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Texas Governor’s School Safety Plan Proposes Modest Changes To Gun Laws

Twelve days after a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday released a wide-ranging set of proposals that he says will keep students safer.

The 43-page document covers a number of areas, including school security, mental health care and gun laws related to firearm safety.

At a press conference at the school district headquarters in Dallas, Abbott called the plan a “starting point,” while working to balance his standing as a gun rights supporter with his newfound willingness to explore modest reforms of firearm laws.

“I doubt there has been a Texas governor with a more pro-gun record than myself,” Abbott said. “I can assure you, I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed. But I will always promote responsible gun ownership, and that includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals.”

Among Abbott’s proposed changes to gun laws would be a strengthening of his state’s child access prevention law, which currently only applies to incidents in which a child under 17 obtains a “readily dischargeable” firearm from an adult’s property.

The alleged attacker in Santa Fe, a 17-year-old student, reportedly took his father’s legally owned revolver and shotgun and brought them to class concealed under a trenchcoat. Because of the gunman’s age, his parents can’t be held criminally liable for his actions under state law.

Abbott said he supports adjusting the statute to cover anyone under 18, as well as strengthening the penalty to a third-degree felony in any case where child access results in death or serious bodily injury. The current law only provides for misdemeanor charges.

The law should also be clarified to include both loaded and unloaded guns stored around children, which could make it easier for prosecutors to pursue these charges, the proposal states. Recent reports have shown the Texas law is used very infrequently.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks at the annual National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on May 4.

In addition, Abbott called for the legislature to authorize a study on a “red flag” law, which would allow law enforcement, family members, school employees or district attorneys to file petitions seeking the removal of firearms from dangerous individuals.

Eight states currently have red flag laws on the books, and three states, including Florida, have put these laws in place since the February shooting in Parkland. The NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association has said it would oppose any such measure over concerns that it could lead to the violation of due process. Abbott has clarified that any confiscation of firearms must come after “due process is provided.”

A Texas red flag law could have a substantial effect on shootings, said Ed Scruggs, spokesman for Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit focused on gun violence prevention.

“We believe that has a lot of potential to prevent major tragedies and especially suicides,” he told HuffPost.

The governor’s report specifically notes that red flag orders “could have been used to prevent the shootings” at Sutherland Springs, where 26 people were killed at a church in November, and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed.

Abbott also urged lawmakers to work on legislation to require gun owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen within 10 days. An estimated 177,000 guns were stolen in Texas between 2012 and 2015, according to a 2017 report. Only 12 states currently require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm.

Overall, the proposal is far from perfect, Scruggs said. But considering the reliably fraught politics of the gun debate in Texas, it could have been worse.

“There are some positive steps that most people would classify as moderate steps or basic steps, but for Texas it really represents some form of progress,” he said.

Although Abbott’s willingness to discuss changes to gun laws may come as a surprise to some, most of his proposed measures don’t involve legislative reform.

“The strategy that I most strongly encourage the Legislature to consider is greater investment in mental health,” Abbott said at Wednesday’s press conference.

Abbott specifically described his support for expanding a telemedicine program designed to identify junior high and high school students at risk of committing violence and intervene by providing them with mental health services. The program, developed by Texas Tech University and facilitated through the university’s health services center, is already in use in a number of Texas school districts and has shown positive results in the form of reduced truancy and discipline among referred students.

The document lays out a number of measures to fortify schools by increasing the number of armed personnel, potentially including teachers, on campus. Other proposals would increase the use of metal detectors, monitoring and surveillance, and would explore new construction to maintain greater control of school entrances, exits and external access.

Altogether, the initiatives would cost $110 million to implement, around $70 million of which is already available in the form of federal funding and state grants, according to the report.

To gun violence prevention advocates, it would be well worth the investment. Since 2009, Texas has experienced at least 20 mass shootings involving at least four fatalities apiece, the most of any state. These events have included the Sutherland Springs massacre, two separate shootings at Fort Hood, a 2016 attack on police officers in Dallas and many instances of domestic violence.

Abbott’s plan follows three days of roundtable discussions held last week with a number of groups, as well as survivors of the Santa Fe shooting.

Many of the measures in Abbott’s blueprint would require approval from the Texas Legislature, which is not currently in session. Abbott said he would be open to calling a special session to consider the bills, as long as there was “consensus” among lawmakers on some of the legislation.

If the governor doesn’t act, the legislature will reconvene in January, two months after the November elections, when Abbott will face Democrat Lupe Valdez, the former sheriff of Dallas County.

In the wake of the Santa Fe shooting, Valdez and others have called for Abbott to pursue stronger gun laws, and specifically universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Abbott’s plan dismisses that proposal, arguing that many criminals get firearms via the black market, where background checks don’t apply.

Read the entire plan below:


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