Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Sutherland Springs

Greg Abbott is not going to take action on gun violence

Why would he? It’s not who he is.

When Gov. Greg Abbott first convened the new Texas Safety Commission last month after the El Paso shooting, he brought with him a stack of papers and wasted little time directing the media’s attention to it.

“In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Santa Fe, we had discussions just like what we are having today,” Abbott said, holding up thick, paper-clipped packets for the cameras. “Those discussions weren’t just for show and for people to go off into the sunset and do nothing. They led to more than 20 laws being signed by me to make sure that the state of Texas was a better, safer place, including our schools for our children.”

The intended message was clear: He had been here before, and it led to results. But over a year later — with two more mass shootings rocking the state just weeks apart — the pressure that the second-term Republican governor faces to do more to keep Texans safe is higher than ever. And the political divisions are just as intense, as Abbott seeks to navigate between an increasingly influential gun control movement and those in his own party who demand that he hold the line on gun rights.

“My impression is the governor’s in a tight spot … because the majority legislative coalition doesn’t really give anyone on that side a chance to move on this,” said Ed Scruggs, the board vice chair of Texas Gun Sense who has participated in both the post-Santa Fe and post-El Paso roundtables. “They’ve been absolutists for so long that it’s very, very difficult. I really can tell you that the governor wants to do something to prevent this, but politically what is possible — he may be the only one who knows that.”

[…]

However, with Abbott’s response to the shootings still in the roundtable phase, skepticism runs amok. In addition to leaving a trail of gleeful social media posts about Texas gun culture in recent years — tweets that have routinely resurfaced after recent mass shootings in the state — Abbott has overseen a dramatic expansion of gun rights in Texas, from an open carry law in 2016 to the slew of new laws that went into effect Sunday loosening firearms restrictions. And for gun control advocates, the memory is still fresh of Abbott asking lawmakers after the Santa Fe shooting to consider a “red flag” law that would allow local officials to take guns away from people if a judge declares them a danger — only to back away from the idea amid an intraparty backlash.

“I would say I am more cynical about Greg Abbott’s leadership than I am optimistic,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun control group Giffords, who participated in the safety commission meeting in El Paso. “However, I do think there’s a path forward on gun safety legislation. I think that means that Abbott is gonna have to get out of the NRA’s box and take a leadership position that is basically a repudiation of what he’s done in the past and where he’s been in the past.”

Remember first and foremost that the Legislature is not in session, and barring the very unlikely calling of a special session, there’s nothing that can be done in Texas except talk and study until 2021. But look, Greg Abbott believes in more guns and fewer restrictions on them. That’s what he has pushed for, that’s what he advocates, that’s what he is. He may be feeling some political pressure to Do Something about gun violence now, though I’d say that’s more a concern for Republican legislators and Congressfolk losing races than for his own political fortunes, but he also feels a lot of pressure to hold fast against such action. Why would he go along with what Democrats want? It makes no sense, and it collides with everything Abbott has done as a politician. When that changes (spoiler alert: it won’t), let me know. The Chron, the Chron editorial board, Erica Greider, Texas Monthly, the Texas Signal, and the Observer have more.

It’s about the domestic violence

You want to do something to reduce gun violence, here’s the place to start.

Domestic violence cases have risen sharply across the state, with more than 210,000 wives, girlfriends, husbands and others suffering death or injury at the hands of a family member in the past two years. More than 550 wives or girlfriends were killed by a domestic partner between 2012 and 2016, according to state figures.

“We continue to underestimate the reach and devastation of domestic violence,” said Gloria Aguilera Terry, chief executive of the Texas Council on Family Violence. “Domestic violence thrives in the silence and obliviousness we give it. Only when we confront the very conditions which allow domestic violence to exist will our homes, public spaces and places of worship be truly safe.”

[…]

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts to curb the violence, the deaths continue unabated. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Science recorded 229 domestic violence homicides from 2010 to 2016, or an average of 31 homicides a year.

Of those, at least 22 – about 10 percent – were relatives of the main victim.

Amanda Johnson, with the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense in America, said the shooting underscores the need for smarter gun laws.

“People violent enough to be violent enough with their own children and spouses are also violent enough to commit mass murder,” she said. “When they have easy access to these weapons, it’s a really deadly combination.”

She and other advocates hope the Sutherland Springs shooting will spark a national dialogue, particularly with the daily abuse many women face that doesn’t draw the same scrutiny as a mass shooting.

“Up until now, the media would lose interest in a shooting once they found out it was a domestic violence incident and not a ‘real’ crime,” Johnson said. “Sutherland Springs is a game-changer.”

Sherri Kendall, CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, said approximately 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence at one point or another.

“While we are seeing a number of multiple homicides with domestic violence in the timeline, it is happening all the time,” she said. “We have to learn something from it. When this story is over we have to continue to be vigilant in our communities to make sure there are services for survivors and for perpetrators.”

