How Texas lawmakers have failed to respond to mass shootings, according to a gun violence prevention advocate

CDC data: Firearm death rate of Texas children has more than doubled since Gov. Greg Abbott took office

A Texas House of Representatives committee investigating last month’s Robb Elementary School massacre convened in Uvalde Friday morning, amid continued criticism of Governor Greg Abbott’s refusal to instead call a special session to address gun violence.

AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas House of Representatives committee investigating last month’s Robb Elementary School massacre convened in Uvalde Friday morning, amid continued criticism of Governor Greg Abbott’s refusal to instead call a special session to address gun violence.

The committee approach, similar to what played out after a 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School and then again in 2019 after the massacre at an El Paso Walmart, has been slammed by gun violence prevention advocates for failing to enact any meaningful change.

“Disappointing is an understatement. The commission was originally set up, I think, with big goals, after a horrific shooting, to say ‘this won’t happen again,’” said Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center.

Freilich’s colleagues at the gun violence prevention nonprofit provided expert testimony in front of the 2019 Texas Safety Commission and put forth an eight-point gun safety plan.

“Unfortunately those were not acted on in Texas,” said Freilich.

Texas is not among the 19 states in the past five years to pass extreme risk protection legislation, commonly known as ‘red-flag laws.’

“After the El Paso shooting, after many other shootings, Texas lawmakers have voiced some interest in passing that kind of approach. When it comes to actually making it happen, they haven’t shown up and they haven’t done it,” said Freilich, who pointed out these type of red-flag measures have not led to mass gun confiscation elsewhere.

The laws require a judge to hear evidence before he or she can issue a civil order prohibiting a person from keeping a gun and authorizes law enforcement to remove guns a person already has.

Gun restrictions in Texas have loosened in recent years

Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the firearm death rate among Texas children, people ages 0 to 17, has more than doubled since Abbott took office in 2015.

As of 2020, that rate had increased to 1.96 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the CDC figures.

CDC data: Firearm death rate of Texas children has more than doubled since Gov. Greg Abbott took office in 2015. (CDC)

“Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings have occurred in Texas while Governor Abbott was governor of Texas,” said Freilich, referring to the massacres in Sutherland Springs, El Paso and most recently Uvalde.

Gun restrictions in Texas, however, have loosened over this same period of time.

Last year’s passage of the controversial constitutional carry bill allowed Texans not prohibited from possessing firearms to carry handguns without a license or training.

An examination by the Defenders of how the bill came into law shows that multiple lawmakers attempted to add amendments that would have likely prevented some gun violence incidents in the state.

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, proposed an amendment last year that would have required mental health screenings to be conducted prior to a private firearm being transferred. The amendment failed in early May 2021.

A separate amendment, proposed by San Antonio-area Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, would have given counties and local municipalities the ability to prohibit people from carrying a handgun unless they had a license, similar restrictions to what the state had in place prior to constitutional carry passing.

Gutierrez’s amendment also failed.

In all, 50 amendments to the bill were presented in the house and senate. Only 14 were eventually adopted.

The amendments were mostly voted down along party lines.

Abbott’s press office did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story.

Both Menendez and Gutierrez in recent weeks have asked that Abbott call a special session to take up possible gun violence prevention legislation.

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.