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On the evening of Feb. 15, a mass shooting once again rocked the small, tight-knit community of El Paso. This would be the second mass shooting in a public shopping place in less than five years. Police said they knew the shooting was not planned and resulted from a random argument between two groups with guns.
Hours after sirens, the rushing of emergency vehicles to the scene, setting up a meeting place at a local school for survivors, and the apprehension of the suspects, the community got the all-clear. There would be no more threat to the public. Finally, the community was allowed to take a collective breath.
But does that make the incident any less traumatic - especially for those who wanted to enjoy an evening of shopping and casual dining?
El Paso’s first mass shooting was on an August morning. Families gathered to shop for school supplies. A soccer team set up a fundraising booth outside. Nobody expected a gunman to come from the parking lot and immediately open fire.
The tragedy would claim 23 innocent lives. Most lives lost were elderly individuals, though children were among the victims. Most victims were Latinx. The city itself is over 80% Latinx. It would come to light that the shooter had planned a racially motivated attack based on the manifesto he posted online just minutes before he opened fire on the innocent people of El Paso.
In the months and years following, the community would mourn. The city found solace in the sympathy of other communities, the overwhelming support to the victim’s fund, and the saying that El Pasoans would later associate with all their stories of sorrow, pride, or hope: El Paso Strong. Less than five years after the Walmart shooting, the city would strive to be strong again.
In the era of mass shootings, this community that has taken much-needed time to heal from a deadly incident of hate and terror was faced with yet another act of senseless violence to its innocent people.
So, when will the next mass shooting occur?
This mass shooting was an all too familiar scene. It doesn’t matter if the act was planned or if there was a manifesto or a militia’s worth of arsenal; the images, sounds, and feelings echo through every increasing shooting.
El Paso is just one scarred community in a scarred nation. Gun violence has seeped into every aspect of life - from school, shopping, and even worship. As a result, it has even lowered American life expectancy. Mass shootings have become part of our culture, and it will take a fundamental change to reverse the effects.
Texas has already responded to gun violence, specifically with more relaxed gun laws. Since 2021, Texans can legally carry a handgun in public if it is in a holster. They do not need a license to carry a handgun openly. However, there are some restrictions to owning firearms. You must be 21 and not have certain felony convictions or protective orders, to name a few.
As for long guns, such as rifles, AR-15s, or the WASR-10, used in the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, there are no restrictions on who may carry them. The law may prohibit certain people from owning and possessing any firearm, but the specific regulations for carrying a handgun simply do not exist for long guns.
This is a problem when mass shootings occur and become more deadly when shooters use a semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine. High-capacity magazines allow mass shooters to fire more rounds quickly, increasing the number of potential gunshot wounds per tragedy.
These facts beg the question of whether stricter long gun laws or restrictions on high-capacity magazines can curb mass shootings, or at the very least, death by a mass shooting.
El Paso Matters reported that the shooter at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022 tried and failed to purchase a gun before his 18th birthday. However, he successfully bought and carried out his planned tragedy once he came of age.
“If that law had been 21, I guarantee you he would have continued to be frustrated and not be able to obtain that weapon,” said Representative Joe Moody (D) of El Paso in the El Paso Matters article.
In 2018, following the deadly Parkland high school shooting by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, Florida prohibited the purchase of firearms by anyone under 21. The state also enacted a ban on the bump stock. The bump stock “allows a weapon to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun without technically converting it to a fully automatic firearm.” Shortly after the state’s decision, the Trump administration issued a federal ban on bump stocks. Though the courts are still deciding on this issue, this could be the beginning of widespread gun regulation to curb mass shootings.
Other countries have added stricter gun restrictions to their laws in recent decades. For example, though it has long had age restrictions and licensing requirements, Canada enacted a prohibition of high-capacity magazines for automatic and semi-automatic firearms in the early 90s.
Following one deadly mass shooting in Christchurch that killed 51 people, New Zealand enacted bans on semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. The country also has a new weapons registry for tracking gun sales nationwide.
In 1996, a lone gunman entered a primary school in the UK. He shot and killed a teacher and 16 children. Following the incident, Britain banned handguns, and the deadly shooting at Dunblane Primary School would be the last school shooting in the nation thus far.
The only certainty is that communities like El Paso, which has endured one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings in the past ten years, will not accept this as their new normal. Likewise, communities nationwide that have experienced more than one mass shooting tragedy await a change.
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