Shared from the 12/17/2018 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Legislators on quest to reform gun laws

In run-up to the 2019 session, ‘red flag’ bill, proposal to close loophole filed in state Capitol

Elizabeth Conley / Staff photographer

REMEMBERING SANDY HOOK: The Rev. Ed Jones addresses Houstonians in a vigil honoring the 27 killed at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., six years ago and calling for changes to gun laws. PAGE A3

The legislative quest to reform gun laws in Texas includes at least 19 bills lawmakers will consider next year, including a “red flag” law to temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge, a measure to close the gun-show loophole on background checks and a bill to allow “constitutional carry.”

At least one of the bills, the red-flag law, already appears to be a nonstarter a month before the state Legislature meets.

Two El Paso Democrats, Rep. Joe Moody and Sen. José Rodríguez, introduced companion red-flag bills for the legislative session, an attempt to reprise bills that failed two years ago.

But Gov. Greg Abbott, who launched the debate for such a law after the Santa Fe High School shooting last spring that killed 10 people, has said he won’t support a red-flag bill, and neither will Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Senate.

Under Rodríguez’s bill, a red flag would include evidence of substance abuse, the recent acquisition of firearms, ammunition or other deadly weapons, or making threats. But gun rights advocates said that something as simple as a threat leaves potential for a red-flag gun law to be abused.

Rodríguez said his bill would provide “plenty of due process” for gun owners, and the legislation would make false reporting a criminal offense.

“Joe (Moody) and I are both longtime lawyers, and we’re not interested in just willy-nilly taking people’s guns away. We’re more interested in just some sensible legislation,” Rodríguez said.

But passing the law could prove difficult after lawmakers expressed strong opposition to the policy, which is in place in 13 states, after several school safety hearings this summer.

In June, the Texas Republican Party said it opposed red-flag gun laws when it approved its party platform. And after hours of public testimony in the Texas Capitol, Patrick and Abbott dashed the hopes of gun control advocates.

Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, said she thinks sweeping gun control legislation is unlikely.

“Every session (gun control advocates) certainly capitalize on anything that has happened,” Tripp said. “We expect that law-abiding gun owners be protected and not give up rights. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and regardless of what party is in power or what terrible thing has happened, nobody’s going to give up rights and possessions because of criminal activity.”

Rodríguez said it could take many sessions to pass a red-flag bill without the support from higher office-holders, but by refiling, he hopes to spark conversations and awareness around the gun control measure.

“On a bipartisan basis, I think the attention that we’ve had to recent shootings spurs public anger that at the Congress level — they’re not doing anything about common-sense gun violence prevention — and the same thing applies here in the state,” Rodríguez said. “I think it’s just the culture here in the state, the gun culture, and it’s going to take a little more time in my view. I’m optimistic that eventually we’ll be able to do it.”

Lawmakers also will consider legislation to close the gun show loophole, which allows purchasers to avoid a criminal background check at Texas gun shows.

Federal law requires only federally licensed dealers to run background checks. Six states have plugged the gap by requiring unlicensed dealers to do the same, and three states require background checks on all handgun sales made at gun shows, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

A bill introduced by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, would make it a misdemeanor to sell a firearm at a gun show without running an instant criminal background check.

Similar versions of the bill failed in the 2013, 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions.

“I went to a gun show not long ago to have the experience and yeah, it’s pretty easy, you just walk up (and purchase a gun),” said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. “The data shows two things: one, that (these gun show laws) save lives, and two, they do a better job of saving lives when they’re funded appropriately and the process is regularized and checked periodically.”

A “constitutional carry” bill will make its way back to the Legislature for the third time. The bill, filed by Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow gun owners to openly carry their firearms without getting a license to carry.

Texans have long been able to carry both rifles and shotguns without a permit, except in places that specifically prohibit them. Stickland’s bill would treat handguns the same way.

In both the 2015 and 2017 sessions, Stickland’s bill was assigned to a committee but never made it the the House floor. In those sessions, the bill was overshadowed by other gun control issues, but it will likely draw heated debate when it is reintroduced next year.

The ability to make plastic guns with a 3D printer also will draw attention. A bill by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require someone who makes a gun to apply to the Department of Public Safety for a unique serial number or identifying mark to be placed on the firearm. The gunmaker also would have to pass a background check.

“This doesn’t seek to infringe on someone’s Second Amendment right,” Canales said. “It doesn’t seek to tell you you can’t (make your own gun). It’s saying if you’re going to do it, it needs to fall more in line with the actual process that we have now for purchasing weapons and identifying weapons.”

His bill is specifically meant to address 3D-printed guns, an issue that attracted national attention this year after Cody Wilson of Austin-based Defense Distributed began selling plans for a 3D-printed gun online despite a court order. Wilson stepped down from the company in September after his arrest on sexual assault charges, but the company has said it remains committed to distributing the blueprints.

The printed guns have no serial number and are undetectable by some metal detectors. Canales’ bill would also require DPS to install a metal strip into printed firearms.

“There’s still much unknown about 3D guns to me, as there is the rest of the Legislature,” Canales said. “And as this technology continues to permeate society, it’s important that the people and policymakers are well-versed in the subject of it and as laws and regulations are made, they’re done so thoughtfully, meaningfully and with respect to the Second Amendment.”

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