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BY JESSICA PRIEST AND PERLA TREVIZO, THE TEXAS TRIBUNE AND PROPUBLICA
It has become a mournful pattern. Following mass shootings, lawmakers in many states have taken stock of what happened and voted to approve gun control legislation to try to prevent additional bloodshed.
In Colorado, the Legislature passed universal background checks in 2013 after a shooter at an Aurora movie theater killed 12 people. After 58 people were shot dead during a 2017 concert in Las Vegas, the Nevada Legislature passed a red flag law that allows a judge to order that weapons be taken from people who are deemed a threat. And in Florida in 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that raised the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21 after a teenager with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at a Parkland high school, killing 17 people.
But not in Texas.
In the past six decades, the state has experienced at least 19 mass shootings that have killed a total of nearly 200 people and wounded more than 230 others. Yet state leaders have repeatedly batted away measures that would limit access to guns, opting instead to ease restrictions on publicly carrying them while making it harder for local governments to regulate them.
As the state Legislature convenes for the first time since the Uvalde school shooting last May, lawmakers have once again filed a slate of gun control bills. If history is an indicator, and top legislative leaders predict it will be, they are unlikely to pass.
An analysis by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune of hundreds of bills filed in the Texas Legislature over nearly the past six decades found that at least two dozen measures would have prevented people from legally obtaining the weapons, including assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, used in seven of the state’s mass shootings.
At least five bills would have required that people seeking to obtain a gun undergo a background check. Such a check would have kept the man involved in a 2019 shooting spree in Midland and Odessa from legally purchasing the weapon because he had been deemed to have a mental illness.
Seven bills would have banned the sale or possession of the semi-automatic rifle that a shooter used to kill dozens of people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.
And at least two bills would have raised the legal age to own or purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21 years old, which would have made it illegal for the Uvalde shooter to buy the semi-automatic assault rifles.
A state House committee that investigated the Uvalde massacre found that the shooter had tried to get at least two people to buy a gun for him before he turned 18 but was unsuccessful. Immediately after his birthday, he purchased two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, which he used to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
“If that law had been 21, I guarantee you he would have continued to be frustrated and not be able to obtain that weapon,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso who served as vice chair of the House committee.
Gun violence in Texas was again in the news after one person was killed and three people were wounded Wednesday in a shooting at an El Paso mall. The shopping center abuts the Walmart where the 2019 massacre took place; the latest incident came just a week after the shooter in the earlier case pleaded guilty to hate crimes and weapons charges. Though the investigation into this week’s shooting is underway, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, responded to a tweet of support sent by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by calling on him to enact gun violence prevention legislation during the current session.
A collection of reforms are necessary to help curb the number of mass shootings — and gun violence in general — across the nation, said Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“There is an enormous need for states to act, especially in states like Texas, where today someone with a really significant history of violence can purchase unlimited quantities of weapons of war without any kind of background check, where there’s no red flag law in place to give people close to them the tools to go into a court and help be a part of preventing violence, where young people can go out and purchase their own firearms years before they can buy their first beer,” Freilich said.
Abbott has repeatedly opposed legislation regulating guns. “There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using of firearms, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people,” Abbott said in a prerecorded speech to the National Rifle Association three days after the Uvalde shooting.
Since then, the governor has argued against legislation that would raise the age to purchase assault-style weapons in Texas, saying that a federal district court judge ruled last August that the Second Amendment prevents the state from barring 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns. Texas is not appealing the ruling.
Eric Ruben, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, said that the widely held consensus in the appellate courts has been that restrictions on AR-15-style weapons are constitutional, as are age restrictions. Ruben said that a U.S. Supreme Court decision last June, which gave Americans a broad right to arm themselves in public, complicated the long held consensus. The ruling rejected a standard used by most lower courts that weighed whether the law advanced public safety and instead stated that governments should pass laws that are “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
“The appellate courts have yet to weigh in more broadly on the constitutionality of raising the age to purchase military-style semi-automatic weapons, as Florida did after Parkland, after that June decision,” he said.
