As Texas reels from its second mass shooting in a month, a raft of new state laws have come into effect loosening regulations and easing access to guns.
House Bill 1143 updates the Texas Education Code to “prevent school districts from regulating the manner in which a licensed person’s handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored in their vehicle in a school parking area” while Senate Bill 535 permits licensed handgun owners to to carry firearms in places of worship.
House Bill 2363 makes it legal for foster homes to store firearms and ammunition and House Bill 302 bars homeowners or landlords from preventing their tenants from possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a gun at the property they are renting.
“We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun-free zone,” state senator Donna Campbell told CNN, defending legislation she co-sponsored. “Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what. It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenceless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm.”
All four bills were passed during the 86th Texas legislature, becoming law on Sunday 1 September, a day after seven people were killed and at least 19 injured in the towns of Midland and Odessa when a gunman described as a white male in his 30s went on a shooting spree before being killed by police.
The attack follows the murder of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso's Cielo Vista Mall on 3 August by 21-year-old shooter Patrick Crusius, who posted a white nationalist manifesto on 8chan prior to embarking on his terror campaign complaining about “the Hispanic invasion of Texas”, echoing racist rhetoric used by Donald Trump and his campaign on Facebook.
In response to the latest mass shooting, Texas governor Greg Abbot said in a statement: “The first lady and I are heartbroken over this senseless and cowardly attack, and we offer our unwavering support to the victims, their families and all the people of Midland and Odessa.
“I want to remind all Texans that we will not allow the Lone Star State to be overrun by hatred and violence. We will unite, as Texans always do, to respond to this tragedy.”
Vice president Mike Pence said following the shooting that Mr Trump and his administration “remain absolutely determined” to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to take such steps “so we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities in our country.”
But after initially backing stricter background checks in response to El Paso and a second incident on the same day in Dayton, Ohio, Mr Trump’s appetite to address gun control and stand up to the influence of all-powerful lobby group the National Rifle Association appears to have waned, the president since preferring to blame video games and mental health concerns for America’s gun violence epidemic.
On Sunday, Mr Trump thanked local law enforcement for their quick action in Odessa and described the incident vaguely as, ”A very tough and sad situation!”
Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have meanwhile called on Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to hear the HR8 background checks bill the House of Representatives passed in February.
“Enough is enough. Every day, the gun violence epidemic inflicts a devastating toll in communities across America, this time in west Texas. The @SenateGOP must end its obstruction & finally pass House-approved legislation to #EndGunViolence,” House speaker Ms Pelosi tweeted.
El Paso native and Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke echoed her sentiments on CNN’s State of the Union: “If we don’t call it out for what it is, if we’re not able to speak clearly… act decisively, then we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed in America and I cannot accept that.”
Fellow Texan Julian Castro, also in the race for the White House, likewise added his voice to the growing pressure on the administration and Senator McConnell on NBC’s Meet the Press: “It’s past time to act.”
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