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The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a special emergency legislative session to consider various gun restrictions and safety measures following a mass shooting at a school in Uvalde that has killed 19 children and two adults this week.
In a letter released Saturday morning, the 13 Senate Democrats called on lawmakers to pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. The Uvalde shooter was 18 years old and had purchased two AR-type rifles which he used in the attack.
The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all gun sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove guns from people deemed an imminent threat to themselves or the others, a “cooling-off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on large capacity magazines for citizens.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings in the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School near Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter read. “After each of these massacres, you held press conferences and round tables promising that things would change. After the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, these broken promises have never rang more hollow. Now is the time to take concrete action. »
Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled legislature, which has a reputation for favoring legislation easing gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back to a special session for emergency business.
Asked about a special session at a Friday news conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table,” adding that he believed laws would eventually be passed to deal with this week’s horrors. However, he suggested the laws would be more geared towards mental health rather than gun control.
“You can expect some solid discussions and hopefully laws will be passed, which I will sign, regarding health care in this state,” he said. “This status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We are not going to sit here and do nothing about it.
He resisted raising the age to buy a gun, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.
He also rejected universal background checks, saying existing background check policies failed to prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, both of which occurred while he was in office.
“If everyone wants to grab a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy, look at the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check was irrelevant because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests that we should focus on background checks rather than sanity, I think he deceived.”
Since the Robb Elementary School massacre, the governor’s comments on potential solutions have focused on increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to guns.
But in the letter, Senate Democrats slammed the governor for blaming a “broken mental health care system — which you and other state leaders continue to severely underfund.”
“We need gun safety laws that are evidence-based and grounded in common sense. Undoubtedly, if at least some of the aforementioned measures had been adopted since 2018, many lives could have been saved,” the caucus wrote.
Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
After the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting, Abbott issued a variety of recommendations to keep the school safe, including a call for the Legislature to consider “red flag” legislation.
At the time, Abbott claimed in its School Safety Improvement Plan that similar protective orders restricting gun ownership could have prevented mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, southeast of San Antonio, and in Parkland, Florida.
But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and gun rights activists pushed back and the proposal died.
At the end of the 2019 legislative session, Abbott signed a school safety package that focused primarily on expanding mental health resources and “strengthening school buildings.” It increased the number of school personnel who could have a firearm on school grounds.
When he signed this legislation at the end of the 2019 session, reporters asked him if he still supported a “red flag” law.
Abbott said such a measure was not needed in Texas “at this time.”
On Friday, Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, interrupted Abbott’s press conference by walking to the front of the auditorium and urging the governor to bring lawmakers back for three weeks.
“We have to do something, man,” he told Abbott, the second Democratic politician to interrupt a press conference this week. “Just remind us.”
In the hours after Tuesday’s shooting, Gutierrez told the Texas Tribune that the state needed to make it harder to get a gun, especially the weapon used by the shooter, an AR-15, which he called a “weapon of mass destruction”. .”
“There isn’t a hunter in Texas that uses these kinds of weapons,” he said. “And so I’m not saying remove those kinds of weapons, I’m saying we should have greater accessibility restrictions… When you have an 18-year-old kid who gets his hands on those kinds of things. ‘weapons, that just doesn’t make sense to me.