AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After dozens of people, including toddlers and teenagers, were gunned down in separate mass shootings at a church Sutherland Springs and a high school in suburban Houston, Texas Republicans came to the Capitol this year with their eyes on new gun laws.
The goal was not to limit access to weapons or ban assault-style rifles, but to expand gun rights. After a pro-gun legislative session applauded by the National Rifle Association, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed new laws that eased restrictions on where firearms can be carried, from schools to churches, apartments and foster homes, and barred cities from passing their own gun and ammunition sales limits.
After last weekend’s massacre of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart by an attacker with a military-style rifle, Texas’ Republican leadership is still unlikely to push for gun restrictions in a state that has long embraced firearms and has nearly 1.4 million handgun license holders, experts and advocates on both sides of the gun issue say. The shooting comes nearly 21 months after the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed more than two dozen people and more than a year after the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10.
“When Texas Republicans look at these massacres, they don’t blame guns, or gun laws. They blame people. They may blame institutions, schools, families, mental health, but not guns,” said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “If a school massacre and a church massacre didn’t change people’s opinion, the El Paso massacre isn’t going to.”
Texas’ resistance to tightening gun laws stands in contrast to how some Republican-led states have reacted after mass shootings.
After a 2018 attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that state became one of more than a dozen with “red flag” laws, which generally allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Florida also raised the legal age of buying a gun from 18 to 21.
On Tuesday, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine proposed requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and adopting a red flag law in his state, where a gunman killed nine people at a Dayton entertainment district just hours after the El Paso shooting.
Texas has no restrictions on gun sales and allows licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons openly or concealed. Long gun or rifles, like the one used in the El Paso massacre, can be openly carried in public. Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association, said Texans won’t follow other states on gun laws.
“We’re smarter. We’re self-determined and independent and look for the root cause of problems,” Tripp said. “We don’t follow people who simply say for political purposes, ‘We should have done this or that.’ We look for laws that could have made a difference.”
Abbott and other state leaders have focused on mental health, social media and video games since the El Paso shooting.
Abbott met Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers from El Paso who have pushed for gun control and said he wants to keep guns away from “deranged killers.” Abbott said the state should battle hate, racism and terrorism, but made no mention of gun restrictions.
“Our job is to keep Texans safe,” Abbott said. “We take that job seriously. We will act swiftly and aggressively to address it.”
Abbott said he will meet with experts this month to discuss how Texas can respond — much as he did after shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe.
Those meetings resulted in Abbott issuing a 43-page report with proposals for more armed guards in schools, boosting mental health screenings, new restrictions on home gun storage, and consideration of red flag laws.
Gun rights supporters immediately pushed back on anything that could be interpreted as restricting gun ownership, and the Legislature’s Republican majority pivoted to expanding run rights. The only victory gun control supporters could claim was a small item in a $250 billion state budget: $1 million for a public awareness campaign on safe gun storage at home.
“They made things worse,” said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. “I went naively into the session thinking ‘Progress here we come.’ But we ran head on into this idea that more guns make us safer.”