Dems call for emergency session on gun violence, Abbott balks

FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2018 file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during an interview at the Texas Governor's Mansion, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers moved the state closer to putting more armed teachers in schools, sending the measure to Abbott for consideration. The bill passed Wednesday night, May 22, 2019, by the Senate was part of a group of school safety measures filed after a gunman killed eight students and two substitute teachers at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston in May 2018. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

State Rep. Alex Dominguez joined all 53 members of the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday to urge Gov. Gregg Abbott to call an emergency session of the 86th Legislature in response to mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa.

Abbott dismissed the calls following a violent August that began and ended with mass shootings.

The Texas Legislature doesn’t meet again until 2021, which Democrats said Wednesday is too long to wait for new safeguards in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa that killed 29 people.

Only the governor can call a special session, and state Democratic lawmakers are trying to ratchet up pressure on Abbott after last weekend’s attack in West Texas that killed seven people and injured about two dozen more.

But Abbott, an avid gun rights supporter, has resisted those calls. His spokesman says the solution isn’t dividing lawmakers on party-line votes and that legislating on tough issues takes time.

Dominguez said bipartisan action is needed now.

“Over 3,000 Texans lose their lives to gun violence every year. We need to not only keep our families, schools and homes safe, but we also need to help keep law enforcement officers as safe as possible when they put themselves in harms way,” Dominguez, D-Brownsville said in a statement.

In a letter signed by all Democratic caucus members the legislators urged Abbott to call an emergency session.

“We agree with your comments at Sunday’s press conference that the status quo is unacceptable,” the letter states. “Members of the House Democratic Caucus, for several sessions now, have proposed dozens of specific bills aimed at changing the status quo by making Texans safer through common-sense gun and public safety legislation.”

Attached to the letter was a list of bills authored by caucus members during the 86th session.

“As governor, you have the sole authority to both call an emergency session and determine the legislative proposals that are eligible to be considered.” The letter asks Abbott, at minimum, to place these items on the call:

>> Enacting extreme risk protective order laws and closing existing loopholes in current protective order laws

>> Closing background check loopholes

>> Banning the sale of high-capacity magazines

>> Limiting the open carry of certain semi-automatic long guns

>> Requiring stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement.

“Additionally, given that the assailant in the El Paso shooting was motivated by racial hatred and due to the ongoing potential for racially-driven violence, we request that you ask the Legislature to pass measures to combat and interrupt the rise in racism and white nationalism,” the letter states.

In a separate release, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said there is already consensus for action against gun violence.

“The Republican governor continues to do nothing. He delays action because of his billionaire donors and the gun lobby. We all know that Texans already agree on what to do, and every day that goes by, our families are in harm’s way,” the release stated.

“Even before these tragic mass shootings, 78% of Texas voters demanded action on comprehensive universal background checks, 72% of Texas voters support passing red flag laws so that we keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and a majority of Texas voters wants to keep weapons of war off our streets,” it said.

Dominguez called for immediate bipartisan action.

“We need legislators from both parties to work together to keep Texans safe,” he said. “We should not wait until 2021 when the public is asking us to do this now.”

Abbott office did issue a statement following the formation of the Texas Senate and House Select Committees on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety:

“Texas will not stand by and allow violence to continue to rip apart our families and communities. As I said in Odessa, words alone are inadequate as we face this challenge. Words must be followed by meaningful action to prevent these senseless and devastating attacks. I applaud the House and Senate for establishing these committees, and Texas lawmakers have my full support as we work together to put an end to this violence. These committees, alongside the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission, are vital to our ongoing efforts to respond to these recent tragedies and protect innocent life. Texans stand as a united front against violence, and together, we will ensure a safer future for our state.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

glong@brownsvilleherald.com