Neither the governor nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded to requests for comment or detailed questions. A spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan pointed reporters to previous statements in which he said he would vote against raising the minimum age to buy a firearm and that he didn’t think the House had the votes to pass such a bill.
Rhonda Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in a 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, said she’s been frustrated by the repeated unwillingness of Texas lawmakers to consider meaningful gun legislation.
“We’ve tried everything with them, but they just don’t want to do it,” Hart said. “I’ve said it, and I hope to God that it never becomes true, but they’re not going to care about fixing gun violence until a member of the family or they themselves get impacted.”
Below are details of selected Texas mass shootings in which at least three people were killed, starting with the 1966 massacre of 16 people at the University of Texas at Austin. The news organizations reviewed more than 700 bills introduced in the state Legislature since 1965, along with legislative reports, news clips, press releases and databases compiled by nonprofits that track mass shootings, including The Violence Project and Mother Jones.
University of Texas Tower shooting in Austin
When: Aug. 1, 1966
Victims: 16 killed, 31 injured
Description: An engineering student and ex-Marine sharpshooter killed a receptionist and two tourists on his way to the observation deck of the tower at the center of the University of Texas campus in Austin. Once there, the 25-year-old used a collection of guns to kill and injure dozens until police killed him. Police later discovered that the shooter had killed his mother and wife the night before. He left a note at his home requesting an autopsy on himself to see why he committed the crime. “Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type,” he wrote.
Shooter background: About five months before the shooting, a campus psychiatrist wrote in his notes that the student said he was “thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people.” But the psychiatrist did not believe he intended to carry out the shooting, according to a United Press International story published around the 20-year anniversary of the mass shooting. The student also told the psychiatrist he had physically assaulted his wife. News coverage did not specify whether the alleged assaults were reported to the police. In 1964, he had been demoted in the Marines after being court-martialed for lending money at exorbitant rates, according to a report commissioned by the governor.
Weapons: A mix of rifles, including one semi-automatic, pistols and a shotgun.
How the weapons were acquired: The college student purchased guns and ammunition from three stores on the day of the shooting, according to the report commissioned by the governor.
What happened after: During a press conference, Gov. John Connally said that he did not believe requiring people to obtain a license to own a weapon would solve gun violence. He said that even if Texas had such a law, the shooter didn’t have anything in his background to preclude him from obtaining a license to own a gun. Connally, a Democrat, said he was concerned that those who commit crimes and later plead insanity were escaping punishment.
Starburst Lounge shooting in El Paso
When: Feb. 3, 1980
Victims: five killed, three injured
Description: A 21-year-old was drinking at an El Paso bar with his brother when he started to shoot at patrons. Several of them later wrestled the gun away from him and detained him until police arrived. Later that year, the shooter pleaded guilty to five counts of murder with a deadly weapon. He is serving life in prison.
Shooter background: A report from a psychologist who evaluated the shooter after the killings said that he had previously been arrested for minor offenses but did not specify what those offenses were, according to KXAN-TV. After the shooter pleaded guilty, his attorney presented evidence that he had a drinking problem to persuade the judge to reduce his sentence. But that did not happen.
Weapons: Semi-automatic rifle.
How the weapons were acquired: Unclear.
What happened after: Texas lawmakers meet once every two years unless the governor calls a special session. Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, did not. When lawmakers returned to the Capitol in January 1981, they passed a bill, unrelated to the shooting, that allowed off-duty peace officers to carry their weapons in public.
First Baptist Church shooting in Daingerfield
When: June 22, 1980
Victims: five killed, 10 injured
Description: A former high school math teacher walked into First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, about 135 miles east of Dallas, and fatally shot five people the day before he was to stand trial for incest. The 45-year-old then shot himself in the head just outside the church, but survived. Some in the church thought he retaliated after parishioners, several of whom worked at the same school as the shooter, refused to serve as character witnesses for him in the incest trial, Texas Monthly later reported. The court heard a defense motion for a change of venue for the trial for the mass shooting in 1982. But the shooter killed himself in a county jail cell before the proceeding concluded.
