AP Greg Abbott

(Ana Ramirez/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Texas Governor Meets With Gun Groups After School Shooting

May 23, 2018 - 5:36 pm
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AUSTIN (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met Wednesday with representatives of a gun-control group and the Texas State Rifle Association for more discussions about school safety after the shooting that killed 10 people near Houston.

Abbott, a Republican who has worked to expand gun rights in the state, called for the meetings as he weighs ideas for possible legislative action or executive orders. Two dozen groups were invited to attend the session, which was expected to include conversations on monitoring students' mental health.

The governor has said he wants to keep guns away from people "who would try to murder our children." But critics say Texas isn't serious about changing its gun-loving culture. A group of student activists wrote the governor a letter Wednesday, criticizing his support of the National Rifle Association and calling for expanded background checks on gun purchases and other gun-control measures.

"We are dying on your watch. What will you do about it?" said the letter signed by students who identified themselves as organizers of Texas student gun-control marches held after the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The letter was first published as an ad in the Houston Chronicle.

The meetings at the state Capitol were organized after Friday's mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe. Eight students and two teachers were killed and more than a dozen wounded.

Wednesday's discussion was to include representatives of Texas Gun Sense, which has said it will press for tougher background checks for gun sales and "red flag" laws that keep guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

The governor has signed bills in recent years that reduced the cost and training to get a handgun license and allowed the state's 1.2 million license holders to openly carry their weapons in public. Texas also allows rifles to be openly carried in public.

Police have said the 17-year-old suspect in the Santa Fe shooting used his father's shotgun and .38-caliber handgun.

Texas allows authorities to deny handgun licenses based on a person's mental health history and to seize weapons from people determined to be in a mental crisis in some circumstances. But mental health history information is up to the applicant to provide and is not related to the purchase of a gun.

Texas courts are supposed to tell law enforcement if a person taken in for a mental health evaluation has been ordered into a mental hospital. Weapons seized could be returned to that person's family.

Federal law prohibits an individual "adjudicated as a mental defective" or involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility from owning or purchasing a firearm.

None of those scenarios would have snagged the suspect in Santa Fe. In another Texas shooting — the attack on a rural church that killed more than two dozen worshippers in November 2017 — the Air Force failed to report a past criminal record that would have prevented the gunman from buying an assault-style rifle.

Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas Rifle Association, said that her group's 37,000 members were cautious about any attempt to expand laws that can be used to seize or deny guns. She noted the church shooter in tiny Sutherland Springs slipped through an existing law.

"If you lose your right, especially one provided by the Constitution, is there some due process? I've got questions. Is there a second review if you are in fact, mentally ill? There has got to be due process."