State of Texas: State leaders ‘walk the political tightrope’ in response to El Paso shooting

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(KXAN) — Top state leaders charged with responding to the recent mass shooting in El Paso held their first round table this week on gun safety, community safety and security. 

Gov. Greg Abbott led a far-reaching discussion with state lawmakers, tech company representatives and law enforcement officials. The round table touched on issues like enforcing current laws that keep domestic abusers and other criminals from getting a firearm, to cracking down on stolen guns and straw purchases.

But there was no talk of the most divisive questions surrounding the gun debate: bans on assault-style weapons, or high capacity magazine bans.

Instead, Abbott stressed that “a lot of items are on the table.”

“I expect that to be the line for now,” said Patrick Svitek, primary political reporter for the Texas Tribune. “The way that Abbott approached this round table struck me as him trying to find some compromise territory here.”

Svitek said Abbott’s original push for red flag laws where concerned friends and family could go to a judge to order the removal of a firearm from an individual received “swift backlash” from his own party. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wouldn’t bring it up for a vote in the Texas Senate.

Abbott dismissed the idea in his most recent town hall, but Svitek said there is strong support for red flag laws among factions of the Republican party and almost all of the Democratic party.

Instead, Abbott suggested a policy called a welfare check at the most recent round table.  Which KXAN politics reporter Phil Prazan described as a routine assessment of certain individuals.

“The welfare check is more vague,” Prazan said.  “It’s more ‘hey I’m going to call the police just to see if they can do a mental health check on this person.  Nothing about taking guns away.”

Svitek said the governor is beginning to feel the heat to come up with a firm gun policy while “walking the political tight rope.” 

“He’s not up for reelection next year, Dan Patrick isn’t up for reelection next year but a lot of state House members and members of Congress are up for reelection in suburban districts where the issue of gun violence really matters,” Svitek said.

Prazan said competition from Democrats is forcing Texas Republican leaders to dive into these issues and come up with a substantive response that “acts towards the middle.”

“If Texas was still a primary Republican versus Republican state and that was what determined the state leadership, we would never be having these conversations to begin with,” Prazan said.

Prazan said a bipartisan response that finds middle ground will be critical for state leaders looking to secure the suburban woman vote.  A group he said is “sick of their students and friends getting shot going to Wal Mart or going to school.”

“The political stakes of this, and the political stakes of doing nothing are really high for Republican leadership,” Prazan said.

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