Shooter background: About 14 years prior to the killings in Daingerfield, the man had fatally shot his father in the face. The investigating coroner ruled the shooting to be an accident. Then, the year before the church shooting, a grand jury indicted the man on a charge of incest with his daughter. His son told the district attorney prosecuting the incest case that he feared his father would kill him if he testified, according to Texas Monthly.
Weapons: Two pistols and two semi-automatic rifles, along with 240 rounds of ammunition.
How the weapons were acquired: Unclear. Federal law at the time prohibited someone from possessing a firearm if they had been indicted for a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, but a national instant background check system did not yet exist to prevent this shooter from buying one, Dru Stevenson, of the South Texas College of Law Houston, told ProPublica and the Tribune.
What happened after: Lawmakers did not pass measures related to the shooting when they were next in session in 1981.
Western Transportation Systems company shooting in Grand Prairie
When: Aug. 9, 1982
Victims: six killed, four injured
Description: A 46-year-old truck driver shot workers at warehouses operated by his former employer after a pay dispute. He fled the scene in a stolen 18-wheeler and was shot and killed by police after he crashed in the city of Grand Prairie, about 13 miles west of Dallas.
Shooter background: The shooter had no prior police record, according to local law enforcement officials at the time.
Weapons: Two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle.
How the weapons were acquired: Police told the press that the weapons were “over-the-counter types and not purchased illegally.”
What happened after: When the Legislature next convened in 1983, lawmakers passed a bill banning the sale of Teflon-coated bullets capable of piercing the Kevlar bulletproof vests worn by law enforcement. The bill was not related to the shooting.
College Station rampage
When: Oct. 11, 1983
Victims: six killed, no reported injuries
Description: A 24-year-old killed six people, including his brother-in-law and sister-in-law and a state trooper who pulled him over, in a rampage that extended 160 miles between College Station and Hempstead. State troopers arrested him at a roadblock in Wharton County, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He was sentenced to death in 1984 and executed in 1987.
Shooter background: Law enforcement told news organizations at the time that the shooter blamed his in-laws for his marital problems.
Weapons: Two pistols and a revolver.
How the weapons were acquired: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found in 1986 that the shooter used a revolver he stole from the state trooper he killed and that he had purchased two pistols the day of the shooting. It’s unclear where or from whom he purchased them.
What happened after: Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, attended the funeral of the state trooper. He later told police officers during a meeting in Houston that he asked prosecutors across the state to speed up trials of people accused of violence against law enforcement officers, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. When the Legislature next met in 1985, lawmakers passed an unrelated bill that prohibited cities from adopting any regulations regarding firearm sales, ownership and transportation. Another bill that had the support of law enforcement would have made it a crime to carry not just handguns but also long guns into a bar; it did not pass in the Senate.
Dallas nightclub shooting
When: June 29, 1984
Victims: six killed, one injured
Description: Witnesses and police said a 39-year-old man argued with a woman after asking her to dance with him. He briefly left the nightclub, returning with a gun and opening fire. A jury sentenced him on Nov. 15, 1984, to six life terms in prison. He died in prison in 2017.
Shooter background: The shooter had been convicted of assault 13 times in Belgium, as well as being involuntarily hospitalized for mental health disorders, between 1960 and 1980, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Weapon: A semi-automatic pistol with a 14-round magazine.
How the weapon was acquired: Police said the shooter was able to legally purchase the gun at a pawn shop in 1983 because he was a legal resident. U.S. officials said he was granted legal resident status only because they had failed to uncover his history in Belgium. Firearm sellers were also not required to perform background checks at the time, and the National Instant Background Check System had not yet been established.
What happened after: In response to the shooting, lawmakers passed a bill in 1985 that made individuals eligible for the death penalty if they were convicted of committing multiple murders in one incident.
