Texas has seen at least seven mass shootings in public places since Gov. Greg Abbott (R) took office — including the state’s worst mass shooting and its deadliest school shooting — and nearly every time, he has dismissed calls to strengthen gun regulations while simultaneously expanding the rights of gun owners.
“People want a quick solution. The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue,” Abbott, a potential 2024 presidential contender, said in an interview with Fox News after this month’s shooting in Allen, Texas, that killed eight people.
Abbott’s proposed solutions for gun violence have included increasing penalties for illegal gun use, prayer, more body armor and investments in mental health.
Abbott has funneled $25 billion into the state’s behavioral health plan so far, according to the Texas Tribune, though the state ranked dead last in the U.S. last year for access to mental health care, according to a recent report from the nonprofit Mental Health America. A recent analysis by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune also found that the majority of the state’s 19 mass shootings over the past six decades were carried out by men who had legally acquired firearms.
Texas lawmakers, under his leadership, have meanwhile made it easier to carry a gun in public and harder for local governments to regulate them. They have legalized gun silencers and made Texas a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State” that protects residents from federal gun control regulations amid rising calls to raise the age to buy semi-automatic weapons, ban high-capacity magazines and strengthen background checks.
“Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session,” Abbott said in 2021.
Here’s a look back at the last seven public mass shootings in Texas, how the perpetrator obtained their weapon, and how the governor responded.
Dallas Downtown Police Shooting (July 7, 2016):
An Army reservist fatally shot five police officers and injured 11 others during a Black Lives Matter protest against recent police killings. It was reported as the deadliest assault on law enforcement in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The 25-year-old gunman legally purchased the firearms used in the attack, including an assault-style rifle, authorities said. He did not have a criminal record in Texas and was honorably discharged from the military, though it was later revealed that he faced sexual harassment allegations while serving in the military overseas and that he may have received that honorable discharge due to an administrative error.
Dallas’ police chief said the shooter, who was Black, told police that he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” as payback for the killings of Black men.
Abbott made it a hate crime to commit a crime against a law enforcement officer out of bias against the police. He also transferred $24 million to 476 law enforcement agencies for the purchase of over 43,000 rifle-resistant body armor vests.
The Dallas mayor unsuccessfully proposed banning civilians from carrying rifles and shotguns in public due to the chaos they caused during the search for the shooter. The city’s police chief at the time said authorities had difficulty identifying the gunman because there were up to 30 civilians openly carrying rifles during the protest, which has been legal in Texas for decades. Texas also made it legal to carry handguns in public without a permit in 2021.
“We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting,” said Dallas’ then-police chief, David Brown.
Sutherland Springs Church Shooting (Nov. 5, 2017):
A 26-year-old former airman killed 26 people and injured 20 others at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. It was the state’s worst mass shooting in modern history and the fifth-deadliest shooting in the nation’s history.
The gunman had a criminal history that should have prevented him from purchasing firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Abbott also said that Texas denied the shooter a license to carry a gun.
He was regardless able to purchase a Ruger AR-556 used in the shooting because the Air Force did not properly share the former airman’s criminal records with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. A federal judge last year found that the government was liable for damages because of that failure and the Justice Department in April reached a $144.5 million settlement with the victims.
Abbott repeatedly pushed religion and God as the solution to prevent gun violence and dismissed calls for gun reform.
“The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away, the answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Abbott said at an NRA conference ― exactly two weeks before a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. “The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”
Last year, the governor cited the Air Force’s failure to supply the gunman’s criminal records as proof that background checks to purchase firearms don’t work. In 2021, he signed a bill to allow Texans to carry handguns without undergoing a background check and training.
An attorney for the Sutherland Springs victims told Texas Public Radio that Abbot’s claim that background checks don’t work was misleading and “not true,” given the federal judge’s ruling that faulted the Air Force.
“The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”
– Greg Abbott after the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting that killed 26 people
Santa Fe High School Shooting (May 18, 2018):
A 17-year-old killed 10 people ― eight students and two teachers ― and injured 13 others at Santa Fe High School, southeast of Houston.
The gunman used a shotgun and revolver that were legally owned by his father. The shooter’s attorney said the teen had no history of mental health or legal issues, though a judge later ruled him incompetent to stand trial. The teen’s parents were later sued for negligence by the victims’ families.
