Governor Greg Abbott called it the “largest mass shooting in state history”.
The attack came just a month after the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. In that attack, 52-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fired on concert-goers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds of others.
Sunday’s shooting immediately renewed calls for stricter gun control from rights groups and social media users alike.
But US President Donald Trump, who offered his condolences and condemned the “horrific shooting”, said the attack was “not a gun situation”. Instead, he said, the shooting represented a “mental health problem at the highest level”.
As condolences from politicians from across the political spectrum poured in over social media, many first expressed their frustration over the lack of action on the part of the Trump administration and Congress to prevent mass shootings in the country.
“After every horrific event, thoughts and prayers are offered, but action is not,” said the non-profit advocacy group Brady Campaign in a statement.
“Now is the time for citizens to stand up, hold our elected officials accountable and demand changes to ensure dangerous people do not have ready access to guns,” the group, which aims to cut gun deaths in half by 2025, added.
Former President Barack Obama also chimed into the need to take “concrete steps”.
“May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst,” he tweeted.
May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 6, 2017
Officials have said the suspect, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, may have been motivated by “a domestic situation”.
Authorities said the gunman had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who sometimes went to the church, but was not in attendance when the shooting occurred.
“While details are still unfolding, we already know one thing: We should do more to prevent senseless gun violence,” said Amanda Johnson, a volunteer with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action, an organisation that sprouted after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
Voto Latino, a civic media organisation that campaigns for Latino rights, urged Congress to “turn thoughts and prayers into action”.
PRESS RELEASE: Voto Latino Statement on Texas Mass Shooting
"America is suffering a gun violence epidemic. It is time to turn thoughts and prayers into action. We urge Congress to act now.” pic.twitter.com/Mx4VUSSRXC
— Voto Latino (@votolatino) November 6, 2017
In the aftermath of last month’s Las Vegas shooting, Trump said at the time that the gun control debate was “not for now”, adding that “perhaps that will come” but it was “not for now”.
More than a month after the Las Vegas shooting, however, many pointed out that no conversation had yet to take place.
@realDonaldTrump You have said that now is not the time to address the gun issue. If not now when!? How many people must die before you act?
— 🌼Kris Ost #VoteBiden/Harris2020 #GoodTrouble (@ProudOma19) November 6, 2017
@realDonaldTrump when is the correct time to talk about gun violence? Gun control? If not now, when?
— Bea#TRE450N (@inthepinkgirl1) November 6, 2017
Andrew Patrick, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), said that unless action is taken, the situation “is just going to get worse”.
“Trump doesn’t seem to care about this issue,” he told Al Jazeera in an email. “When the shooter is white, he scapegoats the mental health community and throws his hands up saying ‘nothing we could have done’.”
“There is a lot that we could do, but our feckless leaders in Washington are too beholden to the NRA to actually make change.”
Trump has pledged support to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is the most powerful gun lobby in the US.
Twitter users also criticised the Republican president for not making any policy moves.
It's been 8+ hours since the Texas shooting & @realDonaldTrump hasn't called for any policy action.
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) November 6, 2017
Another said: “Thoughts and prayers are good, but they’re not what we need. We need action. Now.”
Since taking office, Trump has taken steps to roll back some restrictions on gun use and sales put into effect by his predecessor, Obama.
Texas is an open carry state with more than a million gun owners.
After opening fire on Sunday, authorities said Kelley allegedly dropped his weapon and fled the church after a local resident used his own gun to engage with the attacker.
Opponents of stricter gun control also took to social media to praise the “good man with a gun” for “preventing further loss of life”.
I would like to thank the hero that stepped up, faced the shooter & prevented further loss of life. A good man with a gun saved lives.
— Lisa SoFla (@LSand55) November 6, 2017
A good guy with a gun stopped the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas and SAVED LIVES!!!
Yet the Left wants us disarmed!
— Mark Pantano (@TheMarkPantano) November 5, 2017
After Trump’s reference to mental health problems in the country, many Twitter users started sharing their personal experiences of battling the stigma under the hashtag #LivingWithMentalIllnessIs.
Those suffering posted about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal thoughts, depression and being “regularly scapegoated for evil acts of violence”.
#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs having the stigma perpetuated every time a man engages in gun violence and it gets blamed on mental illness alone
— lucy ᵇˡᵐ (@sugarboatz) November 6, 2017
#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs juggling between wanting to die, and being absolutely horrified of death to the point of not functioning.
— Omgyellow (@omgyellow) November 6, 2017
#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs seeing yourself in a drastically different light every 2 seconds and being powerless to change it
— Kenneth Crader (@kennethcrader) November 6, 2017
#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs constantly feeling you’re not good enough, always over thinking things and feeling like no one really wants you.
— Jake Brents (@JakeofAura) November 6, 2017
So far in 2017, the watchdog group Gun Violence Archive has documented 307 mass shootings in the US.
The group also recorded 13,175 gun-related deaths and 26,978 firearm-related injuries during that period.
Additional reporting by Saba Aziz: @saba_aziz