Shared from the 8/23/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Abbott hosts a roundtable on gun violence

Eric Gay / Associated Press

Gov. Greg Abbott, top center, holds a roundtable discussion Thursday with officials from Google, Twitter and Facebook about extremism and mass shootings.

AUSTIN — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and top state officials talked about awide range of measures to prevent future mass shootings — from implementing welfare checks and banning so-called “straw” purchases to strengthening background checks — but didn’t commit to any concrete steps at a roundtable here Thursday.

Still, the breadth of the conversation that included Abbott, Lt.Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen is noteworthy in Texas, where the gun lobby is strong and Republicans in power have typically pushed to loosen firearms restrictions.

“A lot of the discussions were the governor really pushing people to explore where are the gaps in existing law and secondly, where do we need some additional laws,” said Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, after the four-hour closed-door meeting.

Abbott called the roundtable after a gunman, who authorities say targeted Latinos, killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug 3.

Citing the mother of the shooting suspect — who had called police, concerned about her son’s gun ownership — Abbott suggested welfare checks conducted by police as a possibility.

“Having a gun is not against the law,” he told reporters after the roundtable. “But there was a concerned mother who raised issues to law enforcement. Is there some kind of strategy we can have that would lead to welfare checks when issues like that arise?”

The proposal is a counter to so-called red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily remove firearms from individuals when their family members lodge a concern. Red-flag laws have faced resistance from gun rights groups and gained little traction in the last legislative session, which ended in May.

Outside the Capitol, dozens of protesters — many openly carrying assault-style rifles —pushed back against any new gun restrictions.

One of them was Stephen Willeford, the man who confronted the gunman in the deadly Sutherland Springs massacre, who said prohibitions don’t “stop the bad guys.”

“We don’t want red flags,” he told the crowd. “All they do is do away with due process.”

Members of the roundtable — including law enforcement, tech company representatives and public health officials — also discussed beefing up existing state law by ensuring that information about criminal convictions is quickly passed on to those who conduct background checks.

In the case of the Sutherland Springs gunman, the Air Force neglected to pass along information about his court-martial and domestic violence conviction to the FBI, which administers a national database that gun dealers must consult before most sales.

Straw gun purchases, in which a person who is allowed to purchase a gun does so on behalf of someone who is not, are illegal at the federal level, but Abbott said the state could better enforce the rule if Texas also adopted aprohibition.

Many of the ideas would likely require changes to state law. Legislators won’t return to Austin until 2021, after the next election, and it remains to be seen whether the momentum will carry. Abbott has said he won’t call a special session to address gun violence despite calls from some state Democrats.

Still, Ed Scruggs, president of the board of Texas Gun Sense, said the tone has changed since the last roundtables after the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018. Those ended with a number of safety proposals but no new gun restrictions.

“The talks have a different intensity,” he said. Members of the roundtable also discussed assault weapons and the idea of requiring a license to carry one, he said.

Abbott noted after the meeting that there was no coalescence for any type of solution, but he said several ideas “were put on the table we will continue to talk about.”

“We would have never heard that ayear ago,” Scruggs said.

Abbott is holding another roundtable next week in El Paso.

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