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As many call for tighter gun laws, Texas set to loosen up

Beginning Sept. 1, it will be easier to carry and store guns in Texas, where five of the 20 deadliest shootings in the United States since 1900 occurred.

Ten new pro-gun laws will take effect in Texas in four weeks, less than a month after 22 people died in a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measures after they were passed in a 2019 legislative session that the National Rifle Association, or NRA, called "highly successful" at the time, celebrating that the measures "will further loosen Texas' permissive gun laws" and would send the "gun control crowd home empty-handed."

Texas is home to almost 1.4 million holders of active firearm licenses, and five of the 20 deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 1900 have occurred in the state. Among them is the rampage in El Paso, where authorities said Monday that the number of deaths had risen to 22.

The NRA said its "deepest sympathies are with the families and victims" of the shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed Sunday. The organization said it wouldn't "participate in the politicizing of these tragedies."

The NRA did heavily influence the political process in Texas, however, lobbying for all 10 of the new bills, some of which will make it easier to store or carry guns in foster homes and on church and public school grounds:

  • Foster homes: A bill that was cleared May 21 and signed by Abbott weakens state laws on safe storage of firearms in foster homes.

Texas had previously permitted approved foster parents to keep licensed firearms in their homes, but only if weapons and ammunition were stored in separate locked locations. The new law allows guns and ammunition to be stored together in the same locked location — a protocol that is discouraged by the pro-gun National Shooting Sports Foundation.

When the law was passed, the NRA's lobbying group, the Institute for Legislative Action, or NRA-ILA, called it "just the first step toward restoring the Second Amendment rights of foster parents and their families."

  • Churches: A new law will remove "the premises of a church, synagogue, or other established place of religious worship" from the list of premises where carrying a licensed handgun is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Beginning Sept. 1, carrying properly licensed handguns into a house of worship that publicly declares that it bans weapons on its grounds will be a Class C misdemeanor subject to a maximum fine of $200. The Texas House Research Organization, a nonpartisan legislative agency, said the measure was intended to bring houses of worship in line with other private property.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, said in a statement that "those with evil intentions" would carry guns into churches regardless of the law.

"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," she said.

  • Schools: A new law expands state regulations that allow licensed gun owners to transport and store their weapons in parked vehicles on school grounds by banning school districts from specifying how they must be stored.

The political action committee of the Texas State Rifle Association, the NRA's local affiliate, argued that allowing schools to set the storage rules would let them "effectively prohibit the possession of firearms in private motor vehicles."

Read about all of the new gun laws

  • Disasters: Texas will now allow gun owners to carry their guns with them while evacuating from a state- or local-declared emergency — even if they don't have valid licenses to carry.

Supporters argued that compelling gun owners to leave their weapons behind puts those weapons "at risk from looters." But Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo put the measure in the context of Hurricane Harvey, which killed 107 people and caused $125 billion in damage in Houston and southeast Texas in August 2017.

"We experienced one of the worst disasters in Texas history during Harvey," Acevedo said when the bill was passed in May, adding: "This bill wasn't needed then and isn't needed now. This will embolden 20,000+ gang members and will not help law enforcement."

The NRA did suffer one defeat when Abbott signed the state budget bill, to which lawmakers had quietly added $1 million to fund a public campaign to promote safe storage of firearms.

A separate bill to fund the program had earlier been defeated under lobbying by the NRA, which argued that gun rights groups and gun manufacturers already organize similar initiatives and that state-run campaigns could be "corrupted" by anti-gun rhetoric.

CLARIFICATION (Aug. 8, 2019, 6:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article omitted the intention of a new law that lowers the penalty for taking licensed weapons into houses of worship that publicly ban them. The nonpartisan Texas House Research Organization said the measure resolves a possible contradiction in the state penal code regarding houses of worship and other private property. The article has been updated to reflect the organization's analysis.