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What to know about Texas and federal gun laws

Federal law requires licensed sellers to report the purchase of multiple AR-style rifles within five business days. The ATF says the law was followed in Uvalde.

DALLAS — Law enforcement officials say the man who shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on Tuesday bought two AR-15 rifles and 375 rounds of 5.56-caliber ammunition just days earlier.

The attack has increased calls for gun safety and regulation and increased interest in current gun laws.

Federal licensees have to report the sale of two or more handguns if they happen within five days of each other, but sellers in Texas along with New Mexico, Arizona and California also have to report the sale of certain rifles, including AR-platform rifles, if they are bought within five days of each other.

ATF officials said all rules were followed in weapons bought in Uvalde. The only database the ATF is legally allowed to maintain is for multiple purchase sales. 

Texas doesn’t have any limits on multiple purchases. The ATF said its database is often searched for patterns and red flags.

“If they see that the type of firearm being purchase or other intel-type information sparks a red flag, they can then go talk to that customer,” Sara Abel, a Dallas ATF spokesperson said. “Most of the time, 99% of the things that go into the e-trace system are never touched.”

While multiple weapons purchased back to back is reported to the ATF, there is no requirement for sellers to report or record ammunition purchases. Abel said in Texas, the multiple sales around the shooter’s 18th birthday also wouldn’t have raised red flags.

“Birthdays are a big deal, and we’ll see them come in a lot purchasing on their 18th birthday,” Abel said. “So to say, 'could that have been noticed,' maybe in other states, maybe in places where hunting and the type of lifestyle that is here in Texas might not exist.”

Seven states require someone to be 21 before they can buy a long gun like a shotgun or rifle from a licensed dealer. In Texas, the number is 18, but there’s no minimum age someone can possess a long gun.

“I’m sure every agency looks at their process after something horrific like what happened a couple days ago,” Abel said “Of course, as an agency and as a Dallas Field Division we did talk about what can or could’ve been done and honestly everything was done by the book.”

Texas doesn’t have laws surrounding the purchasing of assault weapons, according to Giffords Law Center. A federal report noted that because of a lack of regulation Texas is by far the top source of assault weapons trafficked into Mexico and Central America, accounting for about 40% of those firearms. Texas also doesn’t limit the sale of .50-caliber weapons.

The state has an F rating from Giffords Law Center for its lack of laws around gun safety. In 2020, more than 4,000 people died from gun violence in Texas, the most of any state.

Laws around carrying weapons have changed in Texas just last year when state lawmakers passed a permitless carry bill, allowing anyone over 21 to carry a handgun in public without a license or training. That took effect in September of 2021. 

Previously, people in the state had to first have a background check and take a safety course to carry in public. Texas joins around 20 other states that also have a variation of permitless carry.

Texas also loosened gun laws following the deaths 27 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The state lifted a ban on guns in places of worship following the attack. 

It did not pass a "red flag" law pushed by some advocates, which could have taken weapons away from the shooter who had escaped from a mental health facility and been convicted of domestic violence. Nineteen different states and Washington D.C. have extreme risk laws, according to Everytown Research.

Texas doesn’t require people who become prohibited from possessing firearms to turn over weapons in their possession. Two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner are killed by a gun, but Texas does not ban people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against someone they did not live with or convicted of threatening to harm a family member from owning a gun. 

The state does, however, ban people with domestic violence-related protective orders from possessing firearms.

Most of the rules around gun sales don’t apply to unlicensed dealers and there isn’t a clear distinction on how many guns someone could sell before they are required to be a licensed dealer. 

Since gun shows do not require reports to happen, finding repetitive sellers violating rules can be difficult, and Abel said ATF relies on federal license partners.

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