Lawmakers reflect on changes to gun safety legislation since Aug. 3 mass shooting

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This rendering shows the Grand Candela and plaza planned for the El Paso Walmart next to Cielo Vista Mall, where 22 people were killed in mass shooting Aug. 3. (Courtesy Walmart)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Accessing a gun in Texas has become easier in the two years since the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso.

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels vowed to improve gun safety after the massacre.

KTSM 9 News analyzed policy changes since the shooting and spoke with state and federal lawmakers, as well as White House officials on the work being done to protect communities like the Borderland across the country.

“We had an opportunity to really turn a corner as a country after August 3rd, and we are moving in the wrong direction,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told KTSM.

The passage of permitless carry across the state alarms Democratic lawmakers and gun safety activists.

“I find it appalling that our governor — who gave El Paso his word that he would seek to keep guns out of the hands of madmen — has basically made it far easier for that to happen,” Escobar said.

KTSM reached out multiple times to Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz and the Republican National Committee for participation in this story but none returned our requests.

Democratic lawmakers say they’re as frustrated by Republicans’ silence in areas like these as they are about GOP action in others.

“Republicans passed permitless carry — and quite frankly — that bill was a slap in the face after what happened in Midland/Odessa and El Paso,” said Texas Sen. Cesar Blanco.

Despite the obstacles, Blanco successfully passed some bipartisan legislation this session, specifically a bill that would make it more difficult to lie on a background check before purchasing a gun.

“My ‘Lie and Try’ bill was passed in both the House and the Senate, unfortunately, the other recommendations were met with partisan opposition,” he said.

Addressing and prosecuting the motivations for mass gun violence is top of mind for the Biden Administration, White House officials told KTSM. 

In 2019, the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act reported a 113-percent increase in hate crime murders that year because of the death toll at the Cielo Vista Walmart shooting, which made up about half of all hate crime-related murders in the country that year.

Additionally, the FBI reported a 9-percent increase in anti-Hispanic hate crimes that corresponded with an increase from four consecutive years prior.

The Biden Administration is at work to combat hate crimes.

“When we continue to specifically talk about mass shootings, we’re going to continue to make sure that the Department of Justice and the Attorney General has a renewed focus on hate crimes and that we accept it for what it is and deal with it,” said Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. “Tragedies like these should not happen and they should never happen again.”

Members of the El Paso delegation from the Texas Legislature remain in Washington, D.C., after breaking quorum to block the vote of a controversial voting bill during a special session convened by Abbott last month.

Delegates say the issue is about more than voting rights, but rather what Democrats say are a series of actions accentuating hatred that leads to violence.

“It’s sad that we’re here today on the anniversary of the August 3rd mass shooting,” said Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez from a rally in Washington, D.C.

“It was driven by so much hate, you had an individual drive 10 hours just to hurt people who look like me — and our community — because of the color of our skin,” she said. “But it comes as a surprise now that we’re standing here today fighting legislation that’s driven by that same hate.”

The issues aren’t contained to one session or one bill, says Rep. Joe Moody, also from D.C.

“The debate over gun safety, racism and white supremacy intersected in a very violent way in El Paso two years ago,” he says.

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