Fact check: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Beto O’Rourke on gun laws, firearm violence

·5 min read
Jack Howland

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee for governor Beto O’Rourke are sharing their plans to address gun violence following the shooting at a Uvalde elementary school.

As they’ve responded, both candidates have made statements about gun laws and gun violence that have made us wonder: Is that true?

Responding to school shootings is likely be a focus of the state in the months to come, including on the campaign trail for governor as the November general election nears.

Here are a few of the statements Abbott and O’Rourke have made so far about guns and gun violence in the state.

Abbott: Texas gun laws not related to Uvalde shooting

“Let’s be clear about one thing, none of the laws that I signed this past session had any intersection with this crime at all. No law that I signed allowed him to get a gun — the gun that he did get.” -May 27 news conference in Uvalde

True. None of the bills signed by Abbott in 2021 appeared to have affected the gunman’s ability to purchase the rifle used in the shooting, according to a Star-Telegram review of gun laws passed. The state’s permitless carry law, one of two dozen laws Abbott signed related to weapons, wasn’t relevant in this particular case. Texans have long been able to buy long guns at 18 and carry them openly. The legal age to buy a handgun in Texas is generally 21.

However, advocates for gun safety measures would point out that the Legislature also passed on laws that may have made it harder for the gunman to access a firearm. For instance, a bill filed by Rep. Lina Ortega would have raised the age to buy an assault-style firearm to 21. The bill didn’t get a committee hearing.

Abbott: 18-year-olds have always been able to buy long guns

“It’s my understanding that ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle, and since that time it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings.” -May 27 news conference in Uvalde

True and false: The 18-year-old age limit on long gun purchases has been in place since 1973. Before that, there wasn’t an age restriction on buying long guns, according to historic Texas laws cited by Abbott’s office and an interview with historian Brennan Rivas, who studies the state’s gun laws. Texas did prohibit the selling of pistols to minors, per a 1897 law.

The landscape of gun technology has changed.

“When we talk about rifles throughout most of American history, we’re not talking about AR-15s,” Rivas said. “We’re talking about a traditional weapon that, up until these assault-type weapons, was made out of wood and metal. ... We’re talking about weapons that were relatively slow to shoot. Heavy and cumbersome to wield.”

School shootings have long been a part of American history. The first documented school shooting at a primary or secondary school in the U.S. was in Louisville on Nov. 2, 1853, when a teacher was shot at a schoolhouse, according to the Washington Post. The first known mass shooting involving students was in St. Mary’s Parochial School in Newburgh, New York, in April 1891, accoring to K-12 Academics. A shooting at the University of Texas at Austin in August 1966, when a gunman opened fire from the UT tower, is one of the most well-known modern mass shootings.

Abbott: Gunman broke law before pulling trigger

“In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger. It’s a felony to possess a firearm on school premises, but that did not stop him.” -Prerecorded remarks at the NRA convention on May 27

True. It’s generally a third-degree felony to have a firearm on “physical premises of a school or educational institution, any grounds or building on which an activity sponsored by a school or educational institution is being conducted.” It’s a class B misdemeanor to “display a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.” It’s also a class C misdemeanor to trespass on school grounds.

O’Rouke: Six major mass shootings during Abbott’s tenure

While Abbott was governor, there have been “six major mass shootings in the state of Texas.” -Dallas town hall on June 1.

True. Groups that track mass shootings define “mass shootings” different ways. O’Rourke used a article that relies on a Mother Jones database defining a mass shooting as single attack in which three or more victims were killed in a public place.

The mass shootings since Abbott took office in 2015:

Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvlade on May 24 Midland-Odessa shooting spree on Aug. 31, 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting on Aug. 3, 2019 Santa Fe High School shooting on May 18, 2018 First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs shooting on Nov. 5, 2017 Shooting of Dallas police officers on July 7, 2016

O’Rourke: There have been 21 school shootings in Texas this year

“There were 21 school shootings in the state of Texas in the year 2022, thus far on the first date of June.” -Dallas town hall on June 1

False: The Gun Violence Archive recorded four school shootings at secondary and elementary schools as of June 1.

The Gun Violence Archive defines a school shooting as “an incident with death or injury that occurs on school property when students, faculty and/or staff are on the premises.” The definition includes any instance of gunfire where someone was shot or killed, even if it was unintentional.

O’Rourke: Gun violence is leading cause of death for kids, teens

“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death in the state of Texas for kids and teens” -Austin town hall on June 3

True: According to the CDC, there were 483 firearm-related deaths in Texas in 2020 for kids and teenagers ages 1 through 19, the most recent figures available. The next leading cause of death was motor vehicle traffic incidents.

O’Rourke: Texas can’t intervene if someone says they’re planning attack

Texas has no red flag law or extreme risk protective order option, then continues “if someone is saying that they are going to kill somebody, that they have a dream of murdering their classmates, there is nothing right now legally that we can do to intervene.” -Austin rally on June 1

True and False: Texas does not have what’s often called a “red flag” law, which generally allows a family member or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily have a person’s guns removed if they’re determined to be a threat to themselves or others. There are other ways to intervene if someone meets the threshold for psychiatric commitment or a criminal conviction, said Ari Freilich, the state policy director for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, but to meet either requires a lot of evidence.