A slew of new laws easing restrictions on firearms went into effect in Texas on Sunday, one day after a gunman went on a shooting rampage in the western part of the state killing seven people and injuring 22.
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Eight new laws passed earlier this year by the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June include removing a cap on the number of armed marshals allowed on school campuses, allowing legal gun owners to take their weapons to church and other places of worship, and prohibiting landlords from banning tenants from having guns in their apartments.
The new laws took effect less than 24 hours after the fifth mass shooting in two years occurred in Texas, and the second in 28 days.
"Some of these laws were enacted to make our community safer," Abbott said at a news conference in Odessa on Sunday.
He said the law removing the limit on armed marshals at schools was prompted by a mass shooting in May 2018 at a high school in Santa Fe in which eight students and two teachers were killed. He also said the legislation allowing gun owners to bring their weapons to church resulted from a shooting rampage in November 2017 that left 27 dead at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs.
But the governor added that there remains a "sense of urgency to arrive at solutions" to the rampant gun violence sweeping the state and country.
While the National Rifle Association has hailed the new laws as "highly successful," Texas Gun Sense, a non-profit group that advocates reducing gun violence, released a statement saying the laws "will make schools and communities less safe" and declared gun violence to be "a public health crisis in Texas."
On Saturday, a gunman armed with an AR-type assault weapon went on a killing rampage in the Odessa-Midland area in western Texas, killing seven people and injuring at least 22 others before he was fatally shot outside a movie theater by police, officials said.
The mass shooting came exactly four weeks after a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
Five mass shootings have occurred in Texas since September 2017, leaving a total of 72 people dead and 78 others wounded.
ABC affiliate KSAT-TV in San Antonio first reported about the new gun laws coming in the wake of Texas' latest mass shooting.
Abbott, a Republican elected governor in 2015, has come under increasing pressure to call a special session of the state Legislature to tackle the issue of gun violence, but so far he has refused.
The Republican-dominated Legislature meets biennially and is not scheduled to convene again until 2021 unless Abbott calls for a special session.
But Abbott said that since the high school shooting in Santa Fe, he has signed 15 different laws intended to curb gun violence.
He said that since the El Paso mass shooting, his administration has been holding roundtable discussions with the lieutenant governor, individual legislators, the speaker of the Texas Legislature, law enforcement, victims and gun-control advocacy groups including Texas Gun Sense on how to best protect communities and prevent guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people without violating Second Amendment rights.
"I am heartbroken by the crying of the people of the state of Texas," Abbott said on Sunday. "I'm tired of the dying of the people of the state of Texas. Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable and action is needed."
Following the El Paso mass shooting, Texas Gun Rights, an organization that advocates for strong gun rights in the state, released a statement saying, "Instead of ramming more deadly gun controls down our throats, politicians should be fighting for life-saving pro-gun reforms."
The eight new gun laws in Texas will:
-- Allow Texans with concealed carry permits to take guns into churches, synagogues and other places of worship unless the church posts signs prohibiting firearms on the premises.
-- Prohibit landlords from banning tenants and their guests from having firearms on rental property.
-- Forbid property owners' associations from banning the storage of guns on rental properties.
-- Remove a cap on the number of school marshals who carry guns at public and private schools. Armed marshals were previously limited to one per 200 students or per building.
-- Bar school districts from prohibiting people with handgun licenses from storing guns and ammunition in their vehicles in school parking lots as long as the weapons and ammo are out of sight.
-- Allow foster homes to store guns and ammunition in locked gun vaults.
-- Permit Texans to carry handguns without a license in areas declared disaster zones.