This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — A day after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, there was quiet reflection outside of the Texas Governor’s Mansion Wednesday afternoon, as protesters and parents brought signs and flowers.
“Enough is enough,” said Connie Hays of New Braunfels, wearing a red shirt that read “Moms Demand Action.”
Hays said she felt compelled to protest after her friend’s 8-year-old daughter was killed an Uvalde elementary school that left 19 children and two adults dead Tuesday.
“Because we have children,” she said, calling on lawmakers to pass universal background checks.
“I want [my children] to live past me. That’s why I’m here,” said her friend, Heidi Ragsdale, holding a stroller with her young child. “I won’t be able to live without them. That’s it.”
“My kids, and everyone else’s children, matter more than the NRA’s donation money,” Ragsdale added, referencing the National Rifle Association convention scheduled to take place in Houston this weekend where former President Donald Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz are scheduled to speak.
Push back on gun reform
Last year, Abbott signed measures into law further loosening access to guns. The new laws prohibit enforcement of new federal gun regulations and allows Texans aged 21 and older the ability to carry a handgun in public without training or a permit.
Under state law, the 18-year-old shooter was able to legally purchase two AR-15 style rifles. Handguns can legally be purchased at 21.
“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years,” Abbott said at a news conference in Uvalde Wednesday, defending the law. “And think about during that time, during the course of those 60 years, we have not had episodes like this.”
He stressed the need, instead, for mental health resources.
“We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said.
Responding to a reporter’s question, the governor pushed back on calls for gun control.
“There are, quote, ‘real gun laws’ in Chicago. There are, quote, ‘real gun laws’ in New York. There are, quote, ‘real gun laws’ in California,” Abbott said. “I hate to say this, but there are more people shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas. And, we need to realize that people who think, ‘maybe if we implement tougher gun laws, it’s going to solve it.’ Chicago and LA and New York disprove that thesis. And, so, if you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.”
Sen. Cruz also pushed back on calls for stricter gun measures.
“That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime,” said Cruz. “We know what does prevent crime, which is going after felons and fugitives and those with serious mental illness. Arresting them. Prosecuting them when they try to illegally buy firearms.”
Calls for gun reform
At the Uvalde news conference, Abbott’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, confronted the governor over the lack of reforms following other Texas mass shootings in El Paso and Santa Fe.
“You are doing nothing. Your office is doing nothing,” O’Rourke said before being escorted out.
Democrats are again renewing calls for “common sense” gun reforms.
“As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Biden asked at the White House Tuesday. “When, in God’s name, are we going to do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”
State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) said the governor could call a special session to require universal background checks, allow concerned family, friends and teachers to get a court order to remove guns from people who are a danger to themselves and others and raise the minimum age to purchase a gun.
“But he won’t do that,” said Eckhardt. “These are basic safety measures that a vast majority of Texans are desperate to see. It is unconscionable that our state’s elected officials are unwilling to deliver basic, lifesaving protections.”
“I am a parent,” she added in a statement. “I have been on the phone with other parents today and yesterday who feel like we are in a game of Russian Roulette. No one is safe. Who will be next? What will we do?”
In the last decade, there has been little progress in the way of federal gun reform. In 2018, following the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, President Trump issued a memorandum instructing the attorney general to propose a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. The bump stock ban went into effect in 2019.
In 2018, after a 17-year-old killed 10 people in Santa Fe, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a series of roundtables and laid out extensive school safety plan recommendations. Lawmakers also passed bills in response, including requiring school districts to set up “threat assessment teams” of people trained to spot red flags and creating a Texas Child Mental Health consortium.
Assault weapons ban, revisited
Following the attack in Uvalde, Biden brought up the 1994 federal assault weapons ban.
“When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down,” said Biden. “When the law expired, mass shootings tripled.”
The law banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. It was reintroduced in 2013, and failed to pass, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that killed 20 students and six adults.
While its effectiveness has been debated, Dr. Lori Post, with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says the ban worked.
“During the 10 years the ban was in place, between 1994-2004, there was a dramatic decrease in mass shootings,” said Post. “If we had kept the federal assault weapons ban in place it would have resulted in significantly fewer mass shootings and also the lethality would have been reduced as well.”
Last year, she authored a report that studied the effectiveness of the federal assault weapons ban. She looked at mass shootings — defined as four or more people killed — from 1966 to 2019. The report found that as many as 30 mass shootings, 339 deaths and 1,139 injuries could have been prevented if the ban had remained in place.
When the ban went into effect, about a million assault weapons were already owned and could remain in private hands. Still, other studies point to an increase in mass shootings following the lifting of the assault weapons ban. A 2019 New York University study, for example, found mass shooting deaths were 70% less likely to occur during the decade the ban was in place.
With Abbott, and others, calling for an increase in mental health services, Post cautioned the need to not stigmatize people who have mental illness.
“Most humans cannot possibly understand why would a person want to go and slaughter little children, so we automatically attribute mental health to it, when it’s really not,” said Post. “And, I think, you know, the important thing to remember is that we don’t want to stigmatize people who have mental health problems. And, that it’s not a mental illness when you’re just evil and cold or a psychopathic, narcissistic, sociopathic type of personality with no empathy.”
In February, the National Institute of Justice looked at mass shootings over the past 50 years. It found 25% used assault rifles but most, 77%, were committed with handguns. Like in Uvalde, 77% of the time those guns were purchased legally, the report found.
An assault weapons ban was introduced, again, last year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).