El Pasoans critical of state’s new gun laws as community remembers Aug. 3 shooting

El Paso News

The temporary Walmart memorial before it moved to Ponder Park.

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Texas leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott visited El Paso in the aftermath of the Aug. 3, 2019 shooting, promising the state would address gun violence and that rhetoric toward immigrants would be toned down.

For two years, the El Paso and Juárez community kept the victims of the Aug. 3 shooting in its thoughts and prayers.

In that time, a 23rd member of the El Paso and Juárez community died from his injuries during the mass shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart. His name was Memo Garcia, a soccer coach who battled injuries for months.

And, hopes are still high for Mario de Alba, whose wife and child were also injured during the mass shooting. He has been battling injuries in a Chihuahua hospital after having been transferred from University Medical Center and other facilities.

El Paso and Juárez have buried 23 residents and wished them peace in eternity. They were only shopping for back-to-school supplies and groceries when they left this Earth.

In the aftermath, state leaders promised El Pasoans that there’d be change and for some time, there was hope. Committees on public safety were created and hearings were held.

But in the Legislature’s first session since the shooting, the passing of unlicensed carry of firearms is a let-down of those efforts.

“I have to remain hopeful, hopeful because there are families that lost loved ones that are looking for answers and looking for fixes to this type of violence,” state Sen. Cesar Blanco said.

But former state Sen. Jose Rodriguez was skeptical change would come, when state leaders began speaking of possible changes to gun laws in Texas after the shooting.

“I was convinced the governor was not serious when he had the commission established,” Rodriguez said. “He made all kinds of indication, this last session, we would get some gun laws passed that would address gun violence. I do think we went backwards instead of forward on gun issues.

“It does, in my view, affect the progress on healing,” he said.

And, though some changes were made at the state level to increase cooperation between law enforcement agencies, Rodriguez said none of them address issues El Pasoans were hoping for.

A University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll showed a majority of Texans opposed the unlicensed carry legislation before it was passed. And, Quinnipiac University released a poll further validating that a majority of Texans are against it.

James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at UT, said residents in urban areas tend to be warier of gun control compared to rural communities. And, that suburban Texans tend to fall in the middle with gun issues. But, with unlicensed carry, suburban residents tend to side with urban communities, he added.

Henson said as Texas has passed less-restrictive gun laws over the last several years, more conservatives, specifically women, have begun to be comfortable with keeping laws as-is rather than reduce restrictions.

He says more Texans supported closing loopholes on background checks than open carry in previous years.

“The context that we’re seeing in the legislature right now is a real focus by Republican legislatures on the Republican primary next year,” he said. “I think because Republicans had a good election year in the state in 2020, they’re thinking less about the preferences of the overall body of voters out there who, in this case, oppose unlicensed carry.

“They’re thinking more about the most conservative Republicans that tend to vote in Republican primaries. And, that’s having a huge influence on legislative action here.”

Blanco said this year’s legislation has done nothing to make communities throughout the state safer. And, that Republican lawmakers have largely ignored recommendations from a public safety action report that was authored in the aftermath of the El Paso and Odessa shootings.

He said he was confident the recommendations would make their way through the state Legislature since they were drafted with bipartisan hands.

The state senator says he will continue his efforts to push for gun reform because residents in El Paso and across the state are calling for it.

This year, Texas has seen the growing issue of mass shootings. A 27-year-old in Bryan, Texas allegedly killed one person and wounded five others, which included a state trooper.

In Austin, one person was killed and 13 others were injured during a mass shooting on 6th Street, an entertainment hub in the state’s capital.

Persis Beaven, an advocate with Moms Demand Action in El Paso, says advocates are not against individuals having access to guns. But calls on lawmakers to ensure there are appropriate background checks of individuals who carry weapons.

“Starting on Sept. 1, we’re not going to know who had the training, who passed a background check and who is actually mentally stable to carry a gun in public,” Persis Beaven, of Moms Demand Action said. ““We deserve to be safe.”

And, in El Paso, a false alarm about a shooting at Cielo Vista Mall had residents reminiscing about the events of Aug. 3. Customers ran for cover thinking a shooter was at the shopping center, many hiding in storage areas or dashing for exits.

“Everyone in that closet was terrified,” someone at the shopping center told KTSM 9 News at the time.

A family member of Mario de Alba, a survivor of the El Paso shooting, says it is inconceivable to see the state not address what access individuals seeking to do harm have to firearms.

“From as far as Santa Fe, Texas to here at home in El Paso, we have seen the carnage that irresponsibility and poor decisions can cause,” he said. “We must, as a community and a state, fight against these laws and do better for the future of Texas, and if not try to help end the gun violence Americans face daily, the least that can be done by our own Governor is assure the people of our state that those who do carry know how to properly use their weapon.

Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, Texas and suspect in the El Paso mass shooting, told police his intention was to “kill Mexicans.” In Texas, there is an estimated 11.5 million residents of Hispanic descent in a state with 29 million residents total.

And, in El Paso, 88-percent of the over 800,000 living in the county are of Hispanic origin.

Crusius posted a screed just before he turned an AK-47 on customers, which parroted the rhetoric that migrants were “invading” and he was defending the state.

“I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” he wrote.

His actions point to an entangled issue that mixes gun violence and white supremacy.

When Abbott came to El Paso the day of the mass shooting, he said it was not time to think about gun control and other gun-related policy changes. And, in the weeks following his initial visit, he met with El Paso legislators and the families impacted by one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

He said “mistakes were made,” referencing campaign literature that told Texans to “defend” the state from undocumented immigrants. And, he promised victims and the El Paso community there would be change.

“Mistakes were made. And course correction has been made. I emphasize the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way,” he said. “And, we will make sure that we work collaboratively in unification.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: KTSM 9 News has reached out to Texas Governor Greg Abbott for comment.

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