Texas Democrats Push for Special Session on Gun Violence
AUSTIN, Texas — Arguing that there has been enough talk without action, Texas Democrats launched a campaign Wednesday urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call the Legislature into an emergency session on gun violence, evoking responses that revealed a rift in the GOP ranks.
A letter signed by 63 Democrats in the Texas House, backed by near-simultaneous news conferences in Austin and four other cities, asked Abbott to let lawmakers debate proposals such as banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and beefing up background checks before firearm purchases.
“We’ve had enough roundtables; we’ve enough blue-ribbon committees; we’ve done enough studies,” state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Texas, told reporters outside the Capitol.
“Thoughts and prayers have their place, but members of the Texas Legislature and our governor were duly elected to write law, to take action, to lead in the face of tragedy, not to sit on the sidelines and not to pander to a small minority that doesn’t support common-sense gun reform,” Israel said.
Abbott, who has held two roundtable meetings to discuss potential solutions to gun violence with experts, advocates and politicians, in addition to convening a task force on how to respond to domestic terrorism, pushed back Wednesday.
The goal is a comprehensive response built on consensus, not a “helter-skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines,” said John Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman.
“Legislating on tough issues is hard and takes time. If Democrats really want to change the law, they need to stop talking to cameras and start talking to colleagues in the Capitol to reach consensus,” Wittman said.
Abbott created the roundtables and task force after a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3 but before another gunman killed seven in Odessa and Midland last weekend.
The governor has said the discussions will lead to an action plan of steps that state agencies and his office can take immediately as well as proposed legislation. Abbott has not said whether that legislation would be considered in a special session, which only he has the power to call, or when the Legislature next meets in 2021.
Wittman said Wednesday that “all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer” — a statement that was greeted with alarm by gun rights advocates.
“Governor Abbott has lost his mind,” state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Texas, said via Twitter. “If he bends to the liberal gun grabbers he will be met with fury in his next election.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, said Abbott should not urge Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise on gun issues. “Democrats should be told to pound sand, rather than be encouraged to undermine our constitutional rights,” he wrote on Twitter.
In their letter to Abbott, Democrats pushed for five special session priorities:
—Enact red-flag laws, also known as extreme risk protective orders, that allow family members or police to seek a court order temporarily removing guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
—Improve a background check system that fails to flag gun buyers with an active arrest warrant and allows sales between private individuals without a background check.
—Ban the sale of high-capacity magazines.
—Limit the open carry of military-style, semi-automatic rifles.
—Require stolen guns be quickly reported to law enforcement.
“Additionally, given that the assailant in the El Paso shooting was driven by racial hatred and due to the ongoing potential for racially driven violence, we request that you ask the Legislature to pass measures to combat and interrupt the rise in racism and white nationalism,” the letter said.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat, joined the call for a special session, saying Texas “seems to be leading a horrifying national trend of more frequent and more deadly mass shootings.”
“Like many Texans, I’m frustrated that the next mass shooting feels more inevitable than concrete action to stop it. It doesn’t have to be this way,” Watson said at the Capitol.
“There are many good and popular ideas out there, and they deserve a thorough, open and public debate, not closed-door, invitation-only roundtables,” he said.
Also Wednesday, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, a Republican, named 13 members — seven Republicans and six Democrats — to the newly formed Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety, which is to study and recommend legislation in the wake of the recent mass-fatality shootings.
The committee has 90 days to give Bonnen a “preliminary assessment” of its work, with a final report due later.
“Words alone will not deliver the bold solutions Texas needs in order to defeat the violence that has become far too commonplace in our state,” Bonnen said in a written statement.
A similar committee is forming in the Texas Senate.
©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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