Abbott said prayers are not enough and that action is needed “to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”
“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” he said. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas.”
Abbott scheduled mostly private roundtable discussions with the Texas legislature and community members, including parents, students, teachers, shooting survivors and gun rights advocates.
He later signed three bills that would require school districts to have a school safety and security team and safety training for teachers and substitutes. He also expanded access to mental and behavioral health services in schools and removed a cap on the number of school marshals allowed on campuses.
Some of the survivors later expressed disappointment with Abbott’s actions ― particularly after the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde ― saying they weren’t strong enough.
“It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas.”
– Greg Abbott after the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting that killed 10 people
El Paso Walmart Shooting (Aug. 4, 2019):
A 21-year-old killed 23 people and injured 22 others at a Walmart in El Paso. It was the nation’s eighth-deadliest mass shooting ― a ranking it shares with the 1991 shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.
The gunman purchased the AK-style rifle used in the attack legally, authorities said. He told police that he had ordered the rifle online from Romania and he picked it up at a gun store near his Dallas home.
The self-proclaimed white nationalist said he was targeting “Mexicans” and that he selected the U.S.-Mexico border city ― roughly 650 miles west of his home ― in hopes of dissuading immigrants from coming to the United States. In February he pleaded guilty to 90 federal hate crimes and firearms violations.
Abbott blamed mental illness and said he didn’t think “red flag” laws could have stopped the gunman, though his office also said that the shooter’s mother had expressed concerns to law enforcement about her son prior to the attack.
Midland-Odessa shooting (Aug. 31, 2019):
A 36-year-old killed seven people and injured 25 others at random during a shooting spree that spanned 10 miles and lasted for more than an hour.
The gunman failed a federal criminal background check, reportedly due to a “mental health issue,” while attempting to buy a firearm in 2014. He ultimately got around this snag by purchasing the AR-style rifle he used in the shooting through a private seller in 2016. Private sales are not subject to a federal background check, and Texas does not have its own state requirement for comprehensive background checks when purchasing a firearm.
Abbott jointly responded to the shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, which occurred within three weeks of one another, with eight executive orders designed to strengthen the public and law enforcement’s ability to flag potential threats.
Uvalde Elementary School Shooting (May 24, 2022):
An 18-year-old fatally shot 19 students and 2 teachers inside two fourth-grade classrooms at Robb Elementary School, roughly 80 miles west of San Antonio. It was the state’s deadliest school shooting.
The gunman used two assault-style rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that he purchased legally at a local gun store just days after his 18th birthday and days before the attack, authorities said.
“It could have been worse,” Abbott told Texans a day after the killings.
“The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do: They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives,” he said.
Abbott later backtracked when a damning report came out finding that it took law enforcement officers more than an hour to enter the school and engage the shooter.
“The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse.”
– Greg Abbott after the 2022 Uvalde elementary school shooting that killed 21 people
Abbott continued after to insist that stronger regulations on firearms are ineffective and won’t stop crime. He dismissed calls by the Uvalde victims’ families to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles, saying doing so would be unconstitutional.
His solution instead was to move $105.5 million to support school safety and mental health initiatives. The bulk of it — $50 million — went toward buying bullet-resistant shields.
Allen outlet mall shooting (May 6, 2023):
A 33-year-old killed eight people and wounded seven others, three critically, at an outlet mall in Allen, just northeast of Dallas.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the man had no criminal record and had legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle that was used in the attack ― as well as seven other guns found on him.
A suspected motive has not been released, though the shooter, who died at the scene, has been described as having had a “neo-Nazi ideation.” He had a patch on him that is popular among right-wing extremists and white supremacy groups, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Abbott immediately blamed “mental health problems” and dismissed calls for gun reform. He said he has offered local officials the state’s full support and assistance in the shooting’s wake.
A Texas House committee advanced a bill two days after the shooting that would raise the minimum age to buy some semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. The bill was endorsed by relatives of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting in 2022. The bill is expected to face tough opposition from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he plans any additional legislative action in response to the Allen shooting or whether he will support the proposed bill to raise the age minimum for semi-automatic rifles.