POLITICS

Texas Governor Shocked Shooter Got Rifle In State With Spotty Background Checks

Presumably, Gov. Greg Abbott knows that most private gun sales in Texas don't require background checks.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a Sept. 1 news conference concerning the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a Sept. 1 news conference concerning the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed dismay on Monday that the mass shooter who killed seven people in West Texas had managed to buy an AR-style weapon in Texas even though he had a criminal history and didn’t register for a background check.

Abbott recently signed a host of new laws loosening gun restrictions in Texas, following guidelines provided by the National Rifle Association. And the Republican governor once tweeted that he was “embarrassed” that Texas trailed California in the number of gun purchases.

But in a Monday tweet, Abbott appeared rattled that the mass shooter had been able to purchase the AR-style gun that he used in Saturday’s bloody rampage in Odessa and Midland.

Texas Department of Public Safety records show that Seth Ator, 36, pleaded guilty in 2001 to misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and evading arrest, the Austin American-Statesman reported. However, only felonies and misdemeanor domestic violence convictions block a gun purchase in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.

Ator had failed to pass an earlier background check to buy a gun and “didn’t go thru a background check” for the rifle he used on Saturday, according to Abbott’s tweet.

The governor did not reveal how that gun was obtained. But Texas does not require background checks in most private sales, which includes some purchases at gun shows, according to the Tribune.

Abbott championed the series of laxer Texas gun laws that went into effect the day after the Odessa attack. They allow people to pack weapons in public places such as schools and churches, as well as in foster homes.

House Bill 1143, for instance, bars school districts from blocking licensed gun owners from keeping their firearms in vehicles in school parking lots, as long as the vehicles are locked and the weapons are out of sight. 

In June, Abbott also vetoed a bill that would have made it a state crime to bring guns into secure areas of airports.

Abbott is a particular favorite of the NRA, which hailed the new pro-gun measures. “Governor Greg Abbott has now signed all of the NRA-supported legislation which the Texas Legislature sent him during the 2019 session,” the NRA website boasted.

The last time Abbott addressed a mass shooting in Texas was in early August when another gunman killed 22 people in an El Paso Walmart. The governor acknowledged at a press conference then that “we did not, as far as I know, evaluate for and plan for an incident like this” in any of the new gun laws. But he emphasized that funding had been provided “for the state to better address” mental health issues. There has been no indication that either gunman last month suffered from mental illness.

After the El Paso attack, Abbott snapped at reporters who quizzed him on gun control, saying: “We need to focus more on memorials before we start the politics.”

Abbott’s dismayed tweet after the carnage in West Texas about how “we” must keep guns out of criminal hands predictably drew scorn.

For a brief moment, President Donald Trump suggested that he would fight for stricter background checks after the attacks in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed the next day. But he has since backed down, reportedly after a call from the NRA. He insisted Sunday that stronger background checks wouldn’t have made any difference in Odessa — though that was before Abbott’s tweet. 

“Over the last five, six, or seven years, no matter how strong you need the background checks, it wouldn’t have stopped any of it,” Trump told reporters.

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