By: Robert Davis

The shooting in Odessa, Texas over Labor Day weekend should serve as a wake-up call for those who promote gun control policies, gun rights advocates say.

“We know that killers sometimes obtain their weapons legally,” Rachel Malone, Director of Texas Gun Rights, told Gunpowder Magazine. “The El Paso shooter wasn’t charged with a thing and passed his background check. But, when criminal obtain firearms illegally—whether from a friend or buying it off of another criminal—it points to a systemic failure that gun control can never fix.”

Seth Ator, 36, the Odessa gunman, killed seven people, including an Odessa police officer, and injured 22 others with a weapon he obtained in a private sale.

Political Maneuvering
In the wake of the shooting, Texas legislators have been pushing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to pass gun control legislation, including a so-called assault weapons ban, red flag laws, and further mandates on private sales.

Gov. Abbott has publicly supported each of these policies at one time or another, but has yet to sign any legislation associated with the policies.

“There’s been a lot of political maneuvering,” Malone said. “Legislators from El Paso tried to pass laws to take guns out of the hands of bad people, but included language that would make the law have the same effect for law-abiding gun owners.”

One of the legislature’s most vocal gun control proponents is Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), who helped author HB 131, the state’s red flag legislation.

Moody also sits on the Texas Safety Commission, a newly formed group that is tasked with coming up with policies to stymie mass violence in the state. Gov. Abbott created the Commission in early September after holding a press conference where he told reporters he was looking for ways to crack down on private gun sales.

“Stigmatizing guns makes it easier to disarm citizens,” Malone said. “Once they’re afraid of the gun, you start to see shifts in public policy that reflect their fears.”

A Pro-Gun Solution
Gun control proposals that restrict rather than promote access to firearms are part of the mass violence problem, because they give criminals an upper-hand over law-abiding citizens, argues Malone.

“We need to approach this problem from two sides,” she said. “We need to enact policies that allow law-abiding citizens to carry firearms more easily, and we need to engage private communities to help catch criminals before they strike. However, neither side will work unless the discussion begins from the premise that guns save lives.”

The Texas state legislature debated passing constitutional carry legislation in early 2019, but it ultimately failed because the Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Bonnen pulled his support for the legislation after one state representative went to his house to discuss the issue while Bonnen and his family were home.

"If you want to talk about issues and you want to advocate, you do it in this building. You don’t do it at our residences," Bonnen told The Dallas Morning News. "Threats and intimidation will never advance your issue. Their issue is dead."

Reporting Suspicious or Criminal Activity
One of the main components of new gun control proposals, such as red flag laws, is to bolster the ability of the public to report suspicious or criminal activity.
For example, under a red flag law, an individual can make an anonymous plea to a court to have someone’s weapons confiscated, so long as they can prove that the individual poses a threat to themselves or others.

Gun rights advocates in the state argue that this committee is flawed, citing research from the Gun Violence Prevention Center that found the system has an astonishingly high false-positive result rate.

“Abbott is also incentivizing Texas counties with state money to report more Texans into the flawed NICS database – which has over a 93% false-positive denial rate,” Chris McNutt, Executive Director of Texas Gun Rights told GPM.

Texas already has stringent laws designed to help law enforcement catch dangerous individuals before they commit acts of mass violence. One of those laws created the state’s Suspicious Activity Reports, a program designed to give the public an anonymous way to report suspicious or criminal activity to law enforcement.

The Suspicious Activity Reports failed to identify Ator as a dangerous individual before the shooting. According to multiple reports, Ator had called local law enforcement agencies to express his concern for his own mental state, which is one of the items listed on the reports.

“The one thing I learned from Odessa is that more people need to keep a gun legally for protection,” Malone said. “Who knows how many lives could have been saved if there were others on that highway who were armed?”

Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414 (at) gmail dot com.