One day after a mass shooting in Texas, looser gun laws go into effect

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The day following a mass shooting injuring 22 people and killing seven in Midland and Odessa, Texas Governor Greg Abbott faced questions related to his state’s gun laws. The shooting in the Permian Basin came less than one month after a mass shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen.

As Governor Abbott sat at a table in Odessa on Sunday answering questions from reporters, he was asked to acknowledge a handful of Texas laws related to guns which happened to take effect that very same day. Broadly, these laws loosen and clarify the restrictions on gun owners ability to use and store firearms.

These laws include:

  • HB 1177 which allows Texans complying with an evacuation order to temporarily carry their guns without a license for up to 48 hours. People who are barred by federal and state law from carrying a firearm are not included in this law.
  • HB 302 which prohibits landlords from preventing their tenants and guests from having, carrying, transporting, or storing a firearm. This law does not apply to those who are already disallowed from carrying firearms.
  • SB 535 which strikes a provision in the Texas penal code which prohibited licensed gun owners from carrying handguns “on the premises of a church, synagogue, or other established place of religious worship.” As our media partners at the Texas Tribune reported, this new law codified a previous opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton shortly after the Sutherland Springs shooting in 2017. Under this law, places of worship can prohibit licensed gun owners from carrying firearms so long as those people are given written or verbal notice.
  • HB 1387 which removes the caps on the number of school marshals allowed at public and private schools in Texas. School marshals are allowed to carry guns on campuses. Following the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, Governor Abbott called for an increase in the number of school marshals allowed.
  • HB 1143 which prevents school districts from regulating handgun, firearm, or ammunition storage in private vehicles that are parked in school parking lots, as long as the gun is not in plain sight.
  • HB 2363 which allows some foster homes to store guns and ammunition in a locked location.
  • SB 741 bars property owners’ associations from banning or restricting the possession, transportation, lawful discharge or storage of a firearm by people who would otherwise be allowed to do so.
  • HB 121 offers a legal defense for licensed gun owners who unknowingly enter a place that doesn’t allow guns inside, so long as that gun owner leaves promptly after they are verbally told to do so.

Most of these laws are highlighted by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action as bills “protecting your Second Amendment rights.”

What Texas lawmakers are saying

In Odessa, Governor Greg Abbott was asked at a press conference about these new laws.

The governor said, citing the law removing the cap on school marshals as an example, that safety factored into why they were written.

“Some of these laws were enacted for the purpose of making our community safer,” he said.

But the governor also made it clear he wasn’t happy with the “status quo” in Texas, and that the mass shootings which have taken place in the state are “unacceptable.”

“I am heartbroken by the crying of the people in the State of Texas, I am tired of the dying of the people in the State of Texas, too many Texans are in mourning, too many Texans have lost their lives,” he said.

Friday, Governor Abbott hosted his first Domestic Terrorism Task Force meeting in Austin, prompted by the El Paso shooting and what state leaders see as an increasing number of mass shootings and terroristic attacks. At the press conference Sunday, Abbott explained that since the El Paso shooting, he has been having meetings daily to talk about how to stop deadly attacks in Texas.

“We are working quickly to hammer out solutions, to put some solutions on the table,” Abbott told the audience in Odessa.

“We must broaden our efforts to address the tragedy that has befallen Odessa and we must do so quickly, we need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals like the killer here in Odessa, while also ensuring that we safeguard Second Amendment rights,” the governor said.

Given the information that the shooter in Midland-Odessa used an AR-type weapon, reporters asked Abbott Sunday about whether Texas would place restrictions on assault weapons.

Abbott explained that legislators had already brought that topic up in conversations at the round-table discussions following the El Paso shooting.

“I do want to point out, however, that some of the shootings have not involved AR’s, very important to understand that the shooting that took place at Santa Fe High School did not,” Abbott noted.

It’s still unclear what kind of solutions the governor is aiming to accomplish to address gun violence in the state. Texas lawmakers are not scheduled to reconvene until the next legislative session in 2021.

State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland) talked about the possibility of calling a special session.

“The governor could, if he finds something that he thinks will help, some strong laws, [that] won’t get a lot of pushback, he could call a special session,” Craddick said.

State Representative Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) said it is “absolutely” needed for the governor to call lawmakers back for a special session to address gun violence.

