Sep 25, 2023 - News

Assault weapon mass shootings on the rise in Texas

Shootings resulting in five or more casualties, by assault weapon use
Data: Everytown for Gun Safety; Chart: Jared Whalen and Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Assault weapons are playing a bigger role in Texas mass shootings, per a new national database.

Why it matters: More than twice as many people are killed in mass shootings involving assault weapons and high-capacity magazines than shootings involving other types of guns, according to The Smoking Gun database by Everytown, a group co-founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that advocates for gun restrictions.

Threat level: Nine of 14, or 64%, of mass shootings in Texas since 2016 involved assault weapons.

  • Nationally, assault weapons were used in 35% of mass shootings since 2016.
  • Assault weapons weren't used in Texas mass shootings prior to 2016.
  • Texas accounts for five of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Assault weapons were used in two of the five shootings, but all involved high-capacity magazines, according to the data.

By the numbers: The database, which dates to 1949, includes 238 mass shootings involving 426 guns.

  • Assault weapons were used in 27% of all mass shootings nationwide, according to the database.
  • Mass shootings involving assault weapons account for 38% of all deaths and 66% of all injured.
  • High-capacity magazines were used in 47% of all mass shootings, accounting for 59% of all deaths and 85% of all injured.

Of note: The Smoking Gun report defines mass shootings as those involving five or more deaths.

Between the lines: Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown, tells Axios that marketing contributes to the popularity of assault weapons among mass shooters.

  • "The decisions that the gun industry is making in corporate boardrooms have a direct impact on what's happening in America's streets and schools and houses of worship. We've hit a deadly milestone in this country where guns are the number one killer of children and teens," Suplina tells Axios.

What they did: Everytown researchers spent six months identifying guns used in mass shootings, sourcing photos, police reports and news articles to build the database.

  • The researchers also gathered examples of marketing campaigns by major manufacturers such as Daniel Defense and Smith & Wesson.
  • The campaigns feature images of children holding weapons or photos of frontline soldiers with the tagline "use what they use."

The other side: "The NRA's position and belief is that law-abiding AR-15 owners and other firearms owners aren't the issue; criminals are," National Rifle Association spokesperson Billy McLaughlin tells Axios.

  • Anderson Manufacturing, Glock, Daniel Defense and Smith & Wesson — makers of guns used in recent mass shootings in Texas — did not respond to requests for comment.
  • An AR-15-style Daniel Defense gun was used in the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde. Two months later, during a House Oversight Committee, Daniel Defense former CEO Marty Daniel stood by his company's marketing and said the company bore no responsibility for the rise in mass shootings, according to an article in 2022 in the New York Times.

Flashback: In May, a Texas House committee advanced a bill increasing the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy certain semi-automatic rifles, but it never got a vote in the House.

What they're saying: Michael Sierra-Arévalo, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied guns and gun policy, tells Axios that Texas' gun culture often revolves around the perception of assault weapons as a tangible symbol of a person's stance on gun rights and political alignment.

  • He says the accuracy and efficacy of assault weapons is part of an "established script" followed by mass shooters.
  • "I do not think that it is coincidental that the chosen weapons platform for an increasing proportion of mass shootings include weapons that are better at killing people in the hands of inexperienced shooters. AR-15s and rifles are wildly easier to use, particularly at distance, than a pistol," Sierra-Arévalo said, adding that his views do not reflect official views or opinions of UT.

What's next: The first-of-its-kind White House office of gun violence prevention launched Friday.

  • It will coordinate support for victims of attacks and identify executive actions to reduce gun violence.
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