McAllen (Texas) Monitor: Time for Texas to act on gun reform

McAllen (Texas) Monitor

In a news conference last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claimed he was “livid” after learning that he had been given less than accurate information regarding the actual circumstances surrounding the approach taken by law enforcement in the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

We all are “livid” that we find ourselves once again dealing with this type of tragic, senseless attack on our children, our families, our state and our nation.

A common refrain after a tragic shooting is “it’s not the time to debate” or “let’s not politicize this.”

The underlying rationale is that emotions and politics might blind us to reason, but elected leaders do not have the luxury to be idle in the face of a crisis. By holding their positions of power, they have a civic duty to act in the moment — as leaders have done in times of war, terroristic attacks or the pandemic.

Today, the U.S. gun violence debate needs an effective champion for reforms, as we are in crisis.

Although most Texans support responsible gun ownership, recent mass shootings have yet to give Texas’s majority Republican leadership pause to question: Is the system that is in place responsible?

Now more than ever, in the days after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the nation needs a leader who promotes responsible reforms that will truly work toward alleviating gun violence in Texas and be a model for the nation — someone who doesn’t stop at being “livid” or sharing platitudes that describe the water mourners are drowning in but leads us toward meaningful change.

In short, we need a true leader that can bring Texas Republicans and Democrats together and then lead the state in a new direction on this issue.

This could be Abbott’s moment to be a state and national leader, if he would only embrace the moral necessity of the moment, one that demands he shows the courage necessary to address gun violence.

We believe a majority of Texans — including gun owners — favor universal background checks and laws preventing anyone younger than 21 from buying an AR-15 or similar guns.

The opposition to gun violence reforms does not come from Abbott’s challengers, like Beto O’Rourke on the left, nor from moderate Texans of either party. The political resistance comes from the far right, and those are the voices Abbott must guide back toward the center.

Following the Santa Fe High School massacre in 2018, Abbott said he was open to calling a special session in Austin if there was a consensus from others for legislation, but he did not follow up by demanding action despite showing no reluctance to demand action on other matters.

He demanded three special sessions in 2021 for voting reforms to quell calls of a “voting crisis.” Additionally, Abbott sent the Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border in response to outcries of a “border crisis.”

When it concerned gun violence, the governor welcomed options for school security to address gun concerns in 2018, and last week the state witnessed a spike of law enforcement patrols at schools following the Uvalde shooting. No one is ever opposed to increasing school safety, but those calls do not require courageous leadership.

Everybody supports safer schools.

Yet, Abbott must know that the shooting was not only about schools. If this current crisis were a school issue, it could be solved with school security initiatives alone. If shootings were a school issue, school boards would be able to stop them without the governor’s help.

However, Texas faces a gun violence issue that schools cannot solve alone — and it’s an issue that poses risks wherever we gather in a community. This recent shooting has been preceded by an Odessa shooting and an El Paso Walmart shooting in 2019, the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018, the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shooting in 2017, and the Dallas police shooting in 2016. The list continues, but Texas will never have enough security to post at all of our public gathering places to prevent these massacres.

Clearly, Abbott has shown us that he can be tenacious, but he needs to prove he can bring that tenacity to leading in this crisis of violence.

He must quickly take the necessary steps to initiate discussions and reviews, demand a special session regarding gun policy and violence and guide both parties toward a responsible path forward that makes our communities safe.

Of course, addressing mental health matters and school security are necessary measures, and while these can be applicable in a broad spectrum, the governor cannot stop there.

The time for a more specific approach to preventative measures is now, and this must not only include identifying the source of intent but restricting the means — and that’s the accessibility to guns that our forefathers, who lived during a time when muskets were the highest-powered firearm available, never intended or even imagined would be so accessible with little oversight.

What does this mean for the governor? It means that as a starting point, the following is what Abbott must demand:

• “Red Flag” laws, which he personally supported in 2018 after the Santa Fe school shooting, and which would grant judges the power to remove guns and ammunition from the possession of anyone shown to be a danger to themselves or the public.

• Strong penalties for parents or guardians who don’t secure their firearms from children, another measure this governor supported in 2018.

• Universal background checks, which we believe most Texans support.

• The implementation of higher minimum-age restrictions for anyone purchasing AR-15s and similar rifles.

• State-funded active shooter training for all law enforcement agencies in Texas, with a specific focus on actionable measures to reduce casualties in schools.

• And that any stolen firearm must immediately be reported, with fines for not complying.

Currently in Texas, at the age of 18, individuals cannot legally purchase alcohol or tobacco products.

Abbott has an opportunity now that state Sen. Kel Seliger became the first Republican to join in urging the governor to call a special session, creating bipartisan support to consider passing laws before the next school year. This is where the governor must not simply ask for gun violence reform, but he must demand it now.

Gov. Abbott, the nation is watching and eager for a courageous act of leadership from Texas.

McAllen (Texas) Monitor

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