At the store’s entrance, five round grills the size of truck wheels greet customers. A first warning: everything is gigantic in the Oasis Outback supermarket. Once inside, one can start by buying a tripleXL Hawaiian print shirt and swimsuit set, then head to the restaurant for a double burger. And for dessert, end up in the back area buying an AR15 semi-automatic rifle, a weapon of military origin capable of firing more than 30 bullets in less than a minute.
A similar plan must have been followed in this store by the murderer of the Uvalde elementary school who left 21 dead on Tuesday. The Texas authorities have confirmed that, in mid-May, Salvador Ramos came to the Oasis supermarket to buy his arsenal: two rifles and 375 bullets of ammunition. He had just turned 18 and celebrated at this popular establishment a 10-minute drive from his home. That’s how familiar Texas’s relationship with guns is.
The town of Uvalde -16,000 inhabitants- and the entire southwestern area of the state, surrounded by streams and natural parks, is famous for sport hunting. The Oasis shelves are a bewildering array of telescopic fishing rods, professional bows, fiberglass arrows, pistols and rifles of all ranges. The firearms area has its own room in the store, with stuffed animals hanging on the walls: bison heads, deer, and even a six-foot black bear.
“What weapon do you want, gentleman?” asks the clerk. He is a paunchy man in his sixties with a graying goatee, camouflage vest, and ranch hat. The reporter is interested in the AR15 rifles, placed in the center of the showcase as the jewel in the crown among the more than two dozen long weapons in the store. “It is versatile, very reliable and precise. They are the ones who ask us the most, ”he says, pointing to the gun. The basic model costs about 700 dollars.
Asked if he remembers selling two of these rifles a couple of weeks ago to the young man who opened fire at the village elementary school, the clerk is silent for a few seconds. “We are already collaborating with the police in the investigation and we are not going to say anything more. If you have more questions, better read what the law says.” Access to weapons is one of the founding myths of the United States enshrined as a right by the Constitution for all adults.
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The regulation in each State differs in some details but none can prohibit it. Texas, one of the historic strongholds of the Republicans, has some of the most lax legislation. In some States the minimum age to access these rifles is 21 years. But in Texas anyone over the age of 18 can buy a long gun. All you need to do is go through the quick and cheap process (about 40 dollars) of obtaining a license after reviewing the potential client’s criminal and psychiatric records.
The uncle of one of the girls killed in Uvalde, Adrian Alonzo, 36, is a hunter and defends access to weapons. “It is our right as Americans,” he says, sitting in the entrance of his house, a couple of blocks from the school where the massacre took place. Inside the house he has two Winchester rifles, similar to the old weapons of the West. “I have them locked up so my daughters can’t even touch them. They are manual and practically only serve to hunt. But semi-automatic rifles shouldn’t be sold to just anyone. They are dangerous and should only be used by the Army or the police.” Alonzo usually goes out on weekends to hunt deer and explains that, in fact, rifles are even counterproductive. “To kill a deer you just need to aim a bullet at the heart, below the right shoulder. If you shoot too many times you ruin the meat and skin of the animal.”
a stalled debate
Texas Governor Greg Abbott arrived in Uvalde the day after the tragedy, the worst school shooting in more than a decade. During the press conference at the school’s own facilities, the governor transferred responsibility for the event to a mere matter of mental health, thus shielding the inviolable right to arms. “The freedom for an 18-year-old to buy a rifle or a rifle has been protected for more than 60 years in Texas,” he said.
In the US there are more weapons on the street -almost 400,000- than inhabitants -330,000-. And Texas leads the list by states. Last year, Abbot further facilitated the market by eliminating even the requirement to have a license for handguns, pistols, as well as allowing anyone to carry them holstered on their belt or walk around in public with them in hand, without no restriction.
As happens every time a traumatic shooting cyclically hits the country, the political debate goes up in revolutions. But it is almost always bogged down by high thresholds in parliament to impose greater control on the arms industry, one of the country’s biggest lobbyists.
The reaction to the Uvalde tragedy by President Joe Biden, with a political history prone to greater regulation, last Tuesday pointed directly to the core of the conflict: “Arms manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons, which They are the ones that bring them the most benefits. For God’s sake, when are we going to face the lobby of weapons?”
The spokesman for the Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer, called this week for an agreement with the Republican parliamentarians: “Please, damn it, put yourself in the place of the relatives of the murdered children for once!” he asked. The toughest sector of gun advocates is meeting this weekend precisely in Texas. The annual convention of the National Rifle Association, one of the largest sponsors of the Republican Party, will feature former President Donald Trump in Houston on Saturday, escorted by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Abbott himself.
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