Potential ‘red flag’ law puts Republican lawmakers in tough spot

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Santa Fe High School shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott pushed the legislature to consider if a “red flag” law was needed and did not duplicate existing laws on the books.

The two driving forces in the House and the Senate, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, charged specific committees to look into the idea.

Those actions alone gave gun safety advocates some hope ahead of the January 2019 legislative session. 

Red flag laws in other states allow local judges to temporarily limit someone’s access to firearms if they’re proved to be a threat to themselves or others. 

However, that idea could crash against political forces that have stomped down anything deemed “gun-control” in the Texas legislature. One of those forces is the Republican party, the banner GOP lawmakers campaign under to get elected by Texas voters. 

Tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security held a public hearing on the issue. The hearing brought out holstered guns, stickers and political shirts worn by more than 50 people. The crowd previewed an upcoming maelstrom when lawmakers gavel back in next year. 

Gil Switzer of Texas Gun Sense, a gun safety advocacy group, said,”There’s gotten to be a critical mass of violence that we’re not willing to live with anymore. That’s the impression that I get.”

After the committee meeting, the leader of the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Patrick issued a statement dumping cold water on the “red flag” idea.

“I have never supported these policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate. A bill offered last session garnered little support,” wrote Patrick. “Governor Greg Abbott formally asked the legislature to consider ‘Red Flag’ laws in May so I added them to the charges I gave to the select committee. However, Gov. Abbott has since said he doesn’t advocate ‘Red Flag’ laws.”

One leading Second Amendment advocate backing the proposal is Jerry Patterson, the former senator and Texas Land Commissioner who authored the concealed carry law. Patterson says a firearm protective order can be done right if there’s due process, a high standard of evidence and a penalty for making a false complaint. 

Patterson believes current civil law only gets guns out of hands for domestic and mental health issues.

“Not all school shooters are crazy. Some of them are just mean and evil,” said Patterson.

To become law, Republican lawmakers might have to break with most of the views of GOP base voters. Patterson says they should.

“If you’re here and you’re afraid to do what you know to be right, then you need to go somewhere else,” Patterson said. “You need to find another job. I think these guys and gals will do what’s right.” 

Earlier this summer at the Republican State Convention, the party faithful overwhelmingly came out against red flag laws.

“I would say this is one of the top three issues for Republicans and it will certainly be one of the top three issues this legislative session,” said State Republican Executive Committeeman, Terry Holcomb.

Holcomb says the party’s beef with the idea is someone could be penalized before they do anything illegal. “We all know that is not how this country was founded, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Holcomb said.

The Senate Committee plans to issue a report in the next month covering what they learned and recommendations for action in January.

Many gun rights activists told the committee Tuesday they could solve this problem by enforcing existing law — Senate Bill 1189 which passed the legislature and was signed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The law allows a peace officer to seize any firearm from a person they take into custody for mental health reasons. However, the officer must provide a written copy of the receipt for the firearm and a written notice of the procedure for the return of a firearm if they own it.  Then the police have 15 days to give it back to them or to the nearest family member. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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