Luby’s shooting in Killeen
When: Oct. 16, 1991
Victims: 23 killed, at least 20 injured
Description: A man crashed his truck into a Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, nearly 70 miles north of Austin, got out and began shooting patrons. After police responded and wounded him, the 35-year-old shooter retreated to a restroom, where he killed himself. Police said that the shooter appeared to be driven by an intense hostility toward women, given witnesses’ descriptions that he passed over men to shoot women and previous interactions reported by his female neighbors.
Shooter background: The shooter had several minor drug convictions, including one in El Paso for which he served six months of probation.
Weapons: Semi-automatic pistols.
How the weapons were acquired: The shooter legally bought both guns from a store in Nevada.
What lawmakers said: During the 1993 session, Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, vetoed a measure to have Texans vote on whether to permit people to carry concealed handguns in public. Richards was against legalizing the carrying of weapons in public, saying, “I am an avid hunter and believe strongly in the rights of individuals to own guns. That is not the question here. The legislation will only increase the level of violence on our streets.” In 1994, Richards lost her bid for reelection. During an interview with Texas Monthly a decade later, her campaign manager said the loss was due, in part, to her veto.
Walter Rossler Co. massacre in Corpus Christi
When: April 3, 1995
Victims: five killed, no injuries reported
Description: The gunman killed five people at Walter Rossler Co., where he had previously been employed. The 28-year-old then killed himself. Police at the time said that officials at the company angered the gunman, who had quit his job in 1994, by providing a negative reference to a potential employer. The company had also sued the gunman to recover tuition that it had paid for him to attend a college class.
Shooter background: The shooter did not have a criminal background, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which pointed only to two previous speeding tickets.
Weapons: A semi-automatic pistol and a revolver.
How the weapons were acquired: Police said the shooter legally purchased two handguns from a Corpus Christi gun dealer.
What happened after: On May 26,1995, Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, signed into law a bill that allowed people 21 or older to receive a license from the Texas Department of Public Safety to carry concealed handguns in certain public places. Licensees had to complete 10 to 15 hours of training and pass an exam. They couldn’t carry concealed handguns into courthouses and schools. Businesses could also ban them from their property. The measure initially exempted people who were considered to be of “unsound mind,” but lawmakers later revised the law to allow people previously diagnosed with a mental health condition to receive a license if a doctor has cleared them. Bush could not be reached for comment.
Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting in Fort Worth
When: Sept. 15, 1999
Victims: seven killed, seven injured
Description: A 47-year-old man entered Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth and opened fire during a concert in which hundreds of teens were present; the shooter shouted obscenities and demeaned parishioners for their religious beliefs. He threw a pipe bomb before killing himself.
Shooter background: According to police, the man had no previous criminal record. A family member told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he had a mental illness; there was no record of him being treated at local or state psychiatric facilities.
Weapons: Two semi-automatic handguns and a homemade pipe bomb.
How the weapons were acquired: The shooter legally purchased the guns from a flea market in 1992, according to The Washington Post. A bill filed in 1991 would have made it a crime to sell firearms and ammunition at Texas flea markets.
What happened after: Speaking in Fort Worth a day after the shooting, Bush said, “If there are loopholes in the law, we ought to fix them.” Under a federal law, background checks are required for firearm sales. The law, however, applies to only licensed dealers, excluding private sellers and gun shows. When Texas lawmakers next met in 2001, Bush was president. Legislation restricting gun sales and possession failed that session. Bush could not be reached for comment.
Mi-T-Fine Car Wash shooting in Irving
When: March 20, 2000
Victims: five killed, one injured
Description: A former employee went to a car wash in Irving, about 14 miles northwest of Dallas, from which he’d been fired three days earlier. He demanded that a safe be opened and then shot his former co-workers. When police caught him the next day, the 28-year-old claimed the shooting was in response to a manager refusing to rehire him. He was convicted of capital murder in 2000 and executed in 2012.
