Politics

Texas House Democrats Ask Gov. Greg Abbott To Call A Special Session After Two Mass Shootings

Members of the House minority say they want to consider legislation “closing the background check loopholes” and “banning the sale of high-capacity magazines.”

A person attending a vigil for Leilah Hernandez, one of the victims of the shootings in Odessa and Midland, lights a candle.

Democrats in the Texas House are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a special legislative session to address gun violence — a move designed to place even more pressure on the state’s top GOP official to act in the wake of two deadly mass shootings just weeks apart.

A letter to Abbott was delivered Wednesday morning, hours before the House Democratic Caucus hosted five news conferences across the state to discuss “protecting Texans from gun violence.” The letter, which also included several gun-related legislative proposals, was signed by 61 of the 66 members in the caucus.

“Members of the House Democratic Caucus, for several sessions now, have proposed dozens of specific bills aimed at changing the status quo by making Texans safer through common-sense gun and public safety legislation,” the letter reads.

The caucus requested Abbott include issues such as “closing the background check loopholes” and “banning the sale of high-capacity magazines” in a special session agenda, along with “enacting extreme risk protective order laws and closing existing loopholes in current protective order laws,” “limiting the open carry of certain semi-automatic long guns” and “requiring stolen guns be reported to law enforcement.”

The Legislature does not convene again until 2021; Abbott has the sole authority to call both chambers back to the Capitol before then.

Democrats said Wednesday that waiting another year and a half to address gun violence in the state will endanger Texans.

“This is the kind of thing our constituents are telling us they want us to tackle, and they want us to tackle it now,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We should not sacrifice any more Texas lives simply to accommodate a legislative calendar.”

On top of that, the next session will be bogged down with fights over redistricting, further polarizing the state and reducing the chance for consensus on gun safety legislation, Howard said.

During the press conference, however, a spokesperson for Abbott said released a statement that the governor “made clear in Odessa that all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer” — but added that did not “include a helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines.”

“Instead, the Governor seeks consensus rather than division,” Abbott’s spokesperson said in a statement. “The Democrats who are part of today’s partisan pitch can be part of the bi-partisan legislative process announced yesterday that is geared toward achieving real solutions, or they can be part of politics as usual that will accomplish nothing. 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.”

Howard countered the statement from Abbott’s office, however, and said as governor and a major leader among Republicans Abbott could build the consensus necessary to get gun safety legislation through both chambers and to his desk.

Over Labor Day weekend, a gunman on a rampage through Odessa and Midland killed seven people and injured 22 others. The tragedy there happened four weeks after a deadly shooting in El Paso that left 22 dead and more than two dozen wounded. The representative who led Wednesday morning’s Democratic press conference, Celia Israel of Austin, said she had been to the El Paso Walmart where the shooting occurred just a week before, and that her family could have easily been caught up in it.

“Our constituents deserve to know the Texas Legislature hears them,” Israel said. “We have security all around us [at the Capitol]” but are “painfully aware” of the danger for many Texans around the state as their go about their daily lives.

As Democrats have repeatedly urged Abbott to call a special session on the matter, the governor — along with other GOP leaders — have formed various entities to help explore long-term responses. After the El Paso shooting, Abbott assembled the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission.

Abbott also tweeted Monday night that he was considering a proposal to expedite executions of mass shooters. Democrats at the Wednesday press conference declined to comment on the proposal.

And on Tuesday, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced they had formed interim select committees to study “mass violence prevention and community safety.” The committees, the two GOP leaders said, will be tasked with studying and eventually recommending legislative solutions.

Bonnen on Wednesday announced the 13 House members who will serve on the select committee and directed the newly-formed panel to begin studying an array of issues related to gun violence and prevention, such as evaluating “options for strengthening enforcement measures for current laws that prevent the transfer of firearms to felons and other persons prohibited by current law from possessing firearms” and considering “current protocols and extreme risk indicators used to identify potential threats.”

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This piece was originally published in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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