When shots rang out in Uvalde, Texas, they echoed among a small group of people who knew all too well the pain the survivors at Robb Elementary were experiencing. They’d gone through it themselves, just a few years earlier, at another Texas school.
Many in Texas know the same pain. From one of the country’s first recorded mass shootings at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 to Uvalde in 2022, Texas has a decades-long history of mass gun violence, a CBS News investigation found. The state has had more people killed in mass shootings since 2019 than any other, according to data from the Violence Project, which studies mass shootings.
Law enforcement officials tell CBS News it’s easy for criminals to get their hands on a gun in the Lone Star State. Texas has one of the highest rates of gun ownership and some of the laxest gun laws in the country. And some survivors of gun violence there say they’re concerned the state hasn’t done enough to prevent future massacres.
“It was just a stab in the heart”
Thewas hard to imagine for most. But Flo Rice didn’t have to imagine. She lived through another mass shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston nearly four years earlier to the day.
It was “utter terror” as the shooting started just across the hall from her classroom, said Rice, who worked at Santa Fe as a substitute teacher.
“We got out in the hall, and I heard the most deafening, horrific sound,” Rice said. “I felt it reverberate through my body. I had never experienced anything like it.”
Ten lives were lost that day: eight students and two teachers. Thirteen more were wounded, including Rice.
“I sit up, and I realize that I cannot move one of my legs,” Rice said. “And then I look, and I realized that I had bloody bullet holes in my legs.”
Rice recovered physically, but the emotional wounds were reopened the moment she heard about another school shooting in Texas, this time in Uvalde; 19 students and two teachers were massacred and 17 others were wounded.
“It was just a stab in the heart,” Rice said. “I just literally felt pain in my heart, because it’s what we tried so hard to not let happen again.”
A spokesperson for Santa Fe Independent School District declined to comment.
For years after the horror at Santa Fe High School, Flo and her husband Scot worked tirelessly with Texas lawmakers to fix the system. They pushed for new laws designed to make schools safer.
For Scot, the question was clear: “Do we really want our kids safe? Or do we want business as usual?”
Shortly after Santa Fe, lawmakers in the state capitol passed several bills. They included Senate Bill 11, meant to address school safety.
SB 11 provided millions of dollars to enhance school safety and required districts to strengthen emergency plans and expand mental health initiatives.
It required all school employees to have training such as “psychological first aid,” and to create so-called “threat assessment teams” that would help spot potentially violent students and intervene to prevent the next mass shooting. It also updated requirements for districts’ emergency operations plans and gave the state more ability to take action if districts don’t comply.
Scot said the bill doesn’t go far enough.
“SB 11 has no teeth,” he said. “There’s nothing in it that penalizes schools that don’t do [what the bill requires]. You want to self-audit yourself? Check the box.”
In his first interview since the Uvalde shooting, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath — the state’s top educator appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2016— admitted changes to state law weren’t always followed.
“It’s one thing to have a plan on paper,” Morath said. “It’s another thing entirely to have a plan that is practiced and executed. And I think we’ve seen, even in the case of Uvalde, you have plans that were written that people were not consistently following.”
A spokesperson for Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In an email, Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze said “the safety and well-being of all Texans remains a top priority for Governor Abbott.”
Eze said Abbott implemented a range of measures to address school security and worked with the Texas legislature to provide over $100 million to improve school safety and strengthen mental health resources.
Those funds include $50 million for “bullet-resistant shields,” more than $10 million for mental health programs, and more than $30 million for a variety of other security measures and training.
No active shooter plans
Uvalde had a security plan on its website, which includes a threat assessment team. It also had an active shooter plan in its emergency operations plan (EOP), according to a report on the shooting by the Texas House of Representatives.
But many Texas schools didn’t have such a plan as recently as a 2020 audit by the Texas School Safety Center (TXSSC). That report, which reviewed the EOPs of every district in the state, found most Texas districts didn’t have an adequate active shooter plan.
The report exposed a deeper problem in Texas schools’ safety plans, however; hundreds of school districts that reported in their EOPs that they had active shooter policies actually didn’t.
TXSSC Director Kathy Martinez-Prather told CBS News those districts “were not being deceptive,” but rather didn’t have sufficient plans to meet state guidelines.
Martinez-Prather said TXSSC will do another review of school safety policies beginning on Sept. 12 which will include reviews of active shooter plans. Martinez-Prather said those reviews won’t be made public but added that she hopes they will “see the needle move.”
In June, Abbott told all Texas school districts to undergo a range of improvements, from reviewing EOPs to addressing security deficiencies. Martinez-Prather said TXSSC will certify those summer reviews, but they will also be self-reported by the districts.
SB 11 has enforcement measures for districts that don’t comply. TXSSC can tell school boards to hold public hearings if they aren’t complying, and TEA has the option of appointing a conservator to ensure changes are made.
Martinez-Prather said only one district in Texas has been asked to hold public hearings, and that those hearings were held, and the district had remedied the issues with their policies. When asked, she declined to say which district it was.
Morath said the oversight of schools’ emergency plans has “largely been structured as a self-policing system to date,” but stopped short of saying there wasn’t enough oversight power on behalf of the state.
According to Morath, the question of state oversight is “a philosophical question about how much control should local principals, local school officials have on everything that happens in that school versus how much you should have controlled at the state level.”
While it didn’t prevent the Uvalde shooting, Morath said SB 11 and the other measures passed after the Santa Fe shooting “absolutely made schools more safe all over the state of Texas.”