Shooter background: After the shooting, the man confessed to having separately killed a woman who had been missing since 1999. He led police to her remains. Prior to that, at age 15, he had been convicted of assaulting his aunt with a hammer and sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile correctional facility. He had also been convicted in 1991 of three counts of burglary of a building, a felony, and sentenced to five, seven and eight years in prison. The sentences were to run concurrently. Texas Department of Criminal Justice records show he was paroled for those crimes on May 3, 1999.
Weapon: A pistol.
How the weapon was acquired: A friend gave him the gun. State law does not require background checks if guns are acquired privately. At least seven failed bills filed between 1975 and 1993 would have required a person to apply for a firearm transfer permit from either local or state police and go through a criminal background check. Had such a background check been conducted, the car wash employee would have been prohibited from acquiring a gun because of his burglary convictions.
What happened after: During the legislative session that followed in 2001, lawmakers filed four bills that would have required background checks for purchases at gun shows. Each failed. Then, in 2003, state lawmakers passed a measure that stripped cities of the authority to ban people with concealed handgun licenses from taking their weapons into government facilities. By 2004, a federal law banning assault weapons had expired. The following year, a Texas lawmaker proposed legislation to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons. It did not pass.
Sash Assembly of God shooting in Sash
When: Aug. 28, 2005
Victims: four killed, no injuries reported
Description: A man who lived across the street from Sash Assembly of God, about 100 miles northeast of Dallas, began arguing with the pastor and four others outside the church. He shot and killed the pastor and another man in the town. He also fatally shot two women who were driving by the church. The 54-year-old later killed himself after a standoff with police.
Shooter background: Prior to the shooting, a couple who lived next to the church said they called the police several times to report the man for shouting obscenities at them and firing a gun, but police never arrested him because he stayed on his property, according to the Associated Press.
Weapons: A revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. Police also found a shotgun, a rifle and ammunition in his house.
How the weapons were acquired: Unclear.
What happened after: At least three unrelated gun control bills failed to pass during the following legislative session. One would have required background checks for purchases at gun shows. Another would have criminalized the sale or purchase of more than one handgun to the same person in a 30-day period. A third would have directed court clerks to send information to the Texas Department of Public Safety about people who were judged to have a mental impairment or who had been committed to a mental institution; lawmakers later passed a similar bill in 2009.
Fort Hood shooting in Killeen
When: Nov. 5, 2009
Victims: 13 killed, 32 injured
Description: A 39-year-old psychiatrist at Fort Hood carried out what is believed to be the largest mass shooting at a U.S. military installation. The 30-minute rampage ended when police shot him in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down. The shooter was convicted and sentenced to death in 2013 but remains in military prison, according to an Army spokesperson.
Shooter background: Before he was stationed at Fort Hood, the shooter had been a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Supervisors there repeatedly warned him that he was doing substandard work, and intelligence analysts began tracking his emails with at least one suspected Islamist militant in December 2008, according to NPR.
Weapons: A semi-automatic pistol with a 20- to 30-round magazine and a laser sight. He also carried a revolver.
How the weapons were acquired: He legally bought the pistol at a Killeen gun store after passing a background check. At least one bill that had been filed in 1993 but failed to pass would have classified the gun as a prohibited assault weapon because it had a 20- to 30-round magazine.
What happened after: Gov. Rick Perry, who was running for reelection at the time of the shooting, issued a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened by today’s events, but resolve to continue supporting our troops and protecting our citizens.” He did not offer specific actions he would take. Perry did not respond to requests for comment.
During the following legislative session in 2011, a measure that would have made it illegal to sell an assault weapon to someone under 21 also failed to pass. Texas did not experience another mass shooting until 2014, but in 2013 state lawmakers passed legislation allowing school district employees with licenses to carry firearms to serve as “school protectors” in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. These employees, known as school marshals, would have to undergo 80 hours of training and a psychological exam before they would be allowed to carry guns on campus. Each gun would have to be kept in a locked safe and could only be accessed when there was an active shooter, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
Fort Hood shooting in Killeen
When: April 2, 2014
Victims: three killed, 12 injured
Description: An Army specialist fired at fellow soldiers in a building on the post. He continued firing while driving away from the scene. The 34-year-old later killed himself when a military police officer confronted him in a parking lot.
