Texas eases gun laws one day after Odessa massacre leaves 7 dead, 22 injured
A gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday, including a 17-month-old girl. Police have identified the shooter as 36-year-old Seth Ator. He went on the rampage just hours after being fired from his trucking job. The deadly string of events began when a Midland police officer pulled over Ator for failing to use his signal. Police say Ator then opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. He then began shooting at random residents and motorists. The rampage ended 20 miles away when the gunman died in a shootout with police outside a movie theater in Odessa. Meanwhile, eight new laws easing gun restrictions went into effect in Texas on Sunday. It is now easier to carry guns in Texas churches, schools and apartment buildings. We speak to Ed Scruggs, president of the board of directors and spokesperson for Texas Gun Sense.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in West Texas, where a gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others on Saturday. The injured included a 17-month-old girl. The shooting came less than a month after 22 people were shot dead in a Walmart in El Paso.
Police have identified the gunman in Saturday’s shooting as 36-year-old Seth Ator. The gunman went on the rampage just hours after he was fired from his trucking job. The deadly string of events began when a Midland police officer pulled Ator over for failing to use his signal. Police say Ator then opened fire using an AR-15-style weapon before speeding away. He then began shooting at random residents and motorists. At one point, the gunman ditched his car and hijacked a postal truck while continuing to shoot random victims. The rampage ended 20 miles away when the gunman died in a shootout with police outside a move theater in the city of Odessa.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to local TV station NewsWest 9, Shauna Saxton described barely escaping the mass shooter.
SHAUNA SAXTON: The gun was coming up, and it was coming at me. And he was looking at his gun, and he was looking at me. And the gun came up like this. And, I mean, it was — I freaked out. There’s a gun! He’s got a gun! In that moment, I knew that it was for me. I knew. I knew he was trying — he was going to try to kill me. My thoughts went immediately to my grandson. And I just thought, “No way.” And I just started swerving and changing and shifting and honking like crazy. … And I thought, “Oh my gosh, what if he shoots through the door and my grandson’s in the back seat?” He was right there. I don’t know how he didn’t hit me. There are now seven people that didn’t — they didn’t have the same outcome. And that is — I don’t — I have no words. I’m so sad for their families.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s unclear how the gunman obtained the AR-15-style weapon. Authorities say he failed a background check, but did not elaborate as to why. A neighbor of the gunman told CNN she reported the gunman to police just last month after he threatened her with a rifle, but police apparently never visited his house because they couldn’t find it after it didn’t show up on GPS. According to police, the gunman called 911 and the FBI national tip line shortly before he began the shooting rampage, but didn’t make any threats of violence.
While Texas is grappling with the fallout from another mass shooting, eight new laws easing gun restrictions went into effect in Texas Sunday. It’s now easier to carry guns in Texas churches, schools and apartment buildings.
We go to the capital of Texas now, Austin, where we’re joined by Ed Scruggs, the president of the board of directors and spokesperson for Texas Gun Sense.
Ed Scruggs, welcome to Democracy Now! Our condolences to your whole state and our country. Again, the second massacre within a month. What should we know about what took place and what you believe needs to happen?
ED SCRUGGS: Well, the state is reeling from this latest incident. I was really moved by the quotes in your video piece right before this of the woman who barely got away. I think many people in this state feel the same way. It’s becoming a crisis. There are people not willing to go out in public, not willing to go to outdoor events or afraid to go to the movie theater. There’s really a sense here that — it borders between anger and hopelessness. People don’t really believe we can stop this, and it has people very unsettled.
The Odessa incident is terrifying because of its random nature, but also its mobility through two cities over more than an hour. I have a really good friend; her mom was on lockdown a short distance away from where this happened. People believed that there was two shooters for some time. It was truly terrifying, and just when you think it couldn’t get worse than El Paso. So, yeah, it is a big problem here, and we have to do something.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ed Scruggs, considering these latest incidents and the continuing, as you say, public concern about shootings of this type, how do you explain these new laws, which would include such things as now you can carry a gun into a church or synagogue or mosque unless there’s a sign that specifically prohibits you from doing that, that allows that landlords are no longer permitted to ban guns in their apartment buildings that they rent to others, or that foster families can now store their guns and ammunition together, whereas previously they were required legally to keep them separate, store them separately?
