Red flag laws, roundtables on the table for Republicans after El Paso shooting

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, right, answer questions from reporters at a press conference on the second day of the 86th Legislative Session on Jan. 9, 2019. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

EL PASO, Texas (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, are planning to meet with El Paso-area lawmakers and speak to the press Wednesday.

This comes a few days after a gunman killed 22 people in and outside an El Paso Walmart. The attack has put a spotlight on gun violence and federal and state governments’ response to it.

They are speaking the same day President Donald Trump visits El Paso.

During the last Texas mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in the Houston exurbs, the state’s top leaders promised state violence prevention and school security laws. It led to the Texas legislature passing historic school safety and mental health reforms. Most of those reforms are not yet implemented.

Republican support for Red Flag Laws

Texas Senior Senator John Cornyn said he supports Congress looking into a national red flag law. This comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, says lawmakers will take up President Trump’s call for action when they return from recess on September 9th.

“If there are things we can do, I know there’s a lot of discussion about so-called red flag laws that have been passed in other states. This is something that I think we need to discuss and see is there a way to identify some of these shooters early before they commit their act of violence,” said Cornyn at a Wednesday press conference in El Paso.

Red Flag Laws can also be called ‘extreme risk protection orders.’ In those case, a judge can temporarily remove someone’s access to guns.

The idea of Red Flag laws is not new. Republican Governor Greg Abbott even recommended looking into the idea after the Santa Fe High School shooting in this list of actions he proposed. Lawmakers ended up not doing it because of opposition from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick in the Senate. However, it looks like the debate will begin again.

Sen. Cornyn’s support for Red Flag Laws is a long-awaited hope for Ed Scruggs, Board President of Texas Gun Sense.

“This is our third time that we’ve gone through this in two years. We’ve recovered a lot of bodies so it’s not too soon to talk policy. We really haven’t talked about it enough,” said Scruggs.

The law would act like restaining orders: someone goes to a judge and says this person is a safety threat and a judge would be able to order local constables to remove their guns.

“The Governor of Ohio this week proposed that they enact something like that in Ohio and he’s a conservative Republican. So we can definitely do that here if we want to,” said Scruggs.

The last time this came up, even the author of the state’s concealed carry law supported the idea, former Land Commissioner and State Senator Jerry Patterson. Recent polls from the University of Texas, Texas Politics Project, shows that both the majority of Texans and the majority of Republicans favor the idea.

However, gun rights groups and officials from the state Republican Party didn’t like how someone would lose access to their guns before they committed a crime.

Terry Holcomb, Texas State Republican Executive Committee told KXAN at a 2018 hearing, “we all know that is not how this country was founded. You’re innocent until proven guilty.”

The details of any red flag law will be controversial and could impact the entire package. There are a ton of questions about due process, what kind of evidence against a person is allowed, and penalties for making false complaints.

Roundtables in Austin

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has scheduled a set of roundtables in two weeks and he says those discussions will lead to action. Abbott actually has a blueprint for what this will look like.

Governor Abbott called for something similar after the Santa Fe School shooting.

Then, he held several days of talks with students, law enforcement professionals, and different sides of the gun and mental health debates. He then released a long list of recommendations: things that could happen immediately like grant funding and legislative fixes lawmakers took up months later when they entered the regular session.

In the regular session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 11: a wide-ranging school safety reform bill including adding threat assessment teams to schools, nearly $10 per student for districts to upgrade security at their schools, and a $100 million mental health consortium.

More than a year since the shooting, most of these things are not up and running yet.

“We need to also ensure that guns aren’t in the hands of deranged killers like the man who committed this heinous crime here in El Paso. While also at the same time ensuring that constitutional rights are not going to be violated. The bottom line is that there’s much to be done, and there’s a need for speed,” said Gov. Abbott in El Paso.

After Santa Fe state lawmakers even passed a small measure opposed by the National Rifle Association and smaller grassroots gun groups.
This next two-year budget will have $1 million dedicated to a safe gun storage campaign.

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