Shooter background: An Army investigation concluded there were no clear warning signs that the shooter had violent tendencies, nor did there appear to be a single event or stressor that led to the shooting. Military officials, however, noted in their report that the day of the shooting he had been having issues with the paperwork to get time off and had gotten into an argument with someone at the battalion headquarters. The shooter’s grandfather and mother also had died months earlier. He was also thousands of dollars in debt and was being treated for behavioral health conditions, including depression and anxiety, the Army Times reported.
Weapon: A semi-automatic handgun.
How the weapon was acquired: He legally purchased the gun at the same store that sold the gun used in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, according to Reuters.
What happened after: During a press conference, Perry declined to take a stance on whether soldiers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on military installations. “We’ll learn lessons about what occurred here and minimize the chances of this ever happening again,” he said. Perry did not respond to requests for comment.
In the following legislative session in 2015, lawmakers allowed people licensed to carry concealed handguns to do so on college campuses. At the same time, at least four bills that would have required background checks for purchases at gun shows or between private individuals did not make it to the floor of either chamber. Other bills that failed to pass during the session would have banned magazines that accept 20 or more bullets and established red flag laws that would have created a process by which a judge who determined that a person posed a danger to themselves and others could order the seizure of their firearms for up to a year.
Attack on police in Dallas
When: July 7, 2016
Victims: five killed, 11 injured
Description: A 25-year-old former soldier targeted white law enforcement officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas. After an hours-long standoff, police detonated a bomb that killed him.
Shooter background: The soldier was sent home from Afghanistan in 2014 after his commanders found he had sexually harassed a fellow soldier. Despite this, The Dallas Morning News reported, the Army released him from active duty with an “honorable” discharge, which means he left in good standing.
Weapons: An AK-style rifle and semi-automatic handguns.
How weapons were acquired: Investigators said he legally purchased the weapons online or at a gun show, according to The Wall Street Journal. At least eight bills that were filed in Texas between 1989 and 2005 would have prohibited the sale or possession of the AK-style rifle the gunman bought, classifying it as an assault weapon.
What happened after: In response to the shooting, state lawmakers passed the Police Protection Act in 2017, making assaulting a police officer a second-degree felony punishable up to 99 years or life in prison. They also set aside $25 million for law enforcement agencies to buy bulletproof vests and body armor.
Separately, lawmakers expanded the school marshal program to private schools and increased the number of marshals from one per 400 students to one per 200 students.
Measures that didn’t pass included requiring background checks in person-to-person online firearm sales and red flag laws.
Sutherland Springs church shooting
When: Nov. 5, 2017
Victims: 26 killed, 22 injured
Description: A 26-year-old man fired more than 450 rounds inside the church that his wife’s family attended in the town of Sutherland Springs, about 30 miles east of San Antonio. He was chased and wounded by a nearby resident and later killed himself.
Shooter background: In 2012, the shooter, who served in the Air Force, had escaped a mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. He had been admitted to the facility after bringing firearms onto an Air Force base and threatening commanders, according to a police report obtained by The Dallas Morning News. In 2013, he was convicted by the military of two charges of domestic assault against his wife and son, which led to his dismissal. In 2014, he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty in Colorado’s El Paso County. The charge was dismissed in 2016 after the shooter completed probation.
Weapon: An AR-style semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine. Law enforcement also found two handguns in his car.
How the weapon was acquired: Illegally. The shooter purchased the rifle more than a year before the rampage, at a sporting goods chain store in San Antonio. He lied about his out-of-state address and criminal conviction on the application. The conviction should have prevented him from buying the firearm, but the Air Force failed to report the domestic violence case to the federal background database.
