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A year before Uvalde school shooting, Texas expanded gun rights

Last June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law seven measures to expand gun rights, one of which allows people to legally carry handguns without licenses.

A mass shooting Tuesday that killed at least 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school came less than a year after legislators drastically expanded gun rights. 

Pledging to keep Texas a “bastion of freedom,” Gov. Greg Abbott in June signed seven laws, one of which allows people to legally carry handguns without licenses.

“Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session,” Abbott said that day, flanked by representatives of the National Rifle Association.

Governor Greg Abbott signed seven pieces of legislation into law to protect Second Amendment Rights in Texas on June 21, 2021.
Governor Greg Abbott signed seven pieces of legislation into law to protect Second Amendment Rights in Texas on June 21, 2021.Office of the Texas Governor

One of the laws passed last year authorizes so-called constitutional carry, which means law-abiding Texans, 21 or older, no longer need a license to carry a handgun in public. The law went into effect Sept. 1.  

Another new law made Texas a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State” against new federal gun-control regulations.

Other laws made it legal for hotel guests to store firearms in their rooms and allowed gun owners to carry firearms in their holsters of choice.

The series of gun-rights laws has come under scrutiny in the wake of a massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, about 80 miles west of San Antonio.

Authorities said an 18-year-old gunman opened fire around 11:30 a.m, killing at least 15 people, just two days before summer break. The suspect acted alone and also died, said Pete Arredondo, the chief of police for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.

The names and ages of the victims have not yet been released. Robb Elementary School teaches second, third, and fourth graders, Arredondo said.

Authorities said Tuesday’s gunman might have had a handgun and a rifle, although it’s unclear how he obtained the weapons. 

Many who advocate for gun violence prevention expressed outrage over inaction by state and federal lawmakers.

In a statement, March for Our Lives, a gun-safety group started by survivors of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, said the “regular mass murder of children like this is only ‘normal’ in America.”

“You can’t stop a bullet with thoughts and prayers,” the group said. “To honor those lost and save countless more lives, we need action. We’re dying while we wait for it.”

Others blamed Abbott and other lawmakers for expanding access to firearms in Texas.

“Lawmakers like Abbott, and others who try to build a political brand by energizing NRA voters, have a lot of blood on their hands,” said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, a gun-violence prevention group.

"Their political ambitions and desire for power are simply more important than the lives of their constituents," Volsky added. "That’s what it’s all about for them."