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Behind Closed Doors, Abbott Talks Gun Violence And School Safety After Santa Fe Shooting

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott hosted his first of three roundtable discussions on gun violence at the Capitol Tuesday

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott (top center, in front of U.S. flag) held the first of three roundtable discussions on school safety in the aftermath of the Santa Fe high School shooting, in Austin on May 22, 2018.

In a closed door meeting, Gov. Greg Abbott sat down with fellow lawmakers and other experts Tuesday afternoon for the first day of scheduled roundtable discussions on school safety and gun violence following a massacre at Santa Fe High School last week.

Abbott, a Republican, said the discussions are designed to develop strategies that will prevent further shootings.

"We have one single goal over the next few hours that we will be here, and that is to gain as much information as possible out of each person in this room," he said surrounded by Texas officials in his public reception room at the Capitol.

Attendees of Tuesday's discussion, which began around 1:30 p.m., included leaders from the Texas House and Senate and the heads of the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Public Safety. There were also local law enforcement and school officials, including the district attorney who will lead the prosecution against 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the accused shooter in Friday's killings.

At Santa Fe High School on Friday, Abbott mentioned a handful of relatively uncontroversial measures related to guns, including speeding up background checks, enacting policies to keep guns away from those who "pose an immediate danger" and providing more resources for school safety personnel. He said he’d like to expand a Lubbock program aimed at preventing at-risk students from committing violent acts that began in response to mass shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn.

Wednesday’s discussion will focus on gun regulations, mental health solutions and underlying causes of gun violence, Abbott said just before the meeting. It will include advocates both for and against further gun restrictions, mental health experts and even social media experts, he said.

Thursday will be a day for the victims of mass shootings in Texas, including the school shooting in Santa Fe that killed 10, and one at a church in Sutherland Springs last fall that killed 26. The exact list of attendees for those days have not yet been released.

Democrats have largely welcomed a discussion on gun violence, but criticized the effectiveness of any changes currently proposed by Republican leadership. State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday that the state should also pass universal background checks and require the reporting of stolen guns.

And in a news release Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said excluding several groups who want stricter gun regulation, including Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives, will limit the potential for meaningful action. Texas Gun Sense, which advocates for further gun restrictions, is expected to attend Abbott's discussion Wednesday.

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