What happened after: When lawmakers met in 2019, they passed a bill that clarified people licensed to carry concealed handguns could carry them in places of worship unless those places explicitly banned the practice. Another bill that would have required people to surrender their firearms if they were convicted of a crime involving family violence, had a felony conviction or had a protective order against them was left pending in a committee.
Santa Fe High School shooting
When: May 18, 2018
Victims: 10 killed, 13 injured
Description: A 17-year-old student at Santa Fe High School, about 35 miles south of Houston, entered the campus before 8 a.m. and shot a school resource officer and more than a dozen other students and teachers. He surrendered about a half-hour later. Abbott told reporters the student had written in his journal that he wanted to carry out the shooting and then kill himself. A judge found the shooter incompetent to stand trial in 2019 and committed him to a state psychiatric hospital, where he currently resides.
Shooter background: The student didn’t have a criminal history. His father told The Wall Street Journal that he believed the bullying his son endured in school led to the shooting.
Weapons: A shotgun and a revolver.
How the weapons were acquired: The shooter took his father’s legally owned guns from their home. Texas’ safe storage law allows prosecutors to go after parents for failing to secure their firearms from children 16 years old and younger, but the shooter’s family was not liable because he was 17 years old. Some of the victims’ families argued in a lawsuit that he must have illegally acquired the ammunition because he was not at least 18 years old. They reached a settlement this month with the company, Lucky Gunner, that sold ammunition to the shooter. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to verify the age of customers buying ammunition going forward.
What happened after: After the shooting, Patrick called on parents to safely secure their guns. “Your children should not be able, or anyone else, to get your legally owned guns,” he said. “This is one big step we can take.” Abbott told the press he could support legislation that required people to report to law enforcement if their guns had been lost or stolen, hired more school counselors and shortened the time that a court has to report someone’s mental health determination to law enforcement for use in the National Instant Background Check System. Such a determination should prevent a person from legally purchasing weapons. The governor issued a statement encouraging lawmakers to consider adopting red flag laws but emphasized the need for due process. No such measures passed during the 2019 legislative session. Lawmakers instead increased the number of people allowed to serve as school marshals from one per 200 students to one per 100 students. Supporters said the increase could dissuade potential school shooters. Lawmakers also bolstered school emergency plans to include the establishment of threat-assessment teams and drills to better prepare teachers and students for emergencies. The Legislature also appropriated nearly $339 million in school safety funding.
El Paso Walmart shooting
When: Aug. 3, 2019
Victims: 23 killed, 26 injured
Description: A 21-year-old man drove more than 650 miles to El Paso from a Dallas suburb, where he lived. He arrived at a Walmart at about 10:30 a.m. and fired at families fundraising outside the store. He then went inside, shooting indiscriminately at employees and customers. Prior to the shooting, he had posted a hate-filled 2,300-word manifesto online that had white nationalist and anti-immigrant themes, speaking of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” On Feb. 8, he pleaded guilty in federal court to hate crimes and weapons charges. He will be sentenced in June.
Shooter background: The shooter didn’t appear to have a criminal history. He’d “been diagnosed with severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities” and was treated with antipsychotic medication after the massacre in El Paso, his attorneys wrote in a court filing. Weeks before the shooting, his mother had called the police to say she was worried about her son owning an AK-style rifle given his age, maturity level and lack of experience handling such a firearm, CNN reported.
Weapon: An AK-style rifle and a thousand rounds of ammunition.
How the weapon was acquired: El Paso police said the shooter legally bought the weapon online from Romania and picked it up at a gun dealer near his home in Allen. At least eight state bills filed between 1989 and 2014 would have banned the rifle as an assault weapon and prohibited selling or possessing large-capacity magazines with more than 20 rounds.
What happened after: The mass shooting happened a few months after the legislative session in 2019 concluded, and the next regular session was not until 2021. Abbott held meetings to discuss possible legislative solutions to prevent another massacre but did not call a special session. The governor formed the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and directed the Department of Public Safety to, among other things, increase the number of special agents investigating criminal gangs affiliated with neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.
