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Months after the Uvalde shooting, gun control is no longer at the top of voters' minds

A protester holds a sign during a rally in August at the Texas Capitol demanding an age increase for AR-15 sales.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
A protester holds a sign during a rally in August at the Texas Capitol demanding an age increase for AR-15 sales.

The Texas Politics Project recently asked voters about the issues most important to them. The top three were immigration, the state economy and abortion, all with double-digit support.

In the wake of the May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, calls for gun reform were prominent across Texas. Poll after poll showed the issue was one of the top priorities for Texas voters.

But with Election Day less than two weeks away, gun control is no longer a motivating factor for many voters.

“That is a little surprising,” said Mike Yawn, the director of the Center for Law, Engagement and Politics at Sam Houston State University. But, “nothing indicates that it’s a huge factor.”

The Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, which regularly polls Texans about policy and issues, recently asked voters about the issues most important to them. The top three were immigration, the state economy and abortion, all with double-digit support. Gun violence came in fourth place, with 9% of votes.

Still, the issue remains front and center on the campaign trail.

Democratic hopeful Beto O’Rourke has said imposing more restrictions on guns could prevent school shootings and has even brought the parents of some of the victims of the Uvalde shooting to the campaign trail.

O’Rourke has said he wants to ban assault-style weapons — a type of firearm used by the 18-year-old gunman who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School. He’s also pushed to increase the minimum age to purchase such firearms from 18 to 21.

The Texas Democratic Party’s platform, adopted in August, includes responsible gun ownership and universal background checks.

“Five of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history have taken place in this state in just the last five years,” O’Rourke told supporters in Lampasas in August. “We either accept that Texans are somehow inherently violent and murderous and love to shoot each other up — or that there is something that we can do to address this, to defend the Second Amendment while still protecting the lives of our kids in those classrooms.”

The proposals seem to resonate with many Democrats, including Junction resident Rhonda Fuquay. The former government employee told The Texas Newsroom she’s not against people having guns — in fact, she owns one.

“But I’m against the assault rifle and all of that going on. Uvalde is down the road from us, and I would hate to see it come here,” Fuquay said after an O’Rourke event in Junction in August. “And I don’t think it’s asking too much to at least not sell that one gun — the AR-15.”

She says O’Rourke’s stance on gun control is one of the reasons she’s voting for him.

But for many Republicans, the proposals presented by O’Rourke and Democrats are a no-go.

“I’m really concerned when I hear a candidate say they are going to come try to take my guns,” 70-year-old Mark, who declined to provide his last name, told The Texas Newsroom Monday after a campaign event hosted by Gov. Greg Abbott in Bee Cave. He was referencing a much-publicized comment O’Rourke made in 2018, when he was running for president.

Mark said he’s voting for Abbott. He said guns are not his main concern at this point.

"I'm really more concerned about the border more than anything,” Mark said.

Yawn of Sam Houston State University said timing plays a factor in the Texas Politics Project’s poll results.

The Uvalde shooting might have been a motivating factor for many voters soon after it happened, but they have since turned to other issues that hit closer to home, like inflation.

“The economy is an issue that affects everybody, and it sort of trumps, or overshadows, all these other concerns,” he said.

Yawn said how voters feel about firearms could play out down the ballot.

“In a Dallas suburb, or an Austin suburb, or Houston suburb, or San Antonio suburb, maybe it makes a difference between a Democrat and a Republican getting elected in the state Legislature,” Yawn said, since lawmakers could take up gun laws next year.

The last time the Texas Legislature met, in 2021, lawmakers loosened some restrictions, including allowing adults over 21 to carry handguns without a permit.

“Do I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the Beto-Abbott race? No,” Yawn said. “Could it affect specific areas? And the answer to that is ‘yes.’”

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.