Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about Texas Safety Commission’s purpose
After two disturbing mass shootings within a month in Texas, the state House and Senate have created special committees to study gun violence. That comes on top of a special task force on domestic terrorism and a public safety commission, both launched by Gov. Greg Abbott.
For some, that’s not enough. House Democrats called Wednesday morning for a special legislative session, suggesting action such as improving background checks and banning high-capacity magazines.
But it’s too soon for a return to Austin. Lawmakers don’t appear ready to act. The special commissions may create momentum for workable compromise, but a special session now might, if anything, even lead to even looser gun laws.
After the weekend tragedy in Odessa, the state drew attention for new laws that, coincidentally, took effect just a day later to allow gun owners more latitude in carrying their weapons. Also drawing the national spotlight was Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican who, like many in his party, drew a bright line — no new gun laws, period.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has lost standing with his own GOP caucus after a clumsy effort to get an outside group to target some members for defeat. He’s in no position to rally lawmakers to vote for anything.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, has cautiously indicated a willingness to consider expanded background checks on some private gun sales. But a special session might be too tempting a platform for him to push expanding gun rights. And plenty of lawmakers would push for “constitutional carry” — essentially, eliminating state licensing for people to carry guns in public.
After the El Paso massacre, we noted that there’s no quick solution to mass shootings, and that includes most of the steps Democrats called for Wednesday. Most of the action, like improving background checks, needs to happen at the federal level.
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There are steps the state can take, such as a red-flag law that would allow for a judge to consider evidence and suspend gun rights for an eminently dangerous person. We hope the myriad state commissions will carefully debate the idea. It needs to be narrowly drawn so rights are protected. But if we can figure out how to grant law enforcement search warrants without violating the Fourth Amendment, we can surely have a red-flag law that respects the Second.
It may fall to Abbott, the two-term governor with unquestionable conservative and gun-rights bona fides, to apply pressure for meaningful action. So far, he’s been clear that he wants something done; he’s been less clear about what.
The governor wrote on Twitter that a legislative package was being crafted. He noted that the Odessa killer had failed a background check but later obtained a gun without one, though he didn’t say how he’d address that. The only specific measure Abbott pointed to was expediting executions for mass killers.
That’s fine, but pretty underwhelming. Most mass shooters never intended to survive their crimes, so it’s doubtful the death penalty is a deterrent.
Politically, Abbott is surely aware that congressional and legislative seats are up for grabs in a way they haven’t been in at least a decade.
On guns, there’s a shift underway, even in Texas. Consider Walmart’s decision to no longer sell certain ammunition and ask customers not to carry guns in stores. When the world’s biggest retailer, born and based in the South, acts swiftly, take note.
Voters want to see a serious approach that considers both gun laws and cultural issues. Abbott and other leaders need to build toward a consensus. Once that’s done, we can consider whether the Legislature should return.