Watch CBS News

Texas gun laws allow 18-year-olds to buy AR-15s, the weapons used in Uvalde shooting

A closer look at gun laws in Texas
A closer look at gun laws in Texas 07:58

The 18-year-old who shot and killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, legally bought the weapon he used, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Salvador Ramos purchased two AR-style rifles at a local federal firearms licensee on May 17 and on May 20, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also purchased 375 rounds of ammunition on May 18, according to Texas DPS. 

In Texas, an individual between the ages of 18 and 21 can buy a long gun or rifle, such as an AR-15. With certain exceptions, an individual must be 21 to buy a handgun.

Carrying a gun in Texas required a permit, until September 2021, when a state law freed Texans from the permit requirement. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill last summer championed by gun rights' advocates that allowed for permitless carry.

Mass Shooting At Elementary School In Uvalde, Texas Leaves 21 Dead
A Texas State Trooper receives flowers for the victims of a mass shooting yesterday at Robb Elementary School where 21 people were killed, including 19 children, on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.  Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images

The law was criticized by Democrats, with Rep. Veronica Escobar, of El Paso, predicting at the time that it would "cause more violence and loss."

Abbott said Wednesday after the Uvalde shooting that "the ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years. "

But Abbott pushed aside any calls to strengthen gun laws, saying "we as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and do something about it."

It's a different position than he has taken in the past. After the May 2018 mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, Abbott convened a series of roundtable discussions with school leaders, parents, teachers, students and advocacy groups at the Capitol to improve school safety, according to the Texas Tribune

A month later, he unveiled a 40-point plan mainly around increasing security but he also asked lawmakers to consider a "red flag" law, which he suggested might have prevented the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting

The Sutherland Springs shooter should not have been allowed to buy a weapon since he had received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to two counts of domestic violence. But the Air Force  failed to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center, and he was able to pass a background check and buy at least two guns because of this failure. 

The plan appeared to be abandoned later and the Legislature instead in 2021 passed the law loosening gun restrictions. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in an average year, more than 3,600 people die by guns in Texas. That number includes suicides. Nationally, in 2022, there have been at least 77 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, according to the gun control advocacy group Everytown. Six of these incidents took place in Texas. 

In the wake of the 2019 El Paso shooting that left 23 dead, Democratic politician Beto O'Rourke has called for stricter gun laws. O'Rourke, who is from El Paso, and now is challenging Abbott in the governor's race, used his platform as a presidential candidate in 2019 to call for more restrictions on AR-15s, in particular.

O'Rourke confronted Abbott on Wednesday during a press conference, saying "you are doing nothing" and said the Uvalde shooting was "totally predictable" after the state did not pass tougher gun laws.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonazles, who represents Uvalde, told Gayle King on "CBS Mornings" that the focus now shouldn't be on gun laws.

"I'm happy to debate policy, not today. I mean, today, we, my community is hurting. You know, politicians like to divide us. Leaders unite us and we need to be united right now as Americans because what happened in Uvalde, Texas can happen anywhere," he said. "Right now, I've got families that don't, that can't identify their children. I've got folks that have to bury their children. I mean, these are the things that we're working with."  

Andres Triay and Pat Milton contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.