The Texas Senate and House of Representatives have each formed special committees to find solutions in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that killed 21 people. Gov. Greg Abbott requested Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan establish the special committees, with the goal of exploring five topics to prevent future school shootings.
Firearm safety was topic number five – following school safety, mental health, social media, and police training.
It was an early signal that new gun restrictions could be a low priority for the Texas Legislature.
“The governor has assigned this to (committees) rather than calling an emergency session to deal with it in real time, and that sort of leads me to believe that maybe we’re not going to see things happening at the state level,” said Kevin Buckler, professor and interim department chair of criminal justice at the University of Houston–Downtown.
Most Republican lawmakers in Texas are typically not shy to speak out against gun regulations and protecting the Second Amendment. Take state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock: Perry was questioned in 2021 on Austin's NBC affiliate KXAN about restricting guns in the aftermath of the El Paso and Midland-Odessa mass shootings in 2019.
"Since Columbine, there was like 30-plus, maybe 40 instances. So, we’re willing to take away the Second Amendment,” he said. “Not the Tenth, not the Fifth, but the Second Amendment right, because 30-some-odd, 40-some-odd instances of really bad people, that the majority of them got their guns illegally."
And yet, Perry was asked to serve on a special committee to find solutions after those shootings.
"A new law wouldn’t fix that, at the peril of 100,000,000 good God-fearing, gun-toting, gun-owning people," Perry said. “And that’s what we are guilty of doing down here, when something bad happens in that very small one-percenters or whoever it is, we go in and disrupt 99% of the good people."
It was precisely the opposite reasoning that Republican lawmakers were using in 2021 to justify passing tough new restrictions on voting. Voter fraud is exceptionally rare, both in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S., yet Republican legislators argued that any such fraud justified a crackdown that critics say is more likely to discourage legitimate voters than root out illegitimate ones.
Patrick just appointed Perry once again — this time to his Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, formed in response to the Uvalde massacre. When reached to ask about new gun restrictions, Perry had no comment.
In fact, of the 14 Republicans in the Texas Senate running for reelection, 13 either had no comment or declined to respond at all.
The sole exception was Houston Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is also on the special committee. Asked whether the time had come to enact stricter gun laws in Texas, Bettencourt didn’t directly answer the question.
“What I think we have to do is get the facts of what happened in Uvalde," Bettencourt said. “In fact, I’ve never seen a fact record change 180 degrees like it was the week since the shooting, and it’s very important to find out exactly what happened because bad facts make bad law.”
Bettencourt declined to comment on a recent analysis by the Gun Violence Archive showing that the U.S. was averaging more than two mass shootings a day since Uvalde. He also declined four times to directly address the prospect of new gun laws or whether he would support them. That was the case even when he was asked in the context of prior Republican legislation passed with the intent of protecting children – such as raising the minimum age for smoking and drinking and effectively banning trans children from participating in school sports.
His answers always ended with that same formulation: “bad facts make bad law.”
Republican House members we reached out to proved no more willing to speak on the issue. The sole exception was Rep. James White of Hillister, who is not running for reelection.
"Any role for stricter firearms legislation?" White said "In the respect that we're making sure that our schools are remaining free of these firearms, absolutely. In making sure that our background checks are working appropriately, absolutely. In making sure that people that we believe have the probity and the maturity to own and possess weapons, absolutely we should look at that. "
But even White declined to say whether he would support any of the Democrats' proposals such as raising the minimum age to buy long guns from 18 to 21.
Most Democrats are skeptical anything will change in the wake of Uvalde. State Rep. Gene Wu of Houston says that's the result of Republicans' success in gerrymandering the legislative map in their favor.
"Even though the vast majority of Republicans in general support things like universal background searches, red flag laws and many other things, the majority of the primary voters do not, and that’s the only people they’re beholden to,” Wu said. “So even if the majority of Republicans want things that make sense and are practical, it’s hard for them to do it politically because they’re going to be afraid of losing in the primaries.”
The bottom line: new gun restrictions may have to come from the federal level or not at all, according to Dallas state Sen. Royce West, one of only two Democrats named to the Senate committee.
"If we’re not getting that thing done on the national level, it’s going to be very difficult to get anything done as it relates to gun-related issues on a statewide level," West said.