“As a dad, I remember when that shooting in Santa Fe happened,” Morath said. “You cry and you have anger. But in my responsibility as Commissioner of Education, I have to be reflective on what is the policy and practice landscape that allowed this to happen and what do we learn from this.”
Flo and Scot Rice aren’t convinced.
“You know, we can build $40 million football stadiums,” Scot said. “We can’t spend $4 million on safety? You know? And if you don’t survive Friday morning art class, you can’t have Friday night lights.”
Flo said “schools need to be held accountable.”
“It’s going to happen again and again,” she said. “And again, and again. And people cannot comprehend it can happen to them. You just can’t — you cannot conceive that because it’s too horrific, but it can.”
CBS News reached out to Texas State Senator Larry Taylor — the author of SB 11 — but his office told us he was unavailable for comment.
Decades of mass shootings
Texas is no stranger to mass shootings. One of the first major such incidents in U.S. history occurred there in 1966, when a man shot and killed 14 and injured 31 others from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin.
Data provided to CBS News by the Violence Project, which studies mass shootings, begins with that incident more than 50 years ago. The data shows that, since 1966, Texas has had the second-most people wounded in mass shootings. The only state with more mass shooting injuries is Nevada, because of the 2017which injured more than 800 people.
In recent years, some researchers began to broaden the definition of mass shootings. Data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that aggregates data on mass shootings — which it defines as an incident in which four or more people are shot — shows more people have died in mass shootings in Texas since 2019 than in any other state.
Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, told CBS News in an email he thinks more permissive gun laws lead to more gun deaths.
“I believe that what we are seeing is proof that the NRA mantra of ‘more guns, less crime’ could not be more obviously wrong,” Bryant said.
James Densley, who co-founded The Violence Project, added that, when adjusted for population, Texas ranks 15th for mass shootings in the U.S., according to The Violence Project’s data.
“He pulled out the gun from underneath his coat”
January 15, 2022 was almost yet another mass shooting in Texas. A gunman terrorized four people at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, holding them hostage for 11 hours.
Police say Malik Akram arrived in Texas weeks before the incident. He stayed in a local homeless shelter, then bought a gun from a man he met on the street.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker later found himself staring down the barrel of that same gun. It began with just a sound.
“I heard the click.” Cytron-Walker told CBS Dallas Fort-Worth after the incident. “Of what I thought could have been a gun, and I was hoping it was not. That’s when he pulled out the gun from underneath his coat.”
After 11in which Akram repeatedly threatened to kill Cytron-Walker and others, claimed to have planted bombs and repeated antisemitic tropes, the FBI forced their way in and killed Akram.
The man who admitted selling Akram the gun, Henry Williams, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a gun. Akram, a British national who was not a U.S. citizen, wasn’t allowed to have a gun in Texas. But under Texas law, sales similar to that one are perfectly legal — a private transaction with no background check required.
Williams’ attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Jeffrey Cohen, one of the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel, said Texas law makes those kinds of sales too easy.
“As soon as you say you can have sales between individuals, there’s no way to check,” he said. “There’s no way to check whether a twice-convicted felon is selling a gun to someone from a foreign country.”
Cohen, who said he himself holds a concealed carry permit, told CBS News he thinks people have the right to carry a gun.
“I believe that if it makes you feel safer, you have the right to own a gun,” he said. “I hold a concealed carry permit … but as soon as you say everybody’s allowed to carry, the bad guys can carry too.”
Al Jones, the chief of police for the Arlington Police Department, a city of nearly 400,000 less than 20 miles from Colleyville, said gun laws in Texas make incidents like the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue standoff more likely.
“Texas is one of those states where it’s easy to get guns,” he said.
Jones said recent laws passed in Texas lower the bar even further. The state’s Firearms Carry Act of 2021 allows most Texans to carry a handgun in public without having to obtain a license.
Jones said that makes it harder for law enforcement to determine who should be permitted to carry a gun in public.
“You don’t have to have any training,” Jones said. “You don’t have to have anything. You can just … [be] 21 years old and you can go get a gun.”
Gun control advocates say those lenient Texas gun laws contribute to a pipeline funneling guns to other states with stricter regulations.
Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) analyzed by CBS News shows thousands of guns originally purchased in Texas turned up in other states. Between 2010 and 2020, more than 36,000 such guns were recovered by police outside Texas, CBS News’ analysis showed. That’s more than any other state except Florida and Georgia.
An ATF spokesperson didn’t respond to CBS News’ request for comment.
One of the people alleged to be recently responsible for the flow of guns from Texas to other states is Demontre Hackworth, a 31-year-old who authorities say bought more than 90 guns in North Texas since 2019.
Authorities say Hackworth bought guns in Texas, where his concealed carry permit meant he didn’t have to submit to background checks every time he bought a firearm. But they were found by police as far away as Maryland and even Canada, according to an indictment by federal prosecutors unsealed in June.
Texas is also affected by this constant flow of guns. In 2020 alone, about 27,000 firearms purchased in Texas later turned up at crime scenes in the state, according to ATF data.
Nine of the guns Hackworth allegedly sold were later connected to crimes in Texas, including in the murder of a 21-year-old transgender woman, Kiér Laprí Kartier, who was fatally shot in Arlington, Texas in September 2021.
Hackworth pleaded not guilty to four federal charges – one count of dealing in firearms without a license and three counts of making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm – filed against him. His attorney declined to comment, and the case is still pending.
Eddie Garcia, chief of the Dallas Police Department, said it’s “not surprising” so many guns purchased in Texas end up in the hands of criminals.
“Our community is being hurt by this,” Garcia said. “Our victims are being hurt by this. You know, our men and women that are out there every day to take that criminal element off the street, they’re being affected by this.”