House panel addresses mass violence and community safety holds first meeting

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State lawmakers met to discuss safety in Texas following two deadly mass-shootings within a month in the state.

The House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met Tuesday for the first time for an organizational meeting.

Seven people died and two-dozen were hurt in a deadly shooting in Odessa earlier this month. 22 people were killed and 20 were injured in an attack at an El Paso Walmart less than a month prior.

“It goes without saying, Texans are hurting,” State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, the committee’s chair, said in his opening statement.

Following those incidents in West Texas, the state’s House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the formation of a committee in each chamber to address mass violence prevention and community safety. Gov. Greg Abbott also created a domestic terrorism task force and the Texas Safety Commission to bring community members, lawmakers and security experts together to identify ways to better protect Texans.

Specifically, the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety is directed to:

  • Evaluate 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
  • Assess challenges to the timely reporting of relevant criminal history information and other threat indicators to state and federal databases
  • Examine the role of digital media and technology in threat detection, assessment, reporting, and prevention, including the collaboration between digital media and law enforcement
  • Consider the ongoing and long-term workforce needs of the state related to cybersecurity, mental health, law enforcement, and related professionals
  • Evaluate current protocols and extreme risk indicators used to identify potential threats and consider options for improving the dissemination of information between federal, state, and local entities and timely and appropriate intervention of mental health professionals.

“Odessa is still reeling,” State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, said after the meeting wrapped up. “It has been a tragedy to deal with but people have come together in an amazing way.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said the shooting in his community brought forward a renewed sense of urgency to act on gun issues.

“That urgency is not born out of hate or anger towards anyone or antagonism, but one of love,” Moody said after the meeting. “If we focus on that and let that be our center — we can reach a consensus, we can make changes to make people safer and we can save lives. That really should be our goal.”

“It’s tragic that it took us to this point to get here, but this is the one opportunity I get to change a small part of the world that I live in, then I’m going to take every single opportunity to do that and I think everyone else feels that urgency as well,” Moody explained.

Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers the agency has already acted in the wake of the two recent shootings in the state, and said there was more work to do, including collaborating with local law enforcement to develop what specific questions need to be asked of people who pose possible threats.

“What can we do to raise public awareness?” McCraw asked the panel, rhetorically. “It’s not just schools, it’s churches, it’s other place,s it’s the entire state.

“Texas has always been forward-leaning from a response standpoint,” he said, referencing a need to shift more strongly towards prevention.

In addition to Tuesday’s Capitol hearing, the panel will hold field hearings in El Paso, Odessa, Amarillo, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

“I think that’s where we’re going to have the most productive conversations. If you get outside the Capitol, I think that’s where you find your solutions,” Landgraf said.

“Things that aren’t going to infringe on the Second Amendment, but common sense solutions and just make it more difficult for shooters to commit crimes against people,” Landgraf explained.

“Words alone will not deliver the bold solutions Texas needs in order to defeat the violence that has become far too commonplace in our state,” Bonnen said in a statement after announcing who would serve on the 13-member House panel. “The Texas House is putting words into action by forming this committee, and it will be well-served by the range of backgrounds, skillsets, and expertise these particular members provide. While the charges before this committee will be no simple undertaking, their importance cannot be overstated. I am grateful for the service of each of these members and know their readiness to take on the challenging work before them will translate into thoughtful, life-saving solutions for the State of Texas.”

The committee will be required to submit a preliminary assessment to Speaker Bonnen by the first week of December, as well as produce progress reports and a final report.

In response to the shootings, Abbott issued eight executive orders, aiming to “achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings.”

Upon the announcement of the creation of the interim legislative committees, Abbott said:

“Texas will not stand by and allow violence to continue to rip apart our families and communities. As I said in Odessa, words alone are inadequate as we face this challenge. Words must be followed by meaningful action to prevent these senseless and devastating attacks. I applaud the House and Senate for establishing these committees, and Texas lawmakers have my full support as we work together to put an end to this violence. These committees, alongside the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission, are vital to our ongoing efforts to respond to these recent tragedies and protect innocent life. Texans stand as a united front against violence, and together, we will ensure a safer future for our state.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

A similar committee on the Senate side will meet on Sept. 26.

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