Texas Politics

Safety commission discusses welfare checks after El Paso. ‘Today is the first step.’

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about Texas Safety Commission’s purpose

Created in the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso, the Texas Safety Commission is tasked with developing an action plan that includes keeping “guns out of the hands of deranged individuals.”
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Created in the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso, the Texas Safety Commission is tasked with developing an action plan that includes keeping “guns out of the hands of deranged individuals.”

The Texas Safety Commission spent over four hours behind closed doors Thursday, discussing strategies to prevent mass shootings that ranged from instituting welfare checks to closing gaps in background checks.

Formed in response to the attack targeting Hispanics in El Paso nearly three weeks ago, the commission — made up of lawmakers, law enforcement, social media representatives and more — focused heavily on policy changes to better enforce or close gaps in Texas gun laws.

Ahead of the discussion, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters that the emphasis would be on actions and results, underscoring steps that have been taken previously with a hefty stack of papers of the laws passed this legislative session related to guns and school safety.

“Those discussions weren’t just for show and for people to go off in the sunset and do nothing,” Abbott said of previous discussions held in the wake of the 2018 Santa Fe shooting.

While no specific recommendations have been solidified from Thursday’s meeting, Abbott went through a lengthy list of topics that were touched upon in the commission’s first meeting.

Abbott didn’t go as far as to support red flag laws, which can provide law enforcement a means to confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous by a judge. However, he noted that the mother of the suspected gunman in the mass shooting in El Paso did call the Allen Police Department to ask about her son’s firearm before the shooting occurred.

“Is there some new type of strategy that we could have that would lead to welfare checks when issues like that are raised?” Abbott said. “That is an issue that we need to explore.”

Ed Scruggs, the president of Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that reduce gun violence, participated in the discussion, and said it remains to be seen whether the state will take a full-step or half-step in that direction.

Just outside the commission’s meeting, dozens of advocates for Second Amendment rights — some with rifles slung over their shoulders — rallied in front of the Texas Capitol and urged lawmakers not to institute restrictions.

“The threat is not guns. The threat is an evil heart,” said Rachel Malone, the Texas director for Gun Owners of America. “Make it easier for Texans to legally carry a handgun for protection.”

Other issues touched upon during the commission’s meeting included certain categories of gun sales that don’t require background checks, protective orders, better reporting of stolen firearms, strengthening of domestic terrorism laws, a need for faster communication between law enforcement entities and action on assault weapons.

“There was no coalescence of any type of solution about where we go with that,” Abbott said of assault weapons, but noted proposals will continue to be discussed.

“Some of these are issues that today is the first step of,” Abbott said. “And we will continue to look at these types of challenges going forward to see what the right answers are.”

Scruggs said that compared to previous meetings held in the wake of mass shootings, this one was very detailed.

In addition to steps regarding gun laws and law enforcement, Abbott said there’s also a need to facilitate community healing with counseling. Earlier this month, Abbott announced more than $5 million to assist with counseling and law enforcement efforts in El Paso.

Speaking directly to the people of El Paso, Abbott stressed that the state stands with the community.

“We know more than just that your hearts are broken. We know that you feel like you are attacked as human beings,” Abbott said. “We want you to know that we as Texans come shoulder to shoulder and side by side with you as one family, working together with you in this healing process.”

Following the shooting in El Paso, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have faced criticism for language they’ve used in the past that some have said stoked anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant attitudes.

“This is not a game. It’s long past time for Republicans to eradicate white supremacist language from their discourse — people are dying,” Manny Garcia, executive director for the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement Thursday.

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said there was a “very poignant moment” when the issue was raised in the meeting, and stressed that language matters, especially when it comes from state leaders.

Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said she left the meeting feeling “very hopeful,” and Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said sensitive issues were being raised, not shied away from.

“There is going to be compromise,” Ortega said. “What we were looking at is, where can that compromise actually improve the situation?”

The commission will meet again Aug. 29 in El Paso. A list of attendees has not yet been announced, but Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, stressed there will be unity moving forward.

“We didn’t talk about what’s happened in the past,” Blanco said. “We’re really focusing on what we’re going to do moving forward, and I think in that room there’s a clear understanding that we need to take action together.”

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. 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.