Biden, Texas lawmakers call for gun safety reform after Austin, San Antonio shootings

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Elected officials in Texas and across the country are calling for stricter firearm regulations after police say a gunman killed six people and injured several others in a shooting rampage Tuesday that stretched from San Antonio to Austin.

The next day, another gunman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas shot into crowds at two campus buildings, leaving three people dead and one in critical condition, police say.

"I refuse to accept last night's rampage in Central Texas and the shooting at #UNLV as our new normal," state Sen. Roland Gutierrez posted on X, formerly Twitter. "We shouldn't have to live like this, but loose Republican gun laws keep our communities in a state of terror and chaos."

In the Texas rampage, Shane James Jr., 34, is accused of killing his parents in San Antonio before driving to Austin and fatally shooting four people and injuring others, including two police officers.

"Republican lawmakers must join with Democrats in Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, pass a national red flag law, enact universal background checks, require the safe storage of guns, and advance other commonsense measures that will help stem the tide of gun violence," President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday after the shootings.

Calling a rash of gun violence this year across the country "not normal," Biden said Congress must pass legislation to stem gun violence, which has resulted in 600 mass shootings and approximately 40,000 deaths this year.

More: Austin police identify young mother, man killed in South Austin shooting rampage

Gov. Greg Abbott — who has been against stricter gun laws and instead called for more investment in mental health after a gunman in 2022 killed 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary in Uvalde — on Wednesday thanked law enforcement officers for their work in responding to the shootings in San Antonio and Austin, and he asked for prayers for the officers injured in the attacks and for the victims' families.

He said James, who is facing a capital murder charge with additional charges expected, "must never see the light of day again."

"Texas is a law-and-order state, and violence will never be tolerated," Abbott said. "The State of Texas will provide all resources necessary to impose the full weight of law on this criminal for his despicable crimes."

Family members mourn at a memorial set up in front of the home of a woman who was shot on Shadywood Drive in Austin as part of a multicounty wave of violence that left six dead and three injured last week.
Family members mourn at a memorial set up in front of the home of a woman who was shot on Shadywood Drive in Austin as part of a multicounty wave of violence that left six dead and three injured last week.

'The trauma for us is real'

State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said the "horrifying tragedy" in Austin and San Antonio demands a response from lawmakers to pass gun safety measures.

She said the shootings highlight a need for increased gun reforms, such as closing the gun show loophole that allows for firearms to be purchased at the events without a background check and increasing the age at which Texans can purchase semiautomatic weapons.

"My heart goes out," Eckhardt told the American-Statesman. "Right after Uvalde, I couldn’t walk past my children’s elementary school without losing it, and my kids are adults now. The trauma for us is real."

On Wednesday, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters his agency believes James, who has a history of several domestic violence incidents, carried out the attacks with a "large caliber handgun," which is believed to have been used in the shootings in both cities, based on preliminary investigative findings.

Salazar said it was still unclear how James obtained the firearm used in the killings.

"We're assuming it came from within the house," Salazar said, referencing James' parents' home, where the rampage is believed to have originated. "But beyond that, I don't know much about the weapon that he was caught with."

Sheriff Javier Salazar and District Attorney Joe Gonzales provide an update on the Bexar County double homicide Wednesday.
Sheriff Javier Salazar and District Attorney Joe Gonzales provide an update on the Bexar County double homicide Wednesday.

After pushing for restrictions on automatic weapon purchases and measures to prevent gun violence during a marathon legislative year in the Texas Capitol, Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator from San Antonio, said people should not have to live with a constant fear of gun violence.

Gutierrez, who is now running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, has been at the center of the gun reform debate in Texas after the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

On a number of occasions this year he was reprimanded on the Senate floor by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the chamber's leader, for introducing motions and amendments to crack down on weapon purchases and increase age requirements for certain weapons.

With Republicans, who have long resisted calls for stricter gun laws, holding Texas' top elected offices and having a majority in both chambers, any stringent firearm safety proposals are sure to languish at the Capitol.

More: Neighbors describe victims in 'grisly' San Antonio double homicide as 'beyond normal'

Lawmaker 'angry' about no shooting alert

A new active shooter alert system put in place by the Legislature in 2021 is yet to be used by law enforcement agencies in response to a shooting, and that drew the ire of Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, after Tuesday's shootings.

Goodwin said she contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety to initiate an alert after learning an Austin school district police officer had been shot Tuesday morning, arguing later that the notice could have helped to save lives.

"Regrettably, this alert system was not deemed necessary and was not implemented," Goodwin said in a statement Wednesday.

More: What we know about Shane James, suspect in Austin shooting rampage

"We shouldn't have to live like this, but loose Republican gun laws keep our communities in a state of terror and chaos," said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.
"We shouldn't have to live like this, but loose Republican gun laws keep our communities in a state of terror and chaos," said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

In reaching out to DPS, Goodwin said she understood why law enforcement would not want to create additional panic for the public, but such an alert lends to the potential for people to change their behavior in response to the ongoing situation and be more aware of their surroundings.

"The failure to use the alert system raises questions," Goodwin said. "There were multiple points in time throughout the day when the alert might have been relevant and might have saved lives."

According to DPS guidelines for issuing an alert, there are a number of criteria a local law enforcement agency must meet in making a request for an active shooter alert, which DPS says has never been requested.

DPS said in response to an American-Statesman request for comment that an alert will not be sent by the agency unless it is conducting the investigation or an agency with jurisdiction over a shooting situation makes the request in compliance with activation guidelines.

In response to residents' frustrations, the Austin Police Department in a statement Wednesday said an alert was not issued because of the varying locations of the shootings, the unknown motives underlying the incidents and "no specific commonality" among the events as they unfolded.

"It is not common practice for APD, or any other law enforcement agency, to issue any sort of alert for every shooting that happens in their jurisdiction with an unidentified shooter," the statement said.

Austin police also did not request a "blue alert," which notifies the public when a police officer has been killed or seriously injured during a shooting situation.

Relatives of a man who was fatally shot Tuesday mourn at the site on Shadywood Drive in South Austin on Wednesday.
Relatives of a man who was fatally shot Tuesday mourn at the site on Shadywood Drive in South Austin on Wednesday.

"Merely sharing that an officer was shot does not give the community anything to 'look out for' or action items to take to be safe," the Police Department said in the statement. "There was no specific suspect or vehicle information to share, which would meet our threshold for moving forward with a blue alert."

Wednesday morning on X, Goodwin said she remained angry that DPS did not issue a warning after the Tuesday morning shooting that left an injured officer at Northeast Early College High School in Northeast Austin.

"We passed that law to save lives, it’s time to enforce the laws we pass," Goodwin said.

American-Statesman staff writer Keri Heath contributed to this report.

A photo of suspect Shane James Jr. is displayed as Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar provides an update on the double homicide at an eastern Bexar County home at the beginning of last week's rampage.
A photo of suspect Shane James Jr. is displayed as Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar provides an update on the double homicide at an eastern Bexar County home at the beginning of last week's rampage.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin shootings: Biden, Texas officials call for stricter gun laws