AUSTIN (KXAN) — After two mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, lawmakers — spurred on by their Republican leaders — began moving into uncharted territory: openly discussing new hurdles to purchase guns for the sake of safety.
In a rare display of political winds blowing, advocacy groups did not have a solid trust in or knowledge of where lawmakers would go next: gun rights groups feel betrayed but gun safety groups still don’t have faith they’ll win out in the end.
A select committee in the Texas Senate heard expert testimony on how to prevent mass shootings and everyday gun violence. The committee room in the basement extension of the Texas Capitol for the select meeting of the Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety Committee. It was the first committee meeting and an overflow room was needed across the hallway.
The select committee was formed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, after the two mass shootings in Odessa and El Paso and the calls for action afterward. Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, appointed a similar committee.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick charged the committee with addressing mass violence by looking into gun sales between strangers, digital and social media indicators, video games, and racism’s role in terrorism.
Recently, Lt. Governor Patrick announced he will break with the National Rifle Association on one specific issue: background checks for private gun sales between strangers.
The shooter in Odessa was denied a purchase from a licensed gun store because of a failed background check. Law enforcement reported he then bought his gun through a private sale.
“I have never shied away from controversial issues. I’ve taken heat from the left, the liberal media, and even occasionally, the right for taking a stand,” Lt. Governor Patrick wrote in his weekly email to supports. “I believe we need to be a party of open robust discussions on public policy. We cannot react like the left always does where they shout down and attack anyone who disagrees with them. That’s not who we are as conservatives. We fight for the First Amendment as hard as we fight for the Second Amendment.”
Gun Rights groups tell KXAN they longer know if they have 100% fealty from the Texas GOP on gun issues.
“It’s Frustrating. Disappointed. Yes. Because we don’t feel like they’re paying attention to the people,” said Richard Bohnert.
Brothers Henry and Richard Bohnert are advocates with Gun Owners of America and came to watch the senate select committee. They say they oppose measures that try and prevent crime before it happens: like red flag laws and increased background check.
“How do you determine an evil mind? You can’t. No one is going to determine who will create an evil act,” said Henry Bohnert.
While momentum is shifting towards gun safety groups, many don’t quite trust GOP Texas lawmakers either.
“We saw these same lawmakers collectively loosening all of our gun laws here in Texas,” said Hilary Whitfield, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action. She worries the lawmakers in place now will go half-way and call it a solution.
“Until we know that the state legislature really has the best interest in Texas in mind and is on the side of the majority of Texans wanting these strong measures then we don’t think we need to get together again,” said Whitfield.
Governor Greg Abbott called a series of roundtables after the El Paso and Odessa shootings. He also announced eight executive orders to the Department of Public Safety, to encourage them to speed up their process to take in reports of suspicious activity and respond to them.
Whatever the select committee recommends, they would not be able to change Texas law until January 2021 when the state’s regular legislative session begins. The House Democratic Caucus and the Texas Democratic Party have called on Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on this issue.
“Texans are clear: It’s time for Governor Abbott to call for an emergency special session to end gun violence and white supremacy immediately,” said Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, Manny Garcia. “It has now been 54 days since the El Paso shooting and 26 since the Midland-Odessa shooting. In that time, our families are not any safer and our state continues to reel from new tragedies of gun violence.”
Earlier this week, Bedford Rep. Jonathan Stickland and former Rep. Matt Rinaldi told a podcast that there has been chatter among GOP lawmakers about a special session early next Spring on this issue.
At this point, Abbott has not crossed that line, instead of wanting lawmaker consensus before moving to change laws. These committee hearings are looked at as a key way to build consensus. It will be a long, hard, and thoroughly watched process.