Nearly 20 state lawmakers ask Gov. Greg Abbott to call special session on gun violence

Without special session, lawmakers won't meet again until 2021

By Kolten Parker, Associated Press
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO - At least 17 Texas state lawmakers are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to address gun violence following a mass shooting in El Paso that left 22 dead and dozens injured.

The list includes four state representatives from San Antonio, including Roland Gutierrez, Diego Bernal, Leo Pacheco and Ina Minjarez. 

“Our state leadership has failed to be proactive and adopt laws that would allow gun safety,” said Gutierrez, who has secured more than 500 signatures in a related online petition. “All Texans should feel safe in their communities. Every year we lose too many to gun violence. Over 3,353 gun-related deaths occur in Texas each year. One death is too many - time for change.”

Others on the list are: state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston; state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin; state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton; state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston; state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas; state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin; state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood; state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City; state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin; state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo; state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth and state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

As governor, Abbott is the only person with the power to call a special session, which can run up to 30 days. The Texas Legislature is known as part-time because it meets for about five months every other year. The 2019 regular session ended in May and lawmakers won’t convene again until January 2021 unless Abbott calls a special session. Abbott would also have authority over which topics are in play for debate.

But Texas has increased access to guns in recent years following high-profile mass shootings in the state, the Associated Press reports below.

After the massacre of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart by an attacker with a military-style rifle, Texas' Republican leadership is still unlikely to push for gun restrictions in a state that has long embraced firearms and has nearly 1.4 million handgun license holders, experts and advocates on both sides of the gun issue say. The shooting comes nearly 21 months after the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed more than two dozen people and more than a year after the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10.

"When Texas Republicans look at these massacres, they don't blame guns, or gun laws. They blame people. They may blame institutions, schools, families, mental health, but not guns," said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. "If a school massacre and a church massacre didn't change people's opinion, the El Paso massacre isn't going to."

Texas' resistance to tightening gun laws stands in contrast to how some Republican-led states have reacted after mass shootings.

After a 2018 attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that state became one of more than a dozen with "red flag" laws, which generally allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Florida also raised the legal age of buying a gun from 18 to 21.

On Tuesday, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine proposed requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and adopting a red flag law in his state, where a gunman killed nine people at a Dayton entertainment district just hours after the El Paso shooting.

Texas has no restrictions on gun sales and allows licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons openly or concealed. Long gun or rifles, like the one used in the El Paso massacre, can be openly carried in public. Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association, said Texans won't follow other states on gun laws.

"We're smarter. We're self-determined and independent and look for the root cause of problems," Tripp said. "We don't follow people who simply say for political purposes, 'We should have done this or that.' We look for laws that could have made a difference."

Abbott and other state leaders have focused on mental health, social media and video games since the El Paso shooting.

Abbott met last week with Democratic lawmakers from El Paso who have pushed for gun control and said he wants to keep guns away from "deranged killers." Abbott said the state should battle hate, racism and terrorism, but made no mention of gun restrictions.

"Our job is to keep Texans safe," Abbott said. "We take that job seriously. We will act swiftly and aggressively to address it."

Abbott said he will meet with experts this month to discuss how Texas can respond - much as he did after shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe.

Those meetings resulted in Abbott issuing a 43-page report with proposals for more armed guards in schools, boosting mental health screenings, new restrictions on home gun storage, and consideration of red flag laws.

Gun rights supporters immediately pushed back on anything that could be interpreted as restricting gun ownership, and the Legislature's Republican majority pivoted to expanding run rights. The only victory gun control supporters could claim was a small item in a $250 billion state budget: $1 million for a public awareness campaign on safe gun storage at home.

"They made things worse," said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. "I went naively into the session thinking 'Progress here we come.' But we ran head on into this idea that more guns make us safer."

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