Police officers assess the damage from a recent mass shooting in Texas. (Courtesy photo)
Police officers assess the damage from a recent mass shooting in Texas. (Courtesy photo)

A host of new firearm laws went into effect in the Lone Star State just hours after a 36-year-old white male went on a shooting rampage Saturday, Aug. 31, killing seven and injuring 22 more.

And while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed sadness during a news conference on Sunday, announcing the formation of a statewide task force, he also defended the new legislation enacted “for the purpose of making our community safer.”

Those laws, passed in June near the end of the 2019 legislative session, further loosen gun restrictions in a state that has had four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. modern history.

Praised by the National Rifle Association (NRA) as legislation which “protects [citizens’] Second Amendment rights, the new laws include the following: school districts cannot prohibit licensed gun owners from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot, provided they are not in plain view; allow some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition for personal protection in a safe and secure place; ban homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the property; prohibit residents from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun while evacuating from a state or local disaster area; and clarify the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship, allowing licensed handgun owners [outlined in Senate Bill 535] to legally carry their weapons in places of worship — coming nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 at a Texas church in Sutherland Springs.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 535, defended the recent legislation.

“We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun free zone,” she said in a written statement. “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 defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm.”

In opposition to the sweeping changes, Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, pointed to the failure of Texans to learn from the past.

“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.”

Despite the side on which one may stand, with the nation still reeling from two mass shootings which took place in early August, both at the hands of lone gunmen, resulting in the murders of 22 at an El Paso Walmart and nine in Dayton, the debate over gun safety legislation will assuredly be at the top of the agenda when Congress reconvenes on Sept. 9.

Shortly after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested their openness to gun safety laws including more restrictive background checks, and a Senate debate, respectively — views on which the two Republicans quickly retreated as the shootings became yesterday’s news.

Trump, on Sunday, praised police and emergency workers in West Texas where the most recent murders occurred while calling the gunman a “very sick person,” adding, “it could have been worse.”

However, he remained vague about legislation that’s being developed in the wake of August’s several mass shootings that have rocked the nation to its core — defiant in his unwillingness to reveal any detailed information about the proposed series of bills now allegedly under consideration.

“This really hasn’t changed anything,” Trump said after disembarking from Marine One on his return to the White House. “We’re looking at a lot of different bills … If you look at the last four or five years … even six or seven years — for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it. So, it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem.”

For the moment, Democrats and Republicans still appear to be far from reaching consensus — with the GOP, including Trump, still unwilling, or unable to go against the gun-lobbying behemoth, the NRA.

Gunman’s Shooting Spree Ends in Death

Police shot and killed Texas citizen Seth A. Ator in the parking lot of a movie theater in Odessa after Ator, who had been stopped by state troopers following a minor traffic violation on Saturday, evaded arrest by firing several shots at the officers, injuring one. He then took off in his vehicle with an assault-style rifle, armed and clearly dangerous.

Before being captured, he indiscriminately shot at motorists and law enforcement along a 15-mile stretch of land covering the towns of Odessa and Midland — even hijacking a U.S. Postal Service van and killing its driver — as he continued to shoot and kill at those unfortunate enough to stand in his way or be in his line of fire.

Those dead, ranging in age from 15 to 57, include Mary Granados, 29, the driver of the postal van.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke indicated during a press conference on Sunday that efforts continue to surmise a motivation for the shooter’s rampage. But with more than 15 crime scenes to cover, he said collecting evidence and determining what may have set Ator off may be difficult, it not impossible to deduce or confirm.

The gunman, whom Gerke says appears to have acted alone, had just been fired from his trucking job and had a criminal record after being arrested in 2001 near Waco following charges of criminal trespass and evading arrest. He did not have any active arrest warrants, however.

Among the Democratic candidates for president, Beto O’Rourke has emerged as the most vocal in his promise to make gun reform his primary campaign item, lashing out with the “F” word in an interview last weekend with MSNBC host Joy Reid and calling on Americans to vote and fight for gun control during his reaction to the Odessa mass shooting.

“That’s how we … put the lives of our fellow Americans above the NRA,” he said.

A nonprofit that tracks gun violence in the U.S., the Gun Violence Archive, reports there have been 283 mass shootings in 2019, defined as those in which four or more people were killed or injured, excluding the perpetrators.

In August alone, 53 people died in mass shootings in the U.S.

Based on the definition of mass killing as employed by the Justice Department in which at least three people die, there have been five mass killings involving firearms since the Dayton massacre last month. The incident in West Texas becomes the sixth.

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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