In the wake of mass shootings, new Texas gun laws loosen firearms restrictions

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The day after seven people were shot and killed in Odessa, and only 28 days after 22 were shot and killed in El Paso, ten new gun laws took effect in Texas, all of them aimed at loosening restrictions.

The common denominator between the two shootings, besides the unspeakable carnage, was the use of an assault weapon.

"These are weapons of war," said Mary Duty, the chairwoman of McLennan County's Democratic Party. "They are intended for combat and designed to leave victims with gaping wounds that usually can't be treated, and they die."

No law passed the 86th Legislative Session, nor was any signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, that placed any kind of restriction on the sale or purchase of any type of firearm. There was no new move toward more intensive background checks for buyers.

"It (new legislation) has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence in my state and throughout the nation," Democratic Presidential Hopeful Beto O'Rourke told MSNBC Sunday morning.

O'Rourke went on to predict: "If we don't speak clearly and decisively, we will continue to see this type of random gun violence in our cities."

"I don't remember a single bill that restricted gun laws in Texas," state Rep. Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, said. "I don't remember anything."

The two incidents in Texas inside 30 days left a total of 30 dead and 45, including several children and law enforcement officers, wounded by gunfire.

Then there are those who lost a loved one or friend, countless thousands who suffered personal trauma as they ran to escape or hide to prevent themselves or their families being shot, and those who stepped over lifeless bodies running to escape.

Some were just lucky.

"I was a target, I was his target, and the gun was right in my face," said Shawna Jackson in an interview with MSNBC. Jackson said she is amazed that she, her husband and the couple's two-year-old escaped being shot in Odessa Saturday as they were driving home from a shopping trip.

"This is an absolute tragedy," state Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, said Sunday.

Anderson represents the legislative district where the Midland/Odessa gunman, Seth Altor, is said to have lived. He suggested "setting up a committee to look into what causes these things and do what we can to try to minimize the loss of life."

"We are living in a war zone," lamented Duty, who says she favors some legislative action on firearms that is meaningful.

"I'm a gun owner. I live out in the country and there are critters all around. A person needs a gun, but not an assault rifle," Duty said, "My 20-gauge will kill that rattle snake just as dead as an AK-47 will."

Sheffield said a discussion he'd participated in recently considered asking the legislature to declare gun violence a threat to public health in the state.

"If it were to be named a public health hazard, that would change the dynamic on the gun violence discussion," Sheffield said.

"We're going to be looking at every issue," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said during a Sunday news conference in the Permian Basin.

Many suggest the violence has its roots in people who have mental health issues and the Legislature crowed at the end of the most recent session about all the improvements it had made to provide mental health services to Texans.

But after years of eviscerating state mental health services, especially closing state mental health hospitals which led to a massive shortage of mental health beds in the state, to today's conundrum where the biggest mental health facilities in the state are state prisons and county jails there still is much more to do on that front, too.

"The state of Texas is in the midst of a mental healthcare treatment crisis," a February report issued by Cross Creek Hospital, in Austin, warned.

The report, which points out that Texas ranks 48th among the states in the U.S. when it comes to funding mental health programs for residents, also mentions "insufficient funding, staffing shortages, and substandard services as among the obstacles that are preventing many Texans from receiving effective treatment for a wide range of mental health concerns."

While new laws like Sen. Jane Nelson's (R-Flower Mound) SB 10 is a step in the right direction, it seems like a first step, some say.

"As we've seen with recent acts of violence, increased suicide rates and lives shattered by drug and alcohol abuse, Texas students need our help," said Nelson.

Across Texas, there is a shortage of mental health professionals, with 206 of the 254 counties in the state falling short of the recommended one provider for every 30,000 people, so SB 10 creates "comprehensive child psychiatry centers" across the state.

Abbott, while speaking Sunday in Midland, said the 10 new laws just placed into effect, like Senate Bill 535, which removes "a church, synagogue, or other established place of religious worship" from the list of prohibited locations for carrying a firearm, or House Bill 1177, to allow gun owners to carry guns, openly or concealed, for up to a week while evacuating from a declared state or local disaster area, or SB 741, that forbids property owners associations from prohibiting or restricting the possession, transportation, or storage of a firearm or ammunition and prohibits restrictions on the lawful discharge of a firearm, will "make our cities and communities safer".

"It's hard to see how any of that can make any of us safer," Duty said.

The rest of the new gun law list includes: HB 1143 prevents 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, as long as they are not in plain view, HB 1387 abolishes the cap on how many school marshals can carry guns at public or private schools, Under HB 2363, certain foster homes will be allowed to store firearms and ammunition, as long as they are stored together in the same locked location for personal protection and HB 1791 closes loopholes in the state's "wrongful exclusion" law that cities, counties and state agencies have been using to restrict License To Carry holders in government buildings.

Also HB 121 protects a License To Carry holder from prosecution for the offense of trespass at an establishment that has signs prohibiting guns if the license holder leaves immediately when asked, HB 302 says residents or guests can't be restricted by lease agreements from carrying, storing, or possessing a firearm or firearm ammunition on certain residential or commercial property and SB 741

forbids property owners associations from prohibiting or restricting the possession, transportation, or storage of a firearm or ammunition. The law also prohibits restrictions on the lawful discharge of a firearm.

But why can't Texas take the lead on the issue rather than waiting for someone else to do it, or for the federal government to take a stand?

Dan Prashner, Associate Judge for Travis County Probate Court No. 1, says Texas could re-appropriate the funds to help but hasn't.

"Other states have the excuse of being poor. Texas simply spends its money elsewhere."

Of the 150 members in the Texas House, 83 are Republicans, 66 are Democrats and in the Senate of the 31 total, 19 are Republicans, 12 are Democrats, Texas House and Senate records show.

Sheffield also said gun lobbies have significant influence in Texas: "The gun lobbies are so strong in Austin and they have a lot of people who vote," Sheffield said, and they are the prize.

In most other places groups like the NRA are well-loved for their money, but Sheffield said in Texas it's not so much about the cash, it's about the voting bloc.

"It's all about the voters, about the people who really get out and vote."

The Texas gun lobby wasted no time Sunday responding: "Tell your U.S. Senators and Congressmen - No New Gun Control Laws," a statement by the Texas State Rifle Association said.

Legislative Director Mike Cox wrote: "There will be future attempts to restrict and reduce your second amendment rights. TSRA is committed to protecting those rights.

"Your gifts to the TSRA PAC go directly to supporting the Legislative and campaign process: printing postcards, supporting pro-gun state candidates, and making friends in the Legislature."

News 10 on Sunday attempted to contact state Reps. Dr. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, Hugh Shine, R-Temple and Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, along with Sens. Dawn Buckingham, R-Abilene and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, but was not able to speak with any of them.