Challenger Beto O’Rourke, the one known quantity on Texas Democrats’ slate of statewide candidates, has meandered extensively on this issue throughout his time in the political limelight. First in 2018, he declined to support buybacks of AR-15s and AK-47s. Then while running for president, he leaned fully into the position, telling a debate crowd, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
This time around, O’Rourke has changed his stance even more.
In February, he told town hall attendees that he wasn’t “interested in taking anything from anyone.” He then departed from that stance in short order, saying that if he could find consensus, he would push for a buyback program of AR-15s and AK-47s.
It now appears that position is here to stay for the Democrat, who told a McAllen gathering on June 7 that such a program would be on his special session agenda if he were the governor — tempering it slightly by saying that “we might have to compromise some on it.”
Per a report by Fox News, O’Rourke’s campaign website was changed after the Uvalde shooting from calling for a reduction in the number of AR-15s and AK-47s on the streets to saying that no civilian should own those rifles.
Other gun-related items on O’Rourke’s suggested special session list are red flag laws, which allow community members to petition a court for the temporary confiscation of firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others; safe storage laws, to increase regulations on how firearms may be stored; and universal background checks, which requires private gun sales to conduct official background checks.
O’Rourke has also called for a repeal of permitless carry, also called constitutional carry, which the legislature passed in the 2021 session — a call that predated the Uvalde shooting but has since received more airtime. That law allowed most Texans over the age of 21 to carry a handgun in public without a License to Carry (LTC) permit.
Anyone otherwise legally prohibited from owning a firearm, such as felons, may not carry under the law. It also preserved prohibitions on carrying in certain public areas like public schools.
Without a Texas LTC, individuals may not carry a handgun within 1,000 feet of a school and carrying inside one is strictly prohibited without written permission from the school.
On the offensive, O’Rourke has made his position clear on the matter and laid blame at the feet of his opponent.
Abbott has been less specific than O’Rourke on policy recommendations, opting more for thorough evaluations of the situation and potential policy prescriptions.
“There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using of firearms,” Abbott told the National Rifle Association convention in a pre-recorded message delivered in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting.
Abbott was slated to speak in person but changed plans due to the shooting. “Laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people and peaceful communities.”
Pointing to the already existing prohibitions, Abbott continued, “In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger.”
But in that speech, Abbott didn’t suggest a legal response of any stripe to the shooting. Since then, Abbott requested special committees in both chambers of the legislature to investigate the shooting and recommend policy responses.
The five items within that request by the governor are school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety.
After the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, Abbott asked the legislature to consider red flag laws, which never developed. This time around, Abbott has not similarly pushed such a policy. And after the 2019 shooting in El Paso, the expansion of background check requirements for private sales was floated but didn’t materialize.
In a letter to the Texas Education Agency, Abbott requested an evaluation of school safety which included the “develop[ment of] strategies to encourage school districts to increase the presence of trained law enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses.”
Last year, the legislature passed a bill allowing school marshals, designated school officials, to carry handguns on their person rather than keep them locked in a safe within reach.
More policy proposals concerning the Uvalde shooting are likely to appear on Abbott’s emergency items next year when the legislature reconvenes — a list that allows the House and Senate to begin work on those specific items earlier than they otherwise could due to deadlines in statute.
Much of Abbott’s rhetoric after the shooting has focused on mental health, and the state put $5 million into a Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde County that will provide a variety of mental health services in the wake of the shooting. While it’s currently focused on problems arising from the tragedy, it is also intended to service the community going forward.
Negotiations at the federal level are ongoing, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) playing a chief role in the discussions. But the state response will be on hold until 2023 — unless Abbott decides to convene a special session before then — and in the meantime, gun policy will remain a central point of every Texas race this year, especially the one at the top of the ticket.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.