UVALDE – “Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has been able to buy a long gun. It’s only in the last decade or two when we had school shootings... So for a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings, but we do now. Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”
Those are the words of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just days after an 18-year-old high school student massacred 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Abbott has been in the hot seat for his record on gun laws following the shooting.
He has doubled down on his stance that mass shootings are not an issue of access to guns but instead mental health — even though Abbott slashed $211 million from the state’s mental health commission a month before the shooting.
But this particular quote has stood out to some observers as a gaping omission or misleading, particularly in the context that an 18-year-old gunman legally purchased two assault-style rifles that he used in the Uvalde shooting.
That’s because the timing of an uptick in mass shootings also coincides with the expiration of the Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, sometimes referred to as the assault weapons ban, according to a data investigation from Financial Times.
The so-called assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, prohibited certain semi-automatic weapons — like AR-style rifles — from being manufactured or sold to civilians and also banned magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds.
There were several loopholes, including allowing the sale of semi-automatic rifles that were manufactured before the ban went into effect in 1994, but researchers have found that deaths associated with mass shootings were reduced, and grew rapidly once it expired.
Abbott made no mention of the assault weapons ban during his comments.
Guess what happened where the red line is. Anyone? pic.twitter.com/vkahBGCkbj— Mike Jason (@mikejason73) May 27, 2022
History of assault rifles
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the U.S. military selected Colt to manufacture automatic rifles, which became standard issue for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War. Those weapons became known as the M-16.
“Armed with that success, Colt ramped up production of a semiautomatic version of the M-16 that it sold to law enforcement and the public, marketed as the AR-15,” according to NPR.
Colt’s patent for the AR-15 expired in the 1970s and other manufacturers started to make similar weapons. They were popularized in the decades that followed.
AR-15-style rifles like the one used in the Uvalde massacre have been involved in 11 major mass shootings since 2012, according to Yahoo. Two of those mass shootings were in Texas — Sutherland Springs in 2017 and Midland/Odessa in Aug. 2019.
They fire ammunition at up to three times the speed of sound, which is capable of liquefying organs.
They are easy to get, simple to shoot and can hold a large number of rounds in each magazine. Ammunition for the assault weapons, which were designed for the battlefield, is also relatively cheap.
A blog post from the National Rifle Association, which has been taken down, states that an estimated 8 million AR-15 style rifles are in circulation in the U.S. The pro-gun organization has said the weapon is so popular that “AR” should really stand for “America’s Rifle.” An archived version of the article can be found here.
In Texas, 18-year-olds can purchase rifles but not handguns (21 is the minimum age for pistol purchases).
Abbott, Texas has loosened gun restrictions for years
Abbott, and Texas leaders, have a steep history of loosening gun laws as opposed to imposing restrictions. Most recently, House Bill 1927, which was passed last year, allows Texans 21 and over to carry handguns — openly or concealed — without obtaining a state-issued license, so long they are not excluded from possessing a firearm by another federal or state law.
Abbott said he “absolutely” expects laws to come after the tragedy. “There will be laws in multiple different subject areas.”
He still refused to attribute the shooting to an issue of gun control.
“Let’s be clear about a couple things, that show about these back background checks. Everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say ‘well that’s the golden strategy right there.’ Look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting - a background check had no relevancy whatsoever because the killer took the gun from his parents,” Abbott said. “Look at what happened in the shooting in Sutherland Springs. There was a background check that was done. It was done in a flawed way that allowed the killer to get a gun. So anyone who suggests ‘well maybe we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health’ I suggest to you is a mistake.”
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, sent a letter to Abbott following his statements Friday and noted that in the past 10 years, Texas has suffered more mass shootings than any other state.
Gutierrez called for Abbott to call a special legislative session to address gun violence in the wake of the massacre and had a list of Texas Senate Democratic Caucus demands that included raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and requiring universal background checks for all firearm sales.