HOUSTON – A series of laws easing gun regulation in Texas that were passed earlier this year took effect on Sunday as the second-largest state in the United States was responding to a second shooting rampage in a month.
The Texas legislature in May and June passed the laws making it easier for people to carry guns in public areas and more difficult for landlords and schools to regulate how firearms are stored or carried on their premises.
Supporters of the new laws argue they empower law-abiding citizens who carry firearms legally and ensure they are not defenseless when violence breaks out. The backers also said these changes protects their constitutional right to bear arms.
“It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm,” said Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican, earlier this year.
Gun-control groups have criticized these laws, arguing that instead of defending public safety, they put more people in danger.
“The Texas governor and the legislature have allowed gun lobbyists to write these gun laws,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
The shooting in Odessa and nearby Midland in West Texas on Saturday afternoon left seven dead and injured 22 others.
On Aug. 3, a gunman killed 22 people in a Walmart store in El Paso.
Texas already had some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country. But the new laws state that school districts cannot prohibit licensed gun owners from storing a firearm in a vehicle in a school parking lot and weaken restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district may appoint.
Another new law bans landlords from prohibiting residents from possessing firearms or ammunition on the property – and that places of worship are to be treated the same as other private property when determining whether a licensed holder may carry firearms on the premises.
The new laws also allow residents to carry handguns without a license in public a week after a state or natural disaster is declared. The goal, according to lawmakers: to deter looting.
“It’s about license holders being able to protect ourselves if some madman comes in and starts shooting up the place, like in Odessa. You have the right to defend yourself,” said Michael Cargill, a longtime Austin, Texas, gun advocate.
He dismissed arguments that the recent shootings and the loosened laws mean Texas is heading the wrong direction.
“We need to talk about mental health issues,” he said. “This person was at this point long before he got here... You can’t pick on the tool. We need to focus on the root cause of the problem.”
Gun-control groups pointed to polling indicating the public generally supports legislation that prioritizes gun safety and tougher background checks on gun sales. They criticized pro-gun groups and some lawmakers who have thwarted efforts to enact stricter background checks and, they argue, have otherwise done little to address gun violence.
“Thoughts and prayers have done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence. Yes, this is fucked up; and if we don’t call it out for what it is, we will continue to have this bloodshed in America,” said Beto O’Rourke, Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman.
During a news conference Sunday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said “there is no issue we will not look at” when asked whether Texas should ban AR-style rifles. But he also emphasized that some mass shootings in the state haven’t involved those types of weapons.
“It’s very important to understand that the shooting that took place in Santa Fe High School did not,” he said, referring to a 2018 shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that left 10 people dead.
“The largest mass shooting we’ve had in the state of Texas happened at Luby’s in Central Texas and involved only handguns,” he added, citing the 1991 rampage in Killeen, Texas which left 23 people dead.