Texas school shooting reignites fierce gun laws debate in US but prospect of reform remains slim

The shooting in Uvalde has reignited a decades-old debate about gun laws as US presidents struggle to do anything to stop mass shootings in America's schools, ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

Senior US politicians, ranging from President Joe Biden to former President Donald Trump, have responded to the Texas school shooting which left 19 children and two adults dead by reigniting the debate over gun laws in the country.

On Tuesday 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered a primary school in Uvalde with an AR-15 rifle and began his killing spree.

On his 18th birthday, he bought two AR-style rifles and then posted about them on his Instagram and then used social media to say he was about to attack a school.

Within hours after the shooting politicians were calling for either gun laws to be enhanced or criticising people calling for gun laws to be enhanced depending on what side of the political divide they fell.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz within hours of the attack said: "Inevitably when there's a murderer of this kind, you see politicians try to politicise it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens."

The scale of the attack is impossible to comprehend for the people of Uvalde

His remark triggered an immediate backlash from Democrats. Relatives of the victims were also quick to share their views.

Lisa Garza, 54, mourned the death of her young cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming but she also lamented Texas' lax gun laws.

“We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools,” Garza said.

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Texas, which has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation, has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the US over the past five years.

In 2018, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area.

A year before that, a gunman shot more than two dozen people to death during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, a gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack targeting Hispanics.

Despite this, in recent years Texas has been passing legislation making it easier to get access to a gun.

19 children were killed in the attack. Credit: AP

On September 1 last year, a "constitutional carry" law came into effect, which means Texans over 21 no longer need a licence to carry a handgun in public.

Laws were also passed to allow hotel guests to have firearms in their rooms and gun owners to carry weapons in their holster of choice.

The state government also restricted the ability to sign public contracts with private companies that restrict the gun-carrying on their property.

The spectre of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 looms large in gun debates.

After the attack which left 20 children and six adults dead, a huge concerted effort by the Democrats and some Republicans to tighten gun laws was coordinated by then Vice-President Biden.

The legislation has repeatedly come close to passing through congress but never made it.

In a sombre address to the nation hours after the attack in Texas, President Biden pleaded for Americans to “stand up to the gun lobby” and enact tougher restrictions, saying: “When in God’s name are we going to do what has to be done?”

But the prospects for any reform of the nation’s gun regulations appears to be slim.

The suspect was killed at the scene. Credit: AP

Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition - funded by powerful lobby groups - in Congress.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has already been asked several times about tightening gun laws in the wake of the attack but said he believed the problem was mental health and said tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.The issue of gun laws is highly polarised along Democrat and Republican lines.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Abbott’s news conference and called the tragedy “predictable.”

Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.”

O’Rourke was escorted out as members of the crowd yelled at him, with one man calling him a “sick son of a b****.”

The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention was set to begin in Houston.

The NRA is one of the most influential lobby groups in the US and has repeatedly been behind the failure of gun control laws in congress.

Democrats have already called for the convention to be cancelled in the wake of the shooting, but the Democrat mayor of Houston said they could not break the contract.

Despite backing many Republicans the NRA has also attacked them in the past.

Former president Trump will be speaking at the NRA convention Credit: AP

Former President Trump vowed action in 2019, after back-to-back mass shootings rocked the nation when a gunman opened fire at a shopping centre in El Paso and another targeted a popular nightlife spot in Ohio, killing dozens.

In 2018 his administration had banned bump stocks, the attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns and were used during the October 2017 shooting massacre in Las Vegas.

But Trump eventually backed away from the proposals, pressured both times by the NRA.

Former President Trump is set to speak at the NRA convention along with Governor Abbott and both of Texas’ US senators, all of them Republicans.

In a statement, Trump said he planned to "deliver an important address to America” at the convention.“America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” he said

Due to Trump's status as a former president, guns will not be allowed in the audience while he speaks at the NRA.