorism Task Force, the second of its kind, to gather a list of security measures for schools going forward. Comprised of faculty, students and law enforcement, the panel was sought to “review and provide advice on strategies to maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect itself against acts of domestic terrorism.” But after three years, it’s not apparent that the committee has done anything in terms of actual policy, putting the onus primarily on Texas Democrats to push for regulation.
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Democratic Senator Nathan Johnson, who supports gun reform, called gun rights a “hopelessly partisan issue”, adding that the GOP is trying to turn Texas into a “military stronghold at every level”.
“Democrats have been trying to pass minimally intrusive and proven effective gun safety laws session after session for the past decade,” Johnson said in an interview with Salon. “We are angry that what we urged the legislature to do was not only not done; it was not given a public hearing.”
He added, “It’s just an insult to the many Texans who have been harmed by gun violence, or affected by gun violence, or are concerned about the level of gun violence in our state.”
Now a newborn sanctuary of the Second Amendment, Texas was recently ranked as having the 17 weakest gun laws of every state in the country, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Currently, the state has no restrictions on high-capacity magazines, ban on assault weapons, and firearms registration laws. Texas also allows anyone age 18 and older to purchase assault weapons; allows college students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on campus; and gives aspiring gun owners a way to bypass background checks by purchasing firearms from a private dealer.
Many gun rights advocates argued that the lack of adequate gun restrictions in the state has led to disproportionate gun violence. According to Everytown, about 3,647 Texans die from guns annually, an average of about ten people a day. In 2019, about 61% of all suicides in the state were through firearms.
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But the evidence suggests that much of that violence could be lessened through sensible gun reform. In January, an Everytown study found that states like Mississippi, Idaho, Montana and Arkansas — which have a uniquely permissive stance on gun regulation — experience the highest rates of gun violence, while states like California, Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts – which take a much stricter approach – have some of the lowest rates in the entire country.
“States that have really… raised expectations about who can carry guns in public see far, far less fights turn into shootings and far fewer incidents of road rage turn into murders,” Freilich said. “AND [Republicans] can point out gaps or flaws… to avoid all tragedies, but in the meantime, that’s no reason, in my opinion, to… do nothing.”