“We are in a crisis situation right now that needs to be addressed and we cannot keep kicking this can down the road,” she said. “There is plenty of data to support these positions, we don’t need more roundtables, we know what works, we know where the data is we just need to enact these laws.”

Hinojosa believes there is a wide range of solutions the state could enact curb gun violence, and she says many of these solutions have been tested with success by other states.

“This is a space that is not ‘take all your guns’ or ‘everybody can have whatever gun they want whatever, wherever’, there’s a lot of space in the middle that does not implicate the Second Amendment at all,” Hinojosa said, explaining that she believes there’s a “middle ground” to center this policy discussion around.

Her suggestions include passing universal background checks, barring individuals from purchasing a weapon when they have a warrant out for their arrest for assault, adding statewide punishment for those who lie on background checks, and adding red flag laws so that a person’s access to guns can be temporarily taken away if they are shown to be a threat to themselves or others.

Hinojosa said she feels sadness and anger in thinking about the mass shootings that have happened in Texas.

“Sadness about the lives lost and the pain that this community is going through and also anger that this is happening when it’s unnecessary, gun violence is a man-made crisis that we’re in, and we can fix it, we just need to have the political will to do so,” she said.

State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) also believes that there is enough research out there to guide Texas toward policy changes that could curb gun violence immediately.

“We have reams of reports and studies from a variety of those in the public health field who have looked at the damage to not only those who have suffered the loss of life, not only to those who have been wounded, and believe me there are more of those exponentially, but also the health inflicted trauma on the larger community,” Howard explained.

“To just offer prayers is not sufficient, to say we are going to have more roundtables is not sufficient,” she said.

“I have yet to hear from the governor what it is he intends to do here other than have these round tables,” Howard added.

She says that the constituents she’s heard from, including gun owners, want to see Texas take action to stop these acts of mass violence.

“It is beyond ironic that the day these laws have gone into effect we are still debating what we can do to keep Texans safe,” she said.

State Representative Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) posted on Twitter Saturday with a very different take on what the state needs to do.

“’Do something!’ is the statement we keep hearing,” Schaefer Tweeted. “As an elected official with a vote in Austin, let me tell you what I am NOT going to do. I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans. Period. None of these so-called gun-control solutions will work to stop a person with evil intent.”

He went on to say that he opposes red flag laws, universal background checks, bans on AR-15’s, and mandatory gun buybacks. Schaefer also made it clear what solutions he wants Texas to look to:

“YES to your God-given, constitutionally protected rights. YES to God, and NO to more government intrusions,” he Tweeted

Polls show Texans warming up to certain gun control measures

According to polling from the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, while Texans are generally not in favor of banning guns, they have shown increased support for certain restrictions to gun access. The Texas Politics Project has been polling Texans for roughly a decade.

“Texas is well known, and deservedly so, for having very unrestricted gun purchase and ownership laws,” explained Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project.

Henson said that his organization has been surveying people about their opinions on the state’s gun control laws for a while. The last time they surveyed was in February of 2019.

“Texans generally favor relatively broad access to firearms, but on the other hand, in recent years [Texans] have also shown some openness to reasonable restrictions many of which are being discussed now like red flag laws,” Henson said.

He added that background checks get a “decent level of support” in Texas too.

In fact, according to the Texas Politics Project’s polling in February, 46% of respondents said they’d strongly support red flag laws.

According to February 2019 Texas Tribune -University of Texas polling, 46% of Texans surveyed would strongly support of red flag laws. (Image courtesy Texas Politics Project).

The polling also showed that 49% of respondents said they’d be in favor of stricter gun control laws.

According to February 2019 Texas Tribune -University of Texas polling, 49% of Texans surveyed would support more strict gun control laws. (Image courtesy Texas Politics Project).

In that February 2019 poll, when you look at the numbers by party, 83% of Democrats felt gun control laws should be more strict compared to 19% of Republicans. 55% of women and 43% of men polled felt gun control laws should be more strict. 62% of those polled in urban areas felt that gun control laws should be more strict compared to 48% in suburban areas and 34% in rural areas.

“There are interesting subtleties there, ” Henson said. “On the one hand, if you cross the line into banning weapons you have a harder time getting support for those among the Texas public. But restrictions on ownership that seem oriented toward public safety and aren’t seen as particularly prohibitive, like background checks or red flag laws, receive relatively high levels of support.”

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