Inside the Texas State Capitol, thirty members of the Texas Safety Commission met behind closed doors to discuss ways Texas can respond after the domestic terrorist attack in El Paso to prevent similar atrocities in the future.
At the same time, just to the south of the Capitol, Gun Owners of America (GOA) held a rally in a demonstration to defend gun rights.
The rally began prior to the meeting with a press conference from GOA. Rachel Malone, the Texas Director of GOA, and Stephen Willeford, who stopped the shooter in Sutherland Springs in 2017.
“Today, the Texas Safety Commission will meet to discuss policy recommendations that could potentially affect every law-abiding gun owner in the state,” Malone said at the conference. “Texas gun owners have a lot to bring to the table in a conversation on public safety, but we are gravely concerned that our voice is not being heard and our liberties are not being protected.”
Thirty minutes later, reporters in the Capitol were allowed into the crowded Governor’s Public Reception Room for the opening statements by Gov. Greg Abbott before the meeting commenced.
When Abbott announced the task force earlier in the week, gun rights advocates were frustrated that they had no representation on the large panel but Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Reform (TGF), an advocacy group for increased gun regulations, was included on the initial list.
TGF issued a press release, stating, “As the only gun violence prevention organization invited to take part, we believe the Commission must recognize that the easy availability of firearms plays a critical role in gun-related violence.”
They said they would advocate for regulations including background checks on all weapons, increasing the age requirement to purchase weapons to 21, and adopting “red flag” laws.
Abbott’s office later sent out an updated list with full details about Thursday’s meeting, and Mike Cox of the Texas State Rifle Association had been added to the commission.
Other members on the list include the state legislators representing El Paso, several state law enforcement officials, and representatives from social media companies.
“What we will be doing through the course of today is beginning the process of discussing some of the ideas of what needs to be addressed,” Abbott told reporters in the morning.
“Remember this,” he said, “the way Texas government works, action can be taken without laws being passed.” He said that the executive branch had many levers that “are almost unlimited” in “the ability to take action quickly.”
Nearer the end of his opening remarks, Abbott said, “Our goal isn’t to start out with conclusions, then try to find facts that support our conclusions. Our goal is to open up all avenues of all potential facts and then follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
Asked what she hopes to see come out of the commission, Malone told The Texan, “I would like to see fewer regulations and restrictions on law-abiding citizens peacefully carrying their firearms to defend themselves and save lives.”
One of the many supporters at the rally expressed the same sentiment in a conversation with The Texan. He teaches history and says that America and Texas would not have thrived without gun rights. He also suggested that the best way to stop violent crimes is to train children and adults to respect guns and use them properly for self-defense.
Their hopes were mixed with skepticism about the new commission. “Every time something like this happens,” Willeford said at the press conference, referencing the El Paso shooting, “politicians tend to go and say, ‘Well, we’ll give them something and then they’ll be sufficed.’ It never happens. You give them something and they want something else.”
A potential compromise that leaders in the state have been considering is the implementation of red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.
Red flag laws allow courts to accept petitions requesting that firearms be confiscated because owners display signs that they may use their weapons to harm others or themselves.
Several members on Abbott’s task force, including Scruggs and Texas State House Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), have argued in favor of such a law before. However, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also on the commission, has consistently argued against them.
Nonetheless, according to Abbott after the meeting today, red flag laws were discussed at the meeting. He said that there were already similar protective orders in place in the state, but that there are flaws in the way the system is constructed.
Abbott said that there is “no mechanism in place” to guarantee that people who are not supposed to have a gun under current state law actually do not have one.
According to the governor, other topics discussed at the meeting include improving “digital literacy” to help people report suspicious activity online, closing gaps in background checks, cracking down on stolen guns, addressing straw purchases of guns, and strengthening existing state domestic terrorism laws so that terrorists can be prosecuted before they act.
“Our starting point began today, with the process of exploring all avenues and reviewing all facts to determine how we can prevent another tragedy like the shooting in El Paso from occurring again,” Abbott stated in a press release after the meeting.
The commission will meet again in El Paso next week in addition to another task force that Abbott recently created to fight domestic terrorism.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.