When: Aug. 31, 2019
Victims: seven killed, 24 injured
Description: A 36-year-old man called 911 in Odessa, about 350 miles west of Dallas, to complain about his employer after being fired. He later called an FBI tip line and made what an FBI agent described as rambling statements “about some of the atrocities that he thought he had gone through,” according to ABC News. Police said he then hijacked a postal truck, killing the letter carrier and ditching his car. He then continued to shoot as he drove through Odessa and neighboring Midland. Police shot him dead in a movie theater parking lot in Odessa.
Shooter background: He wasn’t legally allowed to possess firearms after a court deemed him unfit because of his mental health status, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A DOJ spokesperson declined to provide specifics.
Weapon: Semi-automatic rifle.
How the weapon was acquired: The shooter first tried to purchase a gun at a sporting goods store but was rejected because his mental health status came up in a background check, according to the DOJ. Instead, he purchased a weapon from a private seller, who was not required by law to conduct a background check. At least 13 unsuccessful bills introduced between 1975 and 2015 would have required him to undergo a background check, designated the rifle an assault weapon, and prohibited the sale and possession of the firearm and of large-capacity magazines with more than 20 rounds.
What happened after: Abbott issued eight executive orders on Sept. 5, 2019, in response to the El Paso and Midland shootings, requiring state police to standardize intake questions used by law enforcement agencies and develop clear guidance to improve reporting of suspicious activity.
Patrick called for background checks for some private sales, like those between strangers, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. Such a bill, along with red flag laws and bans on assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition, failed during the next session.
In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers instead passed a bill allowing Texans to openly carry handguns without a license. They separately made it a crime to lie on a background check form, created a statewide active-shooter alert system and let school marshals carry their firearms.
Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde
When: May 24, 2022
Victims: 21 killed, 17 injured
Description: State officials said an 18-year-old sent text messages to an online friend in Germany, including one on the day of the shooting, saying he was going to shoot his grandmother and shoot up a school. About 30 minutes later, he shot his 66-year-old grandmother in the head, stole her truck and drove about 2 miles to Robb Elementary School, crashing the vehicle in a ditch. He entered the school and began shooting, ultimately killing two teachers and 19 children in the border community about 80 miles west of San Antonio. More than an hour after he arrived at the school, federal law enforcement officials entered the classrooms and shot and killed him. FBI investigators said they didn’t believe the shooter was “motivated by a particular ideology.”
Shooter background: The shooter didn’t have a criminal history, state officials said during a news conference. He had a troubled childhood in Uvalde and was bullied at school, classmates said. He stopped attending school during the pandemic. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger in late 2021 after a month for allegedly threatening a female coworker and “fared similarly at his next job at Wendy’s,” according to a report by a state House committee that investigated the shooting.
Weapons: Two AR-15-style rifles.
How the weapons were acquired: The shooter legally bought a rifle online the day he turned 18. On May 17, the day after his birthday, he purchased another rifle at a local gun shop. He also eventually bought 60 magazines and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, according to the House committee report. At least 15 bills filed in the Legislature between 1989 and 2021 that failed to pass would have made it illegal for him to purchase this type of weapon because of his age, classified the rifles as a type of banned assault weapon, or made it illegal to possess or sell large-capacity magazines with more than 20 rounds.
What happened after: Abbott rejected calls for stricter gun laws, arguing that cities and states that attempt to limit access to firearms still suffer from gun violence. Patrick described the shooting as “pure evil.” He called for more security in the state’s schools, saying on Fox News, “We have to harden these targets so no one can get in, ever, except through one entrance.” His comments echoed a statement he had made following the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018. Some of the measures filed this year include raising the age to buy assault-style weapons, allowing honorably retired law enforcement officers or veterans to provide security to schools, and requiring metal detectors at every school entrance and a police officer on every campus. One Republican wants to amend the Texas Constitution to prohibit lawmakers from regulating firearms altogether.