Uvalde gunman legally bought AR rifles days before shooting, law enforcement says

Caution tape blocked off the Uvalde home Tuesday night of the grandmother of the gunman in the Robb Elementary School shooting. (Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune, Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune)

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The gunman in the deadliest school shooting in Texas history bought two AR-style rifles legally just after his 18th birthday — days before his assault on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

[Uvalde elementary school shooter chronicled his actions on social media, Gov. Greg Abbott says]

He legally purchased two AR platform rifles from a federally licensed gun store on two days: May 17 — just a day after his birthday — and May 20, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said, according to a briefing that state Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, received from state authorities late Tuesday. The gunman bought 375 rounds of 5.56-caliber ammunition on May 18.

In Texas, you must be at least 18 years old to buy a rifle, and the state does not require a license to openly carry one in public.

The gunman reportedly barricaded himself in a classroom Tuesday afternoon after allegedly shooting and critically wounding his grandmother. He crashed his truck near the school, and once inside, he shot and killed 19 children and two adults and wounded several more.

He brought only one of the rifles with him into the elementary school, one manufactured by the Georgia-based arms manufacturer Daniel Defense, according to the briefing, details of which Whitmire shared with The Texas Tribune. The other was left in the truck he crashed nearby.

Some initial reports stated that the Uvalde Police Department was pursuing the suspect before he crashed and entered the school. However, authorities say that wasn’t true, and the first calls the police department received were from someone reporting the crash and seeing a man with a gun exit the vehicle.

According to the briefing, the shooter dropped a backpack with several magazines full of ammunition near the entrance of the school. Authorities counted at least seven of what appeared to be 30-round magazines, but it won’t be known whether they were emptied or still contained bullets until the crime scene is processed.

For years, gun control activists and Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds, citing the high death tolls in mass shootings from Fort Hood to Sutherland Springs.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday afternoon that he “will be traveling to Texas in the coming days."

He called for legislation addressing firearms, an ambition that has low expectations among Democrats on Capitol Hill after Republicans blocked most major efforts to address mass shootings over the last 10 years.

“The idea that an 18-year-old could walk into a store and buy weapons of war designed and marketed to kill is, I think, just wrong. It just violates common sense,” he said.

“Where’s the backbone?” he added. “Where’s the courage to stand up to a very powerful lobby?”

Biden suggested “one modest step” to prevent shootings is for the Senate to confirm his ATF bureau nominee, Steven Dettelbach. The Senate has not confirmed an ATF nominee since 2013, and the bureau has had a series of acting directors since 2015. According to CNN, the major obstacle to confirming nominees to this post is “gun-rights groups routinely oppose any nominee for the agency that regulates guns.”

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which seeks to reduce gun violence, nine states and Washington, D.C., regulate high-capacity magazines. Those states experience mass shootings at a far lower rate than states like Texas that don’t regulate magazine capacity, according to the organization.

“Whether a state has a large capacity ammunition magazine ban is the single best predictor of the mass shooting rates in that state,” Dr. Michael Siegel, a researcher at Boston University, told CNN after conducting a 2017 analysis.

It was reported earlier that the suspect was wearing body armor, but it appears he was wearing a plate carrier vest with no ballistic armor inside, authorities said.

The Texas Rangers were still in the process of attempting to identify victims late Tuesday. Crime scene processing was planned to begin Wednesday.

The Texas Rangers found that the grandmother appeared to work at the elementary school until 2020, with more recent records showing she worked at a local coffee shop. She was still alive as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent sustained a grazing gunshot wound but has since been released from the hospital, according to the briefing.

Kiah Collier and Jeremy Schwartz, both reporters for The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, and Abby Livingston contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Everytown for Gun Safety has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.