Safer Communities Act takes a step forward, but Texas needs more action on gun violence
U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar celebrated the passage of bipartisan legislation aimed at curbing gun violence at a recent roundtable in downtown El Paso, but she issued a warning about GOP inaction at the Texas.
Congressional success on gun violence comes in the wake of the Uvalde massacre and just before the third anniversary of the 2019 mass shooting at Walmart in El Paso.
The bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden in late June and celebrated at the White House on Monday, marks the first major step Congress has taken to address gun violence after a series of mass shootings, but Escobar expressed his skepticism about the willingness of Republican lawmakers to go further.
“There’s a lot of discussion around the rights of gun owners, and that’s a big part of the conversation, but it’s dominated those conversations, when I think the safety and security of every American should dominate those conversations,” Escobar said at the start of the event. “What Republicans refuse to do is legislate guns, and as we know, the United States is rife with guns. We have more guns per capita than any There is no reason why our country should be so flooded with so many guns, including and especially those guns that create the kind of carnage that destroys people.
The roundtable was organized to provide local stakeholders – law enforcement, medical professionals and advocates – with information regarding the Safe Communities Act, which provides for expanded background checks on firearms buyers. fire under 21, millions of dollars in funding for mental health services, incentives for states to implement “red flag” laws and more.
While the legislation could have a broad impact across the country, Escobar lamented that Texas would likely lose millions of dollars in funding due to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s reluctance to take action on the violence. armed forces, in particular by introducing “red flag” laws, which allow the reporting of dangerous people and the prohibition of acquiring or possessing a firearm.
“I have no faith in Greg Abbot doing the right thing,” Escobar, D-El Paso, said. “What we’ve seen from him is an embrace of the most extreme policies in Texas. I don’t think safety is his #1 priority, I think re-election is his #1 priority and he’ll embrace any radical idea that gets him re-elected.
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Among those present at the discussion was the Cmdr of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. Ryan Urrutia, who expressed his support for the implementation of such a law.
“I think the red flag laws will benefit the whole nation,” Urrutia said. “You have to have consistency to master these issues.”
Other provisions of the law include closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allowed perpetrators of domestic violence to legally acquire firearms, often with deleterious effects.
“I’m proud that we’re finally, once and for all, closing the ‘boyfriend loophole,'” Escobar said. “This is something we pushed through the Senate two years ago and tied it to the Violence Against Women Act, (but) Republicans refused to support it. I’m glad they came to the table to support this.
Another key provision of the law is the enhanced review process for gun buyers under 21, who will now have their mental and juvenile health records reviewed before they can buy a gun, and increased penalties for “straw buying” and tougher penalties for gun trafficking. .
For Urrutia, this corresponds to the gun problems he sees locally.
Urrutia said the most significant gun issues facing El Paso are gun trafficking in Mexico and the prevalence of handguns found at traffic stops, especially among young people — over the course of In recent weeks, three different arrests have yielded three different firearms — but the latter is complicated by the state’s open carry law.
“You don’t know their intention,” Urrutia said. “We don’t know who there is carrying a weapon. With the open port in place, there’s simply no way of knowing.
A big part of the law is a massive influx of funds for mental health services, including $500 million for school mental health services and $300 million for increased safety measures in schools.
“America, in general, lacks mental health professionals,” Escobar said. “So I think it’s really important for us to fund salaries properly. Part of that will be up to the states to do it, to use that money effectively.
Escobar expressed optimism that the funding would increase salaries and tackle burnout among mental health professionals, while ensuring there were enough school counselors to work with at-risk students or in the need.
“Hopefully the funding will help alleviate some of that,” Escobar added. “But that’s not where it stops, we as Congress really need to inspire people to come out into communities like ours to provide mental health treatment, because we…n we really don’t have enough.”
Urrutia agreed, especially when it came to schools.
“Mental health services are important because we don’t want our young people to feel uncomfortable going to school,” Urrutia said, noting that children should feel safe at school. . “If children don’t feel safe, they won’t achieve their academic goals.”
During the discussion, Urrutia mentioned to Escobar the need for mental health funding to benefit those on the front lines of the gun violence epidemic, including law enforcement officers, crime scene investigators and trauma surgeons.
Still, Escobar worried that even funding for mental health — a crucial piece of legislation — was in jeopardy at the hands of Abbott and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
“We have a state legislature and governor, controlled by Republicans, that have historically underfunded mental health,” Escobar said, noting that Abbot had previously hijacked mental health funding from the Department of Health. and Human Services (HHS) for “more political purposes”.
“My concern about this funding for mental health is that it will also be misappropriated. It’s really up to Texans to hold their heads of state accountable so that the money that Congress directs to mental health actually goes to mental health,” she said.
While Escobar hailed the legislation as a step in the right direction, she said there’s still a long way to go.
“Where this bill fails…is that it doesn’t address guns,” Escobar said. “And we know that basically the only factor, the only point in every shot, is the guns, especially the ones that have high capacity magazines or the ones that are assault type weapons. And often they are in the hands of very young men.
“I don’t believe we need weapons of this nature on our streets in America,” Escobar continued. “I haven’t heard a good reason yet why they are needed. I support banning them, as we have already banned them in our country and seen a plunge in carnage, but Congress needs to do more.