Texas House Democrats turn up the heat on Gov. Abbott to call special session on gun reform

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Governor Greg Abbott’s office says instead of calling an emergency special session on gun violence, he hopes to find “consensus” around solutions before trying to push them through the Texas legislature.

This comes as a swath of Texas Democrats increased the pressure on the state’s top leaders to act, after two deadly mass shootings in the last month and four in less than two years.

Democrats in the Texas House hosted five press conferences Wednesday morning in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso. They signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, asking him to call an emergency special session “on protecting Texans from gun violence.”

Sixty-one members of the House Democratic Caucus signed a letter delivered to Abbott Wednesday morning, urging him to address the gun violence epidemic.

These press conferences come after seven people were killed in Odessa over Labor Day weekend; 25 others were hurt in the shooting spree. In El Paso, 22 were killed and more than two-dozen were wounded at the start of the month by a gunman believed to be targeting Hispanic people in the first weekend of August.

In the aftermath of the El Paso massacre, Gov. Greg Abbott created a domestic terrorism task force and a safety commission to initiate open dialogue about solutions to protect Texans. Abbott stopped short of calling a special legislative session to address gun violence.

“Governor Abbott made clear in Odessa that all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer. But that doesn’t 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,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman, “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.”

“You know who can build a consensus is the Governor. If the Governor speaks up and says he will get behind certain legislation, we will have a consensus,” responded Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, at the Austin press conference.

Texas Republicans representing the Permian Basin region said they could support a special session, but only if lawmakers come to the table with substantive ideas that could be executed within the 30 days a special session allows. Lawmakers won’t reconvene until January 2021.

“Do we have to have a special session? I think we certainly can, but it has to certainly come after that lengthy dialogue that the Governor’s talking about,” State Sen. Kel Seliger, a Republican who represents Midland, Odessa and Amarillo, said over the weekend.

“If he called a special session for tomorrow, would we get a lot of issues resolved in 30 days? I don’t think we could,” he said on Sunday.

“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,” said Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin.

Abbott says the state should explore ways to close gaps in background check systems for gun sales. Law enforcement investigators indicated the Odessa shooter failed at least one background check in an attempt to purchase a gun in 2014. The gun used in the attack turned out to be purchased through a private sale, not requiring a background check.

The state’s Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen formed committees in their respective chambers Tuesday in response to the El Paso and Odessa shootings.

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