At the store’s entrance, customers are met by barbeques the size of truck wheels. Everything in the Oasis Outback is gigantic. Customers can buy an XXXL Hawaiian shirt or a supersized swimsuit, then head over to the restaurant for a double burger. After lunch, if they feel so inclined, they can walk to the back area of the hunting store and buy an AR15 semi-automatic rifle, a military weapon capable of firing more than 30 bullets in less than a minute.
This is perhaps exactly what Salvador Ramos did before he murdered 21 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. Texan authorities have confirmed that the 18-year-old entered Oasis Outback in mid-May and bought two rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition. He had just turned 18 and he celebrated the occasion at the popular store, which is just a 10-minute drive from his home.
The town of Uvalde and the entire southeastern area of Texas is surrounded by streams and natural parks. Hunting is a popular sport there. The shelves of Oasis Outback pay testament to that: there are large displays of fishing rods, professional bows, fiberglass arrows, handguns 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, sir?” asks the store worker. He is a paunchy man in his sixties with a graying goatee, a camouflage vest and a cowboy hat. The reporter is interested in the AR15 rifles, which are in the center of the display case as the jewel in the crown among the more than two dozen long guns sold in the store. “It’s versatile, very reliable and precise. They are the ones that most people ask about,” he says. The basic model costs $700.
Asked if he remembers selling two of these rifles to the young man who opened fire at Robb Elementary School, the worker 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.”
The right to bear arms is one of the founding myths of the United States, and is enshrined in the US Constitution. While regulation differs between each state, no state authority can ban weapons. Texas, a Republican stronghold, has some of the laxest legislation. In some states, a person must be 21 years old to buy a long gun. But, in Texas, the minimum age is 18. All you need to do is obtain a license: a quick and cheap process (about $40) that involves a criminal and psychological background check.
The uncle of one of the girls killed in Uvalde, Adrian Alonzo, 36, is a hunter and defends the right to bear arms. “It’s our right as Americans,” he says, sitting in the driveway of his home, a couple of blocks from the site of the massacre. Inside his home, he has two Winchester rifles, which are similar to the old Western guns. “I keep them locked up so my daughters can’t even touch them. They are manual and practically only good for hunting. 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 assault rifles are no good for hunting. “To kill a deer you only need to aim a bullet in the heart, below the right shoulder. If you shoot too many times you ruin the meat and skin of the animal.”
Debate on gun control
Texas Governor Greg Abbott arrived in Uvalde the day after the tragedy, which is the worst school shooting in more than a decade. During the press conference at the school’s facilities, the governor blamed the massacre on Ramos’s mental health, instead of the ease with which he was able to access miltary-grade weapons.
“The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years,” he said. Texas is the state with the highest number of registered weapons in the United States. Last year, Abbot made it even easier to buy a gun. He signed a bill that made it legal for “law-abiding Texans” to carry handguns without a license or training.
After every tragic shooting, there is debate about the need for stronger gun laws. But progress is almost always stalled by the gun lobby, which is one of the most powerful in the country. “Gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them the most and largest profit,” said US President Joe Biden on Tuesday in the wake of the tragedy. “As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?”
Democrat Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, has implored Republicans to join a discussion on what measures Congress could pass to reduce mass shootings. “Please, please, please, damn it, put yourself in the shoes of these parents for once,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the largest sponsors of the Republican Party, is set to hold its 2022 annual meeting this weekend. The event will feature former US president Donald Trump, who will appear alongside Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Abbott.