Texas lawmakers relaxed gun laws in the years before Uvalde school shooting

·3 min read
Tessa Weinberg/tweinberg@star-telegram.com

At least 19 students and two adults are dead after a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday said the dead included students and a teacher who were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a city west of San Antonio. A 18-year-old gunman entered the school with a handgun and possibly a rifle after abandoning his car, Abbott told reporters. The gunman is deceased and it’s believed responding officers killed him, Abbott said.

“Texans across the state are grieving for the victims of this senseless crime and for the community of Uvalde,” Abbott said in a statement.

The mass shooting is one of several in Texas in recent years, including attacks at a church in Sutherland Springs, a high School in Santa Fe, a Walmart in El Paso and in the Midland-Odessa area.

Responding to the shootings, there have been calls for Texas to do more to prevent mass shootings and tighten gun laws, but the Texas legislature has largely loosened laws related to access to firearms.

Here’s how Texas has responded to mass shootings and where gun laws stand in Texas.

2019 legislative session

The 2019 legislative session, which started in January of that year, was the first after the shootings at Santa Fe High School and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people and a pregnant woman were killed in the church shooting. Ten were killed at the High School northeast of Galveston.

Following the legislative session, Abbott held round tables and issued a school safety plan.

During the session, lawmakers passed legislation to bolster the number of school marshals and to increase mental health resources. Senate Bill 11 aimed to hire more mental health counselors and create threat assessment teams. It also allocated roughly $100 million for schools to secure campuses and established the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium to address students’ mental health needs.

The legislature also passed a law allowing people to carry guns at places of worship, as long as the place of worship doesn’t prohibit it.

However, the legislature didn’t take steps to restrict access to guns. The National Rifle Association cheered the session as “highly successful“ after 10 gun-related bills it supported were made law.

2021 legislative session

In the days following the El Paso Mass Shooting, Abbott announced two task forces: The Texas Safety Commission and the Domestic Terrorism Task Force. Days later, the shooting in Midland-Odessa would occur.

On Sept. 12 he issued a Texas Safety Action Report that included a recommendation to make background checks more accessible for private gun sales. No such proposal made it to law. Abbott also issued executive orders that aimed to improve reporting of suspicious activity and law enforcement training.

There were calls for the legislature to take action to restrict access to guns, but those efforts largely fell flat.

The legislature did pass a law expanding access to guns — permitless carry, which had failed to gain traction in previous sessions. The law, often referred to by supporters as “constitutional carry” removes the requirement for a license to carry a handgun. Texans have already been able to carry rifles without a license. People can still opt to have a license if they choose.

A bill creating a Texas Active Shooter Alert System by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, and a bill by Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, making it a state jail felony for a person not allowed to possess a firearm to lie on a submitted form when trying to buy one, were passed in response to the shootings, according to The Texas Tribune.

Former Star-Telegram reporter Tessa Weinberg contributed to this report.