The new laws make it easier to carry guns in public places, including schools, apartment buildings and places of worship, in the state of Texas and were approved by Texas' Republican-controlled legislature

By Ian Horswill

Posted on September 2, 2019

Less than 24 hours after a gunman shot at least seven people dead and wounded another 24 in Odessa and Midland, Texas, the state has loosened its firearm laws.

The new laws make it easier to carry guns in public places, including schools, apartment buildings and places of worship and were passed by the state of Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in June. An additional bill restricting guns in airports and passed by lawmakers was vetoed by Abbott.

Abbott said after 36-year-old Seth Ator, armed with an AR-style rifle, had gone on a shooting spree on Saturday (local time): “I am tired of the dying of the people of the state of Texas. Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable and action is needed.”

“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,” Abbott added.

The Midland and Odessa mass killings took place exactly four weeks after 22 people were killed by another gunman in the city of El Paso, Texas. Texas has also watched in horror at two other high-profile mass shootings in the past two years. In May 2018, a gunman believed to be have been a student at Santa Fe High School killed 10 people and wounded 13. In November 2017, a gunman killed 26 people and wounded 20 more during a Sunday church service in Sutherland Springs. The Sutherland Springs rampage is the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history and the deadliest shooting in a place of worship in modern US history.

Yet the following laws took effect in the state of Texas on Sunday:

  • Allow licensed handgun owners to carry weapons in places of worship, including churches and synagogues.
  • Ban landlords and homeowners from prohibiting tenants to own, carry and transport guns on their property.
  • Prevent school districts from prohibiting licensed gun owners — including school employees — from storing guns and ammunition in school parking lots as long as it is not in plain view.
  • Allow foster homes to store firearms.
  • Prevent citizens for being charged for carrying a handgun without a license while evacuating or returning to a declared disaster zone.
  • Allow disaster shelters to take in evacuees who have guns.
  • Allow schools to have more armed marshals on campus.
  • Defend licensed gun owners who unknowingly enter designated gun-free zones as long as they leave after being told about the policy.

Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention advocacy group Brady, criticised the relaxing of the laws.

“Many states took the opportunity in the last two years to learn lessons from the tragedies in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and the everyday gun violence that plagues our citizens, and enacted new laws to protect public safety through expanded background checks and extreme risk laws,” Brown said.

“Texas lawmakers, instead … doubled down on an NRA led agenda to encourage guns everywhere, no matter the risks and costs to safety.”

The shootings began during a traffic stop on Interstate 20 westbound. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Ator was in a gold vehicle being pulled over for a traffic violation and his car was still moving when the gunman, now identified as Seth Ator, “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots toward the DPS patrol unit”.

One of the two troopers was shot and Ator sped away from the scene. Odessa Police said Ator continued to fire from his moving vehicle at random people as he drove through Midland and Odessa. He shot one civilian then headed through the city of Odessa and kept firing.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said that Ator abandoned his original vehicle and hijacked a US Postal Service mail truck. The mail carrier driver Mary Granados was shot and killed.

Ator then made his way toward a movie complex called Cinergy on Highway 191 in Odessa. Officers cornered him in the parking lot and a gun battle ensued. Ator was shot and killed by officers at the scene.

The injured included a 17-month-old girl, Anderson Davis, who was flown to a local hospital. At least three law enforcement officers were also shot, including a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, a Midland Police Department officer and an Odessa Police Department officer.

If you feel this report of massacres carried out by men with guns in the US is sensationalised, take the time to check out the Gun Violence Archive 2019.