ED SCRUGGS: I would say, “Welcome to the Texas Legislature,” because these laws passed earlier in the year. Our legislative session ended in June. And this came on the heels of the Santa Fe High School shooting last year, so we were supposed to get together and do some things to prevent gun violence, and, instead, the NRA and the legislative majority just expanded gun rights. This basically happens every session.
I would describe the NRA and their forces in the Legislature as almost a flesh-eating bacteria, in that they try to get any little piece they can. We don’t hear about a lot of those during the session because it’s not always big issues they go after. The goal is to expose more elements of the society to firearms. They want to make them more available and available everywhere at all times. And this is how they do it, by these little laws.
It really came home to roost after El Paso and now Odessa, because people see that the state government really is not committed to reducing gun violence. They refuse to admit that guns play a role in gun violence. And we see this as an example now.
Now, our governor, he has convened a few roundtables. He did after Santa Fe. He did after El Paso, which I took part in those. I believe, truly, he has an interest in trying to cut gun violence. But from a policy perspective, the legislative majority in the state just isn’t there. They can’t get their act together. They don’t have any room to move. We’re hoping now, after Odessa, we might get something, but it’ll take a special legislative session, which he doesn’t want to call. We’ll see. There were some tweets overnight that — somewhat cryptic. We have to figure out today where the governor said he’d like to see swifter implementation of the death penalty for mass shooters. I don’t really know how that’s going to help anything, but we’ll need to look into that.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, seemed to dismiss calls for universal background checks, tweeting, “Not only did the Odessa gunman have a criminal history… …he also previously failed a gun purchase background check in Texas… …& he didn’t go thru a background check for the gun he used in Odessa. We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands.” Also, in 2015, Governor Abbott tweeted, “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans. @NRA,” he said. Ed Scruggs, talk about Governor Abbott. I presume you have met with him. He has said he is meeting—
ED SCRUGGS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — with all sides. Talk about these comments.
ED SCRUGGS: Well, I think what it does is illustrate the juxtaposition between the appealing to the base and then having a rational policy discussion. The tweet was an appeal to the base, a very red-meat, grand appeal on guns.
The comments about background checks, it’s a little disconcerting to me. I don’t really understand that, because if he failed a background check but yet we want to keep the gun out of his hands, how do we do that? I know from meeting with the governor two weeks ago on the roundtable, there was a lot of discussion about the tremendous holes in our background check system in Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s after the El Paso massacre.
ED SCRUGGS: Yeah, after the El Paso massacre, that we had extensive discussions about how faulty the background check system is, how many holes there are in it, what we can do to plug some of those holes. They didn’t go as far as expressing the desire for universal background checks, but there was discussion of a need to plug the gun show loophole, the internet loophole, some things of that nature, to stop what they call stranger-to-stranger sales. The governor even said, “If you’re going to sell a gun like that, how do you know you’re not selling a gun to a terrorist or a criminal?” Well, exactly. Let’s plug those holes and at least make it more difficult.
We’re under no obligation to make it easier for someone like the Odessa shooter to buy a firearm. He failed that first background check. They’re not giving us all the details yet, which makes me suspicious. There are so many ways in Texas to get around the background check law that are legal still. And we need to know how he did that, and they need to tell us right away, because we cannot fix this problem unless we know the facts. And the people are demanding that we do something now, so we need to know what really happened.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ed Scruggs, I wanted to ask you about the tweet of another top Texas official. I’m talking about Senator Ted Cruz. The far-right news website Breitbart recently ran an article headlined, quote, “At least 25 people were shot, seven fatally, during the first half of Labor Day Weekend in Democrat-controlled Chicago.” On Monday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted the article and then said, quote, “Gun control doesn’t work. Look at Chicago. Disarming law-abiding citizens isn’t the answer. Stopping violent criminals—prosecuting & getting them off the street—BEFORE they commit more violent crimes is the most effective way to reduce murder rates. Let’s protect our citizens.” I’m wondering about your reaction to that and also this whole issue that there are many, many more people being killed by guns in American streets one by one, two at a time, not necessarily in these mass shootings, and how —
ED SCRUGGS: Sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — how efforts to control guns might respond to that issue.
