New Gun Laws Take Effect as Texas Mourns Another Shooting

All of the new legislation was passed months before mass shootings in El Paso and West Texas

In the wake of a deadly shooting spree in West Texas, nearly a dozen new gun laws took effect in Texas Sunday -- many of them loosening regulations and restrictions on firearms.

All of the legislation was passed months before the mass shootings in El Paso and the Permian Basin took place. 

Critics argued the new laws send the wrong message about the state's commitment to preventing mass shootings.

"There's just a host of these new restrictions -- or new loosening of restrictions -- that have come into place that just make no sense," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

He said Texas already has some of the most lenient and lax gun laws in the country -- and that state lawmakers should be focused on making it tougher for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.

Jenkins joined a growing list of Democratic leaders urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to address gun violence. He said all options, including red flag laws, universal background checks and restricting high-capacity magazines, should be on the table.

"My question is a serious one -- how many more of our citizens will die at the hands of domestic terrorists before we act?" Jenkins said. "I realize this is Texas. And I realize that it's unlikely that we will follow the lead of Florida after the Parkland shooting. But let's take a look at what we can agree to do. Let's go ahead and take those votes."

"We're talking about reasonable gun safety laws. We're not talking about taking away all guns," said Sheila Madigan Levatino with Texas Gun Sense, a gun control advocacy group. "We are talking about gun locks for families that have kids under 18, we're talking about banning assault style weapons, we're talking about making gun purchases harder. It's not unreasonable."

Levatino said her group's priorities included universal background checks and a red flag law to prevent those who pose a risk to themselves or others from accessing guns.

Levatino said the timing of the new, more lenient gun laws was tragic.

"Tragic, absolutely tragic. But in one tragic way, it makes the point more clear about these laws and what they really, really are," she said.

Speaking from Odessa Sunday, Abbott defended the new laws.

"We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals like the killer here in Odessa, while also assuring that we safeguard Second Amendment rights," he said.

Abbott pointed to a new law that eases restrictions on the number of school marshals who can carry guns.

"Some of these laws were enacted for the purpose of making our communities safer," he said.

Though he stopped short of throwing his support behind a special session, he insisted state leaders were doing everything they could to prevent more tragedies from happening.

"We have a sense of urgency to arrive at solutions," Abbott said. "And we are working quickly to hammer out some solutions, to put some solutions on the table."

Abbott continues to meet with lawmakers, first responders and victims. 

Monday, he tweeted that the gunman had previously failed a background check in Texas, and didn't go through a background check for the gun used in Odessa, adding "we must keep guns out of criminals' hands."

Abbott tweeted that Ator failed a previous gun background check and didn't go through one for the weapon he used in Odessa. But Abbott didn't elaborate on when Ator failed the background check or the reasons why.

His spokesman referred questions to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The new gun laws taking effect Sunday include:

House Bill 1143: This law allows anyone who is licensed to carry, including school employees, to store guns and ammunition inside their vehicles on school property -- provided that they do not leave the guns or ammunition in plain view.

House Bill 1387: This law eliminates restrictions on how many armed school marshals school districts can have on each of their campuses. School marshals are civilian employees who are allowed to carry guns on school campuses. They are appointed by the school district, must be licensed to carry, must pass a psychological evaluation and must complete state-approved training. Their identities are kept secret from all but a few school officials.

Senate Bill 535: This law removes "churches, synagogues and other places of worship" from the state's list of prohibited locations where guns are not allowed. Churches and places of worship still have the right individually to ban guns on their properties, much like private business owners do. However, now they will be required to post the appropriate signage at their entrances.

House Bill 302: This law bars landlords from including "no firearms" clauses in leasing agreements -- and requires them to allow tenants to possess or store legal guns in their apartments and parking lots.

House Bill 2363: This law eases restrictions on guns and ammunition inside state-approved foster homes. It requires that any firearms and ammunition be stored separately within the home, or that they be stored together in a locked location.

House Bill 1177: This bill allows citizens who are evacuating from a local or state-declared disaster zone to carry a concealed handgun without a license for up to one week.

House Bill 121: This bill protects licensed gun owners who enter establishments where guns are prohibited against trespassing charges, so long as they leave promptly when notified by the property owner.

Meanwhile pressure is mounting at the national level to strengthen gun laws.  Former El Paso Representative Beto O'Rourke talked about the new gun laws after the shootings in West Texas.

"This is absolutely the wrong direction for us to take.  It is going to be measured in the lives lost, not in the lives saved," said O'Rourke.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro spoke about the mass shootings on Meet the Press.

"More and more people here in Texas, and across the country want Congress and their politicians to do something," said Castro.

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NBC 5's Tim Ciesco, Diana Zoga and Julie Fine contributed to this report.

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