Weak gun laws put Texas Governor Greg Abbott on the defensive

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Amid a spate of mass shootings in recent years, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right) has responded by focusing on strengthening mental health services and putting together a task force that has produced a 40-point plan centered on “tightening” school campuses and Identify threats.

But in the wake of the worst school attack in state history, Abbott is facing mounting criticism that his administration’s response has been inadequate and has failed to address the most pressing problem: easy access to weapons, including powerful assault rifles.

The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Ovaldi on Tuesday that killed 19 students and teachers was the fourth mass shooting in Texas with 10 or more deaths since 2017. However, while Abbott sought to reassure the public on Wednesday that his administration is making every effort to What it could to respond to the crisis, he sought to assign blame for not doing enough to keep students safe.

The 40-point plan, parts of which were approved by the state legislature in 2019, has not been widely implemented, according to analysts and lawmakers. Firearms groups have praised recent state laws to ease gun restrictions, including a measure passed last year that allows residents to carry handguns without licenses or training.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Abbott sought to downplay the importance of the shooter’s relatively easy access to firearms, noting that residents age 18 or older were legally allowed to purchase long guns — a category that includes the style of gun used in shootings in Uvalde – for over 60 years.

“During that time… we’ve never had episodes like this,” Abbott said. “Why for the majority of those 60 years did we not have school shootings and why do we have them now? I really don’t have an answer to that question.”

Abbott defended his record during an appearance near the shooting site with his top aides and Republican lawmakers, who sought to show a united front amid the investigation rampage. At one point, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for governor, boycotted Abbott. The governor was accused of failing to stop armed violence.

“You do nothing!” O’Rourke shouted before the police took him outside.

The authorities identified the gunman as Salvador Ronaldo Ramos, 18, who they said shot his grandmother before entering Robb Primary School. Ramos They legally bought a pair of semi-automatic rifles recently, they said.

Authorities said Ramos, who was killed by police at the school, had no criminal record and left no advance warning of the attack except for a few messages on social media about 30 minutes before he arrived at the site.

Abbott speculated that Ramos may have been suffering from mental illness – although he said authorities have not found a mental health record – and called on political leaders to do more to tackle mental health.

In response to reporters’ questions about his response to past events, Abbott recalled the 2018 attack at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area, in which a 17-year-old student killed eight classmates and two teachers. In the aftermath, the governor formed a task force — made up of parents, teachers, law enforcement, students, and advocacy groups — that produced the 40-recommendable School and Firearm Safety Plan, which Abbott pledged to dedicate. 110 million dollars.

Lawmakers passed several school safety measures the following year that included increasing law enforcement on campus and arming more school staff, trying to prevent threats by identifying potentially dangerous students and linking them to a telehealth counseling program, among other efforts to boost resources Mental health .

“People need to understand that in the aftermath of the Santa Fe shootings, I signed 17 laws to deal with school safety,” Abbott said.

But Abbott dropped her support for a suggestion in the report that lawmakers are considering passing the red flag law, which would allow police or family members to petition the court to remove a firearm from someone considered a threat. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Patrick (right), a staunch supporter of gun rights, strongly opposed the measure.

Although the telehealth program has expanded to more school districts since 2018, it is not being used in Ovaldi, According to the Texas Tech University department operated by.

“You will always have, no matter what you do, someone to find another vulnerable area,” Patrick said. But the legislature has already moved. The governor signed those laws.”

Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, the only statewide organization to advocate for the prevention of gun violence, said the school safety plan includes “good ideas.” “I was hesitant, wary – I don’t know if I want to say optimistic, but I am curious and open to the initiatives that have been put forward there.” Golden said the red flag law and requirement to report lost or stolen guns “were reasonable measures that most voters here in Texas and across the country would support.”

“But those failed,” Golden said of Abbott.

In a report last June, American gun owners praised the Texas legislature for passing four bills to advance gun rights, including a provision authorizing what gun rights groups call a “constitutional carry” — the ability for residents to carry a handgun without a license or training. Another bill eliminated the governor’s ability to regulate firearms during a declaration of disaster or emergency.

State Representative Joe Moody, a Democrat who represents El Paso, where a gunman killed 23 people at Walmart in 2019. “The only reason they’re referring to such bills is because they somehow prevented that from happening. And they clearly didn’t,” said State Representative Joe Moody, a Democrat who represents El Paso, where a gunman killed 23 people at Walmart in 2019.

Modi said strengthening school security is essential in the changing threat environment. But he emphasized that simply adding more security guards, cameras or metal detectors is not a reasonable or effective solution. Authorities said a school guard was present at the scene of the shooting on Tuesday.

“I want my children to grow up as children. I don’t want to put them in a maximum security prison every day,” Modi said.

Flo Rice, a substitute teacher injured six times in the Santa Fe attack, said the broad school safety bill passed by Texas lawmakers seemed like a “tremendous change.” She had testified in favor of measures to bolster security and emergency response in schools — measures she said would have helped in Santa Fe, where she had neither a 911 phone nor a key to lock the door to the gym where she worked. “We were so happy. We were like, ‘Wow, something has been done!'”

But she said she has since learned that many of these procedures “have no teeth” or an enforcement mechanism to make sure schools put them in place. Rice referred to 2020 Report From Texas State University’s Texas School Safety Center, which found that only 67 of 1,022 school districts had an “adequate” emergency operations plan, and 200 had a “viable active-fire policy.”

“It was all just pomp and circumstance, and the governor was patting him on the back saying, ‘Look what a good job you’ve done,'” said Rice. “We are here again.”

Rice said she and her fellow advocates also pushed for stricter gun storage laws, because the alleged Santa Fe shooter used his father’s guns, and stronger ones. Laws to hold parents accountable if they fail to keep their weapons out of children’s hands and those weapons are used to harm others.

“None of these things went through,” she said. “They were completely ignored. So we were very disappointed about it.”

The legislature approved more modest measures to tighten gun laws. In 2019, after the El Paso shooting and other series of shootings in Odessa and Midland three weeks later that killed seven, Abbott signed a measure that made it illegal to lie on a background check to buy a gun illegally. The state also approved a plan that year to spend $1 million on a campaign for Promote safe storage of firearms.

Abbott faced intense pressure from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association.

On Wednesday, Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for American gun owners, accused gun control advocates, including President Biden, of trying to exploit the Uvalde shooting to advance a political agenda. Johnston said his group advocates allowing teachers to arm themselves in the classroom.

“Nothing should happen between a teacher who wants to advocate for children and their right to carry a firearm,” Johnston said. He called Robb Elementary School an “easy target” because, like most Texas schools, it is subject to the federal gun-free zone law.

Ziv Capo, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said meaningful gun control laws have “fallen into the hands of partisan politics within the Republican Party, a party that has chosen to listen to marginalized voters at the expense of mothers and fathers, over teachers, and over children, over and over again.” And over and over on everyone else. Not only did they do nothing, but they actually made things worse.”