After Allen shooting, Texas Republican leaders downplay guns, focus on mental health
By Sneha Dey and Joshua Fechter, The Texas Tribune
“After Allen shooting, Texas Republican leaders downplay guns, focus on mental health” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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After a mass shooting on Saturday at an Allen outlet mall ended with eight people dead, Texas Republicans are doubling down on their resistance to gun control legislation.
A gunman used an AR-15-style weapon to open fire on shoppers on Saturday afternoon, killing eight people and injuring at least seven others in the suburb 25 miles north of Dallas. The massacre ended when a police officer, already at the scene, killed the gunman.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the gunman as 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia. Investigators have been searching a nearby motel at which the suspect had been staying and a home in the Dallas area connected to the suspect. The city of Allen said Sunday that the Texas Department of Public Safety would lead the investigation into the shooting going forward.
In an interview Sunday, Fox News presented Gov. Greg Abbott with a poll that showed Americans overwhelmingly favored background checks and raising the minimum age to buy firearms. But the governor shunned gun safety options in Texas and instead pointed to the need to increase mental health funding.
[In overnight testimony, Uvalde victims’ family members call on Texas lawmakers to raise age to buy semi-automatic guns]
“We are working to address that anger and violence by going to its root cause, which is addressing the mental health problems behind it,” Abbott said. “People want a quick solution. The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue.”
There has been no public indication from investigators that mental illness played a role in the shooting Saturday, but WFAA reported, citing unnamed sources, that the gunman was removed from the U.S. Army “due to mental health concerns.” Abbott attended a vigil at Cottonwood Creek Church Allen on Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Keith Self, a Republican who represents Allen, also emphasized mental health as a solution to gun violence. In an interview with CNN, Self said “many of these situations are based on” the closures of mental health institutions.
Republican leaders in Texas and across the nation often focus on mental illness after mass shootings. But mental health experts argue this lets lawmakers avoid talking about other issues related to gun violence and further stigmatizes people with mental health issues.
The shooting in Allen comes as Texas lawmakers face fresh calls for gun safety legislation. But efforts to restrict access to firearms have been elusive this legislative session. A measure to raise the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle in the state from 18 to 21 — backed by families of the Uvalde school shooting victims — appears likely to miss a deadline to pass out of a House committee on Monday.
At an intersection near the mall on Sunday, a man carried a sign with a depiction of an AR-style rifle that read, “Well-regulated militia murders 8 people in Allen.” Shoppers who had been trapped at the mall the previous day waited outside to retrieve cars that remained in the parking lot as the law enforcement investigation continued.
As Texas Republicans invoke mental illness after the Allen shooting, lawmakers on the other side of the aisle home in on the weapon the gunman used.
The Texas Democratic Party called on the state Legislature to pass gun safety legislation — such as background checks with no private sale loopholes and raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase firearms — before the Legislature adjourns at the end of this month.
“We support the Second Amendment,” the statement said. “We also believe that the best way to uphold Texas’ strong heritage of responsible gun ownership for self defense, hunting, and recreation is to make sure we’re keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and others deemed dangerous to themselves and others.”
A little after 3:30 p.m. Saturday, a gunman stepped out of a gray car outside Allen Premium Outlets and began shooting at shoppers on the sidewalk. Of the seven injured, three were still in critical condition as of Sunday afternoon, according to Medical City Healthcare. Authorities have not yet released the names of the victims but have asked witnesses or those with information to call 1-800-CALL-FBI and to share photos or video of the incident at fbi.gov/allenmallshooting.
The gunman was wearing tactical gear and used an AR-15-style assault weapon to carry out the shooting, President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement Sunday.
An AR-15-style weapon was used in 2022 when an 18-year-old gunned down 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Police responding to the Uvalde school shooting said they feared the weapon, which was originally designed for combat.
That type of rifle was also used when a 36-year-old gunman went on a shooting rampage in the Midland-Odessa area in 2019, and when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.
At the federal level, Biden called for universal background checks and safe storage of firearms. If Congress sent a bill with such measures to his desk, he said Sunday, he would “sign it immediately.” The president also ordered flags across the country to be flown at half-staff through May 11 to honor the victims of the shooting.
For 24/7 mental health support in English or Spanish, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/07/allen-shooting-guns-mental-health/.
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