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Shootings Don't Spark Calls for Gun Restrictions

Despite recent high-profile shootings in Texas and other states, advocates on all sides of the gun-control debate say there is little chance for change to gun laws.

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Texas laws get low marks from gun control groups, but even in the wake of recent high-profile shootings in Texas and two other states, there is little call to restrict access to guns here.

Part of the reason for the relative silence, say gun rights advocates, is that their counterparts who want more restrictions have had little presence in the state recently.

“They pretty much left about 15 years ago here in Texas,” said Jerry Patterson, the state land commissioner. Patterson, who was influential in passing the state’s concealed handgun law as a state senator in 1995, said that it’s natural for some groups to call for legislation in the wake of highly visible shootings.

“There’s a clamor for more gun control laws, and that understandable,” said Patterson. But, he said, the last 50 years have seen an “almost precipitous” drop in gun crimes, which means current laws are working.

“The difference is that today, we have crazy people,” Patterson said. “How do you ferret out the weirdos?"

The gun control debate has become more prominent in recent weeks following mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wis. On Monday, a fatal shooting in College Station brought Texas into the conversation. Thirty-five-year-old Thomas Alton Caffall allegedly fatally shot two people — one of them a police constable — and wounded four more before being killed by police near the Texas A&M University campus.

The College Station police department said Caffall had several long guns and a pistol. How the guns were obtained, they said, was still under investigation Tuesday afternoon.

An attorney for Caffall’s family told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was suffering from “mental issues” prior to the shooting. 

Sam Hoover, a staff attorney for the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said one of the few gun-control measures that Texas has implemented in recent years is contributing data, including mental health information, to the National Instant Background Check System. 

“Everything I’ve seen recently has been more in the pro-gun camp,” Hoover said. “The problem as always seems to be the power, or the perceived power of the pro-gun lobby.”

According to the National Rifle Association, Texas does not require a permit to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns. Gun owners do not need to register their firearms and owners do not need to be licensed. Handgun owners need a permit to carry their weapons, but rifle and shotgun owners do not.

Texas does not require a background check to transfer a firearm between unlicensed individuals, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state also does not require dealers to obtain state licenses, and it does not regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles or large capacity ammunition magazines.

Neither Colorado nor Wisconsin, the sites of the recent mass shootings, require background checks for private transfers of guns, nor do those states prohibit the transfer of assault weapons. Like Texas, Colorado does not require firearms dealers to obtain a state license.

Hoover said that while incidents like the recent shootings provide an opportunity for groups like his to promote gun control laws, there is little chance that change is on the horizon.

“I think it’s very, very remote. Even at the state level, I think there’s a very small chance. I haven’t heard a big buzz about anything being done,” Hoover said.

One of the few pieces of gun legislation to come in front of Texas legislators in recent years was an amendment that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses. The measure came within two votes of passage in the Texas Senate. Some gun rights groups have said they will try to revive the measure during the next session.

Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, said a level-headed debate about gun control has been made more difficult because of the emotion stirred by the recent shootings.

“You’re asking for the subjective during an emotional time,” said Tripp. “When you turn to legislators to correct problems, they only have one option: making laws.”

Tripp, who has been working for the TSRA since 1998, said she developed her opinions on gun laws after her son was shot in a violent crime. She said she was satisfied that the current laws ensured that the people responsible were caught and brought to justice.

“Is there some law missing in Texas that would further stop criminals from doing something? I haven’t seen it,” she said.

Texas Tribune reporter Zoe Gioja contributed to this report.

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