FederalIssuesStatewide NewsGun Control Proposals Take Center Stage in Wake of Odessa and El Paso Mass Murders

After the recent mass shootings, state and federal Democrats are openly embracing gun control measures as Republicans look for alternative proposals to prevent future atrocities.
September 5, 2019
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In light of the recent mass murders in El Paso, Midland, and Odessa, many political leaders in Texas are calling for new legislation to regulate and restrict gun ownership.

Across the state on Wednesday, members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus (HDC) held press conferences regarding a letter they sent to Governor Abbott asking him to hold an emergency legislative session.

In addition to several representatives, state senator and U.S. senatorial candidate Royce West (D-Dallas) spoke at the press conference outside of the state capitol in Austin.

“We know that a great majority of Americans — more specifically, Texans — want to see something done about this particular issue,” said West, referring to mass shootings. “What I would ask the governor to do is to call a special session.”

West and the HDC listed five legislative goals they want to accomplish in a special session as soon as possible:

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  • Enact extreme risk protective order laws, also known as red flag laws.
  • Close background check loopholes.
  • Ban the sale of high-capacity magazines.
  • Limit the open carry of semi-automatic long guns.
  • Require stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement.

A spokesperson for the governor said in a statement that although “all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer,” he does not want to take “a helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines.”

Since the shooting in El Paso, Abbott has created two task forces: the Texas Safety Commission and a Domestic Terrorism Task Force.

On Thursday, he issued eight executive orders in response to the two shootings, mostly related to policies for the Department of Public Safety in responding to suspicious activity. Next week, he will release a report of findings and recommendations from the Texas Safety Commission.

Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have also created respective House and Senate Select Committees on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

“These committees have difficult, important work before them, and the solutions they come up with will provide a roadmap for the Legislature’s work over the interim and in the next session,” said Bonnen.

Several of the HDC’s legislative proposals have been suggested by Republican leaders to some extent.

Last month, President Trump endorsed red flag laws as an appropriate response to the shootings.

Following that, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2) said that they may or may not be part of the solution but “should be part of the conversation.”

However, red flag laws have been consistently opposed by Patrick. Opponents of red flag laws have long been concerned about possible threats to the constitutional due process rights of citizens.

Alternatively, the lieutenant governor has called for background checks to be required in “stranger to stranger” firearm sales. 

In particular, the HDC has argued to require “unlicensed private gun vendors” — which they say is prevalent in online sales — to perform background checks on buyers.

“The best and easiest way to close this loophole is to require all gun purchasers to undergo a background check, without exception,” the HDC stated.

In February, the U.S. House passed H.R. 8, which would implement “universal background checks.” Although the bill makes exemptions for firearm transfers between family members, for use at designated shooting ranges, and for hunting purposes, critics have argued that the exemptions are still too narrow.

“Background checks are a necessary and logical part of the gun purchasing process. Poorly crafted universal background checks are not,” said Crenshaw. “For example, if I had a friend who was scared her ex-boyfriend was going to try to break into her house, I couldn’t loan my gun to her. And if I did, we’d both be felons.”

The House roll call vote for H.R. 8 was split along partisan lines for the Texas representatives, except for Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23), who voted for it.

“I hope my Democrat friends in the Senate who aren’t running for president are willing to work with the White House to figure out a plan on how to get it past the Senate,” said Hurd. “In my five-and-a-half years in Congress, I find it hard to predict what the Senate may or may not do, but I hope these conversations are going on.”

Crenshaw says that instead of H.R. 8, bills such as H.R. 2179 are better. That legislation, which he cosponsored when it was introduced in April, would double the possible length of imprisonment from 10 to 20 years for stealing guns from federal firearms licensees.

Similar to H.R. 2179 and the HDC’s call to require stolen guns to be reported, Abbott has also stated the need to crack down on stolen guns.

Representative Randy Weber (R-TX-14) has also introduced two bills since the tragedy in El Paso. The first, H.R. 4187 would create federal penalties for acts of domestic terrorism. Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), and Will Hurd are cosponsors.

The second, H.R. 4207, would “provide for enhanced penalties for certain unlawful discharges of a firearm on or near schools.”

So-called “mandatory buyback” programs have also been suggested. 

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke responded to a reporter in Charlottesville, Virginia who asked how he would address concerns from voters worried that the government would confiscate their rifles.

“I want to be really clear that that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he replied. “Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s will have to sell them to the government.”

While the political feasibility of such confiscation is doubtful, the other proposals — specifically red flag laws and universal background checks — will likely continue to be seriously discussed at both the state and federal level in the coming weeks.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.