politics

Two Years After Walmart Massacre, El Paso Grieves as Advocates Push for Tighter Gun Laws

Courtesy of Brian Wancho | Brian Wancho Photography
  • El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday is commemorating the massacre of 23 people in a Walmart two years ago, while advocates continue to pursue tighter gun laws despite GOP resistance.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans initially expressed concerns about expanded gun rights in the wake of the massacre.
  • In June, though, Abbott signed a bill into law that gives Texans the right to carry handguns without a license or training starting Sept. 1.

EL PASO, Texas — On any other evening in this vibrant west Texas city, the trademark electric lone star on the nearby Franklin Mountains sparkles against the desert sky.

On Tuesday evening, though, the nearly 500-by-300-foot star will darken 23 times to mark the deaths of people murdered here two years ago while shopping at a Walmart.

On Aug. 3, 2019, Patrick Wood Crusius drove 10 hours from his home in Allen, Texas, to El Paso, which borders Mexico, to "scare Hispanics into leaving the United States," according to federal authorities.

Crusius wrote in a racist manifesto before carrying out what has been described as the deadliest U.S. domestic terror attack on Latinos that he wanted to "stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

Portrait by Ellen Elmes of the victims of the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.
Ellen Elmes
Portrait by Ellen Elmes of the victims of the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.

The mass shooting prompted calls to address gun violence in the traditionally Republican-leaning state.

In the wake of the massacre, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans initially expressed concerns about expanded gun rights.

"When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don't understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they're selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who's getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues," Patrick told The Dallas Morning News in 2019.

Then Abbott and Patrick came under political pressure from conservatives and gun rights advocates. In June, Abbott signed a bill into law that gives Texans the right to carry handguns without a license or training starting Sept. 1. At least 19 other states have similar laws.

Democrats have continued to push for reform. "We need to do more and come together to keep our communities safe," said state Sen. Cesar J. Blanco, according to The Texas Tribune. "Our constituents deserve that."

The ‘Grand Candela’ memorial honoring victims shines at dusk in the parking lot of a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
Mario Tama |Getty Images
The ‘Grand Candela’ memorial honoring victims shines at dusk in the parking lot of a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

The Walmart store where the shooting took place is one of the busiest in the United States and is known by residents as a convenient stop for visitors coming from Ciudad Juarez, just across the border in Mexico, to shop in El Paso. The store has since been remodeled and reopened. On Tuesday, the U.S. flag above the store was lowered to half-staff.

Throughout the day Tuesday, people gathered at the base of a 30-foot "gran candela" memorial erected in the Walmart parking lot to pay their respects. The structure, which illuminates nightly in memory of those who lost their lives, can be seen across the border.

Crusius, who faces both state and federal charges in the massacre, pleaded not guilty last year to the state charges and awaits trial in November. He could be sentenced to the death penalty if he is convicted on state charges.

Federal prosecutors could also pursue capital punishment. Crusius has not entered a plea in the federal case nor does he have a trial date.

People react during a prayer vigil organized by the city, after a shooting left 20 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, on August 4, 2019. - The United States mourned Sunday for victims of two mass shootings that killed 29 people in less than 24 hours as debate raged over whether President Donald Trump's rhetoric was partly to blame for surging gun violence.
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
People react during a prayer vigil organized by the city, after a shooting left 20 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, on August 4, 2019. - The United States mourned Sunday for victims of two mass shootings that killed 29 people in less than 24 hours as debate raged over whether President Donald Trump's rhetoric was partly to blame for surging gun violence.

Writing for The El Paso Times on Tuesday, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden reiterated their commitment to tackling the threat of domestic terrorism. "On that day, you showed who we are at our best as Americans," they wrote.

"To the families of the 23 souls lost on this day two years ago in El Paso, Jill and I send you our love. While our losses are not the same as yours, grief is universal," they wrote, while condemning the shooter.

"He chose this city defined by its diversity that celebrates its rich Hispanic heritage and connection with the people of Ciudad Juarez," the president wrote. "He thought that his hatred of immigrants could prove more powerful. ... He was wrong."

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