ED SCRUGGS: Well, the using the Chicago trope, I guess you’d call it, that’s just deflection, you know, just denying the fact that Chicago is right next to Indiana, with very, very lax gun laws, that there’s actually a railroad of illegal guns flowing up to Chicago from other states. You know, they just never want to talk about that, of course. And to say that gun control doesn’t work, well, how would they know? We have this patchwork of laws around the country that makes it so easy to get around things, because folks like Senator Cruz won’t take the tough votes on federal legislation. Maybe he should think about that.
But the issue of violence in the streets and violence in urban areas, of course, it’s a major problem. And people do need to realize that far more people die in incidents such as that, as well as incidents involving domestic violence and especially suicide, than they do in mass shootings. But that’s the problem that America has in dealing with gun violence. You can’t look at it as one type of gun violence here and another type over there. It is a comprehensive solution that is needed to address the overwhelming availability of firearms in every corner of this nation, and how easy it is to get around our laws — a gun for every person. You need comprehensive regulation and reform in order to tackle that problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Ed Scruggs, you have the Quinnipiac poll that just came out: Universal background checks, 93% of Americans want them; requiring a license to purchase a gun, 82%; red flag laws, 80%; a ban on assault weapons, more than half the population, 60% of Americans, want an assault weapons ban. And at the same time, you have the NRA imploding, being investigated for corruption, one board member after another leaving. The head, Oliver North, forced out, and yet Wayne LaPierre continues to speak directly to the president of the United States.
ED SCRUGGS: Yeah. That says a lot about our political system and the corruption within it and so forth. Look, the American people — I think the average American has — they’ve decided how they want to see this problem dealt with. But in reality, our government, it has a full menu of options that it could choose from to try to tackle this problem. But for the last how many years now, we’re just not even looking at the menu. We’re trying everything but those options, usually involving increasing the availability of firearms, and it hasn’t worked. So the American people are saying, “Hey, why aren’t you at least trying some of these things?”
That’s why universal background checks, you mentioned 93% approval, red flag or extreme risk protective order laws, very, very high approval, as well. If they were going to do anything, start there, because they form a foundation of trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
But then, even though there’s overwhelming support, the way that Congress works, the way legislators work, they’re more beholden, in many cases, to the donors and the coalitions that brought them into power, so they won’t allow that. They’ll come up with excuses, such as, “Well, I don’t want to ask the government’s permission to exercise my constitutional rights.” Well, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. And so, you get all of this conflation. You get everyone blaming mental illness. I mean, they just talk around the problem. Now they’re talking about the death penalty. Anything they can do to not talk about the gun. And it’s old. People see through that. But our avenues to do anything about it are somewhat limited.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the alleged gunman’s neighbor, who said he would shoot off guns at night, one time came to her door with a rifle. In so many mass shootings, we find that the alleged gunman has a history of terrorizing women. In this case, she even called the police, and the police said —
ED SCRUGGS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — they couldn’t find her neighbor’s — where he lived, on GPS map, so they left.
ED SCRUGGS: Yeah, and you want to talk about a red flag, that’s multiple red flags right there. What I find interesting is, is that after the El Paso massacre, we had the governor, state officials, federal officials saying, “Well, a red flag law wouldn’t have done anything to stop that.” So, now we have the Odessa shooting, where clearly a red flag law might have been able to stop that. And then they say background checks wouldn’t have stopped that. As you see, this game that does on is always — it’s kind of like deflect, deflect, deflect. I know rational people see through that. But what about our leaders?
AMY GOODMAN: Right. And —
ED SCRUGGS: I mean, they just obviously don’t feel accountable enough to us to admit the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll see what happens as Congress comes back and people mobilize all over the country.
ED SCRUGGS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Ed Scruggs, we want to thank you for being with us, president of the board of directors and spokesperson for Texas Gun Sense.
When we come back, Hurricane Dorian —
ED SCRUGGS: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much. Hurricane Dorian leaves five dead in the Bahamas, at least. The destruction is enormous. At one point, the storm the second-most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll speak with a man from the Bahamas, as well as a citizen of the United States, born in the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory. Stay with us.