The Sutherland Springs shooting highlighted the need to ensure domestic abusers can’t possess firearms, advocates said.

“This man had a history of abuse, and he should not have had access to a firearm, and we are advocating for stricter gun laws when it comes to being the hands of convicted abusers,” said Chau Nguyen, chief marketing officer at the Houston Area Women’s Center. “If we don’t take action, we’re going to see this as a recurring reality in our lives – and we know the link between domestic violence abusers and mass shooters.”

The link between domestic violence and gun violence is very strong. It’s not just the guys who commit the big headline-grabbing mass murders who depressingly and consistently turn out to have had a history of domestic violence, it’s the everyday (literally, every day) three-to-six people killings that no one outside those affected pay attention to because we’re all mesmerized by the latest double-digit massacre. There are many things we could do to ameliorate this if we wanted to. My advice would be to elect more people who do want to do something about it.

Going beyond “thoughts and prayers”

There are things we could do to reduce the prevalence of gun violence, if we wanted to.

At a news conference organized by Texas Gun Sense at the state capitol on Wednesday, state Reps. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue and reform existing gun regulations.

Nevárez proposed limiting the ability of Texans to “walk around” with long rifles, such as the AR-15 variant used by the shooter Sunday. Texas has allowed long gun owners to openly carry their weapons for decades.

Collier urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue, comparing it to other health crises such as obesity and the opioid epidemic. She also denounced those, such as President Donald Trump, who have focused on addressing mental health issues following the shooting rather than guns themselves. While acknowledging mental health plays a critical role in gun violence, she said focusing entirely on mental health is a “distraction” from the role of easy access to guns and “stigmatizes” those with mental health issues.

“If any other consumer product resulted in a fraction of the injuries and deaths [that guns do],” Collier said, “we would be scrambling to find solutions.”

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, was also at the news conference and spoke briefly about a list she authored of steps to prevent gun violence. Her suggestions include increasing public education on safe gun usage and requiring a license to carry long guns.

The press conference came a day after state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, urged state leaders to create a bipartisan commission tasked with recommending “common sense” gun reforms ahead of the next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

Like Rep. Nevárez, I don’t think we need a commission to come up with reforms. There are plenty of good ideas already out there. If you can assure me that any reforms put forward by such a commission would get the support of the leadership in the next session, then sure, go ahead, but usually the creation of task forces like that are a substitute for action, not a catalyst for it. I don’t expect even weak sauce like that to get support as thing stand today, so the path forward, as always, is to elect more legislators like Collier, Nevárez, and Hinojosa. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game, and our numbers need to be bigger.

Background checks

This should make you angry.

A mistake by U.S. Air Force officials in reporting Devin Patrick Kelley’s past conviction for domestic violence allowed him to buy four guns, including the semi-automatic rifle used in the Sunday shooting at a South Texas church that left 26 dead and 20 others wounded, state and federal officials confirmed Monday.

Pentagon officials that had Kelley’s 2012 conviction in a military court for assaulting his then-wife and stepson been reported correctly to a national database used in clearing people to buy guns, the 26-year-old New Braunfels man would have been denied permission to buy the weapons.

Retired Col. Don Christensen, who was the chief prosecutor for the Air Force at the time of Kelley’s general court-martial, said that while Kelley’s punitive discharge — a bad conduct discharge — would not have prohibited him from owning a gun, his sentence to a year’s confinement in a military prison would have.

Under federal law, anyone convicted of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is prohibited from possessing a firearm, federal officials said.

“He fractured his baby stepson’s skull,” Christensen said of the crime of which Kelley was convicted.

Air Force officials are investigating the mistake, Pentagon officials confirmed to The Associated Press.

Texas Department of Public Safety and other state officials said earlier Monday that Kelley was denied a state handgun license, even though he would not have needed one to possess the Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic assault rifle reportedly used in the shooting.

We have a system in place that should have prevented this man from buying those guns. (The fact that anyone can buy assault rifles like the one he used is another matter, but let’s put that aside for now.) But a background check system relies on accurate data, and our system has a lot of holes in it, including this pretty glaring one. Back in the 90’s, after Georges Hennard killed 25 people at a Luby’s in Killeen, our legislature responded by passing the concealed carry law. Can we respond to the tragedy in Sutherland Springs by working to fix the problems with the national background check system? Can we at least try to do that much? I would like to think so, but we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Mother Jones and the Current have more.

Sutherland Springs

I don’t even know what to say. I worry more about some random asshole with a gun more than I do about anything else that could harm me or my family. I’ll say it again, because I keep having to say it, nothing will change until we start electing different people. Continuing to do what we’ve always done is to accept these unacceptably common events as normal. I refuse to do that.