At a town hall event in Tomball, state representatives Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) and Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) received recognition for their legislative efforts, but also tackled tough questions about the 2019 session, gun control proposals, and the controversy surrounding House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R- Angleton).
State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Houston) presented both Oliverson and Swanson with “Courageous Conservative” awards from the Texas Conservative Coalition and TCC executive director Tom Aldred outlined legislative priorities and analysis before opening the event to audience questions.
A large group of women from “Moms Demand Action,” a gun-control advocacy group, were on hand to question the legislators.
Jane Winter, who heads the local MDA chapter, thanked Oliverson for coming out to talk to them during a rally earlier this year. She asked if the El Paso shooting and the recent killing of Harris County sheriff’s deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal might change the representative’s stance on gun control legislation.
“I think the legislature needs to have a conversation about it,” Oliverson replied.
While advocating for having a conversation, Oliverson stressed that any proposal would need analysis to determine unintended consequences and constitutionality.
“I believe in due process…that’s the biggest concern I have with these so-called red flag [laws],” he continued.
Referring to the movie Minority Report, Oliverson said, “I’ve heard the term “pre-crime” used.” The representative warned against convicting anyone for “criminal activity that has not in fact occurred.”
“I know it’s for all the right reasons, but I don’t think you can trample on the Constitution for the right reasons.”
Another woman from MDA questioned Rep Swanson about co-authoring HB 121, legislation that pertains to individuals who mistakenly carry handguns onto prohibited property.
Swanson pointed out that HB 121 had strong bi-partisan support and had been passed through the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with support from committee chair Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat.
“This is an excellent bill because it keeps law-abiding citizens from being unfairly caught up in the legal system for an unintended mistake.” Swanson continued, “People want law enforcement to be able to spend their time chasing criminals, and not on innocent people who are law-abiding citizens who are wanting to protect their families.”
“I get hundreds of times more communications from my constituents saying “don’t take away our right to protect ourselves,” than from the opposite,” Swanson added.
After the meeting, Jane Winter told The Texan that her organization had objections to HB 121 since it placed a burden of enforcement on employees who may be afraid to approach someone with a gun.
“Would I want my teenage kid [as the employee] to approach the person with a gun and ask them to leave the store? Is the gun carrier good? Is he nice?” said Winter.
Winter also said her affiliates were very pleased with recent comments from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and his call for expanded background checks.
“We are cautiously optimistic and following,” she said. “He’s taken a lot of flak, but right now he’s standing firm on it. I think the tide is changing. Universal background checks and closing loopholes has tremendous support.”
Rep Oliverson also took questions after the event regarding the secret recordings Empower Texans leader Michael Quinn Sullivan made of a conversation with Speaker Bonnen and Chairman Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock).
“I have not listened to the recording, but I will do so when the entire public can do so,” asserted Oliverson. “It needs to be released in its entirety. The public deserves to hear the full recording.”
Thus far, only select individuals who have agreed to Empower Texans’ terms to listen to the recording within the offices of their attorney in Austin have heard what’s on it. None of those who have listened have been permitted to take copies or “record the recording.”
“We need to get this all out in the open public, deal with it, and move on to unite the party behind our priorities,” said Oliverson.
Update: The original version of this article referred to the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute as hosting the event. The article has been changed to reflect that it was actually the Texas Conservative Coalition.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.