Texas Politics

Abbott announces Texas Safety Commission to keep guns from ‘deranged individuals’

El Paso residents grieve at memorial

El Paso residents grieved at a memorial for 22 people who were killed in a mass shooting on Saturday. The suspected shooter is from Allen.
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El Paso residents grieved at a memorial for 22 people who were killed in a mass shooting on Saturday. The suspected shooter is from Allen.

Two weeks after a gunman killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen others in an attack targeting Hispanics in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled another statewide initiative to help prevent future mass shootings.

Announced in a news release Monday, the Texas Safety Commission is tasked with developing an action plan that includes keeping “guns out of the hands of deranged individuals.” In addition, the plan will focus on strategies to combat the rise of extremist groups, domestic terrorism and cybersecurity threats.

“The State of Texas will not relent in its effort to help the El Paso community heal and keep all Texans safe,” Abbott said in the news release. “The Texas Safety Commission will bring together experts and community leaders to develop an action plan to combat threats of domestic terrorism, root out extremist ideologies, and address the link between mental health challenges and gun violence in our communities.”

With more than 25 members, the commission will be made up of state leaders, including Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and lawmakers, including members of the El Paso delegation.

In addition, local and federal law enforcement officials, representatives from Facebook and Twitter, and Ed Scruggs, the president of Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that reduce gun violence, will attend the commission’s first meeting.

“Overall, we just want there to be a productive, honest discussion,” Scruggs said.

The group’s first meeting will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Texas Capitol in Austin, in addition to a meeting in El Paso on Aug. 29.

After the initial list of attendees for Thursday’s meeting was released, Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, and Mike Cox, the License To Carry Director with the Texas State Rifle Association, were later added.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said Tuesday that the additions were due to navigating schedules, and that the initial plan was to have a gun rights advocate attend next week’s meeting in El Paso.

“I don’t want to see simple solutions to complex problems,” Cox said. “I’m on alert to people with hidden agendas.”

In a statement following Abbott’s announcement, Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said more action was still needed.

“Texans deserve a lot more than just talk and a safety commission,” Garcia said. “Texans expect actions and solutions to curb gun violence in our state and in our country. The eyes of the world are on us.”

The commission’s formation comes nearly a week after Abbott announced efforts to combat domestic terrorism, including the creation of a task force and increased law enforcement action. Abbott’s announcement last week faced criticism from some Democrats, who called for more concrete measures to tackle gun safety, like a special session.

In a televised town hall last week, Abbott said “it doesn’t require a special session for Texas to act,” despite Democratic lawmakers calls for one.

“We are not hesitating whatsoever,” Abbott said at the town hall. “After the shooting in Santa Fe, after the shooting in Sutherland Springs, after Hurricane Harvey, we didn’t rush in to have a special session. Legislators work full-time on legislation. We will all work together on the best ideas, strategies and vet them the way they need to be vetted to make sure that we’re going to come up with laws that will pass and work.”

Following mass shootings in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and Santa Fe in 2018 roundtable discussions informed a 43-page school safety plan. Measures included in the plan were signed into law this past legislative session.

While lawmakers increased resources for mental health and school safety this session, they also loosened restrictions for guns to be allowed in more places, like churches.

Earlier this month, Abbott announced more than $5 million to assist with counseling and law enforcement efforts in El Paso.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government reporter for the Star-Telegram, covering all things policy and politics. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.