‘Our opportunity to make things right’ – El Paso lawmaker works for solutions after shootings

Texas

(KXAN) — A Texas task force kicked off a new search for solutions aimed at preventing gun violence. Governor Greg Abbott held the first meeting of his Texas Safety Commission on Thursday.

The commission brings together lawmakers, law enforcement, representatives of tech companies, and other experts. It’s modeled after the meetings that happened after the 2018 Santa Fe high school shootings. Those discussions helped shape new state laws in the past legislative session.

Lawmakers from El Paso will play a significant role in this latest round of meetings, which come in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in their city.

State of Texas host Josh Hinkle spoke with State Rep. César Blanco (D-El Paso) to get his perspective on the first meeting, and the meetings to come.

HINKLE: What are your takeaways? What do you hope comes out of these meetings?

BLANCO: Well, number one, I think we need to make sure that our community has the ability to heal from this tragic event that occurred in our community of El Paso. But, importantly I think there’s a discussion about how we’re going to move forward addressing hate crimes in our state. What the mediums are where a lot of these white supremacy groups and hate groups are operating. A lot of them are on the internet. And then, of course, taking a look at what we can do to making sure that we’re implementing gun safety proposals so these tragedies don’t continue to occur en masse.

HINKLE: You’ve talked about the need for everyone to be mindful of the language they use moving forward. Why is that so important?

BLANCO: I think it’s important about how we talk about immigrants, about how leaders of our country and our state talk about individuals that are in our communities. So I think that it’s important that we’re careful, that there’s sensitivity especially in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy that was caused by a white supremacist who killed 22 people in our community. I think we need to begin to heal, not only in the state of Texas but also in our community.

HINKLE: You’re talking about the rising threat of white nationalism. How can the commission and how can lawmakers respond to the threat?

BLANCO: A couple of things that came to light… as we worked with Twitter, Facebook, Google and others, is there’s definitely a need for content review, making sure that social media, once they identify hateful rhetoric, hateful sites, hateful platforms, making sure that they’re shut down. Obviously, we want to make sure the First Amendment is protected. However, when people are becoming radicalized in these sites, we want to make sure that there are mechanisms in place to making sure that they’re shut down quickly so they don’t continue to be radicalized and start mass shootings like they did in El Paso. So, we’re looking at several proposals. When we come back next week in El Paso for the second roundtable I hope we get to talk more about the next steps ahead.

HINKLE: How do you expect that one is going to be different from this one?

BLANCO: Well the Governor… lined out exactly what I think our approach should be in El Paso, and I agree with him that it’s about community healing and making sure that El Paso has all the state resources available to heal. That’s from everything to mental health, from security, from bringing people together. We’re going to focus a lot about that. We’re going to hear from experts in mental health. We’re going to hear from faith leaders and a variety of folks. Our delegation is going to provide and has provided the Governor with a list of individuals that would be suitable for this event. But more importantly, we need to hear from the victims and the families. We want to make sure we’re also hearing their stories, their concerns, their feelings about how we move forward from this tragedy. We also want to hear input from our first responders, whether they are law enforcement or health care first responders, what the best practices are, what they learned from this situation, and what steps we need to take forward as a state.

HINKLE: You released a statement shortly before the hearing, saying you feel like you “owe it” to the victims to make sure “bold actions come from these committees.” Talk to us about why this resonates so much with you personally.

BLANCO: It’s personal because 22 people died. It’s personal because it happened in our community. It’s personal because I serve in the legislature with colleagues who have experienced mass shootings as we did here in El Paso. And it’s important and relevant because we as elected officials have the opportunity to make something happen, to do something, to create change so that we’re keeping our community safe. This is happening on our watch. This is our opportunity to make things right.

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