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When single mom Denise Thurston prepared to drive with her young son from her Austin-area home through Houston in June, just as anti-brutality protests were boiling over, she was glad she had just bought a handgun.
Thurston, 45, worried that something like a highway shutdown would leave them vulnerable to protests, or counter protests, or non-protest opportunists who saw a woman and child stuck in an immobile car as easy targets.
"I'm not a big person," Thurston said. "I need some power behind me somehow, and that was my way of doing it."
A chaotic year
Thurston bought her 9mm Glock pistol and became licensed to carry after the March lockdowns began. Previously a firearms novice, Thurston also now owns an AR-style shotgun she purchased this summer for home protection.
She is among hundreds of thousands of Texans whose pandemic-era gun purchases broke state and national records.
Those at ground zero for this phenomenon—trainers, retailers and students—say a wave of fear ushered in by societal destabilization in March, social unrest in May and police walkouts in June have driven the purchases both by newbies and by more experienced owners.
"It shows how people are not trusting their government, they're not trusting what's going on or the information they're receiving, and so they want to take their personal protection into their own hands," said Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin.
As a result, Texas gun owners have filled up classes, emptied ammo shelves, and swamped gun stores and manufacturers.
"It did heighten my concerns, and it definitely prompted me to get more aggressive with getting comfortable with my gun and to start carrying, absolutely," said Austin-area resident Dawn Holmes, who got her license to carry last week.
In Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 121,926 background checks for handguns in June, more than three times the number the same month last year.
The number was even higher in March, right after the pandemic lockdowns began, and the FBI warned that some state shutdowns threatened to reduce the staff available for background checks on new sales and that the surge would create a backlog that could further delay new gun sales from being approved. Checks for Texans seeking to purchase handguns soared from 60,512 in February to 147,714 in March.
That number alone was more than double the checks that took place in December—the highest number of last year—and more than triple the monthly average for 2019.
Nationally, the FBI said they had done some 3.9 million background checks in June, the highest monthly total on record.
"It's based on a variety of reasons, but they're afraid," said instructor Tina Maldonado, who works with the local shooting league A Girl And A Gun, and who has more than doubled the amount of time she spends on the range with students since the lockdowns began. "Most of them are families, or parents whose spouses travel a lot, and they just decided they need to protect themselves."
Cargill said he has seen lines out the door and double the number of students since March 13, what he calls "D-Day," the weekend the first wave of new purchases hit.
Cargill predicts another increase around the election. Supporters of President Donald Trump are worried about their gun rights if Democrat Joe Biden wins, he said, and African Americans he's spoken to are worried about the empowerment of white supremacy and the growth of racism if Trump gets re-elected.
"I ask people questions, when they come in the store, to see where their heads are at," Cargill said. "Everyone should just take a deep breath and settle down a little bit. We need to be a lot nicer to each other. Worry about controlling yourself instead of controlling someone else."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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