AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday raised concern about private firearm sales but didn’t commit to crack down on them or act on gun control issues following a meeting on ways to prevent mass shootings such as the El Paso attack that killed 22 people.
While lawmakers are feeling pressure to respond quickly to the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart, Abbott signaled that Texas would take a long and careful look at gun laws and other safety measures before its Legislature next meets in 2021.
Scrutinizing private guns sales was among a list of ideas Abbott rattled off after emerging from a four-hour, closed-door meeting about the El Paso shooting with lawmakers, police and representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter.
He also floated the idea of “welfare checks” when worries are raised about people with access to firearms. Authorities have said the mother of the suspected El Paso gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, had called police weeks before the attack to express concern about her son buying an “AK” style rifle.
“Right now there is nothing in law that would prevent one stranger from selling a gun to a terrorist, and obviously that’s a danger that needs to be looked into,” Abbott said.
The El Paso shooting happened hours before another gunman in Ohio killed nine people in an entertainment district. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, responded days later with a package of measures that he said would prevent mass shootings. But Abbott is taking a slower approach.
The discussions will be closely followed by gun-rights supporters, including the National Rifle Association, which earlier this year praised Abbott for expanding gun rights in Texas. Some are set to take effect Sept. 1 and were passed after more than two dozen people were killed in a 2017 Texas church shooting and a gunman killing 10 people at a high school near Houston last year.
Abbott offered no details about how Texas might scrutinize private gun sales but expressed worries that it could lead to some firearms ending up in the wrong hands. Authorities have said Crusius legally purchased the rifle used in the attack but have not said from where.
Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter left the meeting before reporters were let back into the room. They were invited by Abbott after he called for a crackdown on internet sites used by violent extremists. Authorities believe Crusius posted a racist screed online shortly before carrying out the attack.
Abbott said the companies offered to provide a training program for both users and law enforcement to identify those who may pose a danger or deter potential attacks.
Gun Owners of America’s Texas chapter held a small rally outside the Capitol before Abbott’s meeting to protest the possibility of “red flag” laws that would allow guns to be removed from a person determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The group also spoke against any “social media monitoring” that might result from the discussions.
Stephen Willeford, who shot back at the gunman who attacked a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, said gun owners don’t want more restrictions and that “red flag” laws do away with due process.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a new report Thursday on firearm laws and gun violence in Texas, and geared up for its own town hall in El Paso.
Ari Freilich, an attorney for the organization, said that among the report’s proposals is disarming hate crime offenders and others convicted of violent crimes.
According to the report, under Texas law, those convicted of violent hate crime assaults and hate crimes involving “terroristic threats” of violence are generally able to legally buy and keep guns immediately after conviction.
“We’ve also seen this before, so we want to make sure the folks having these conversations know that it’s time for a really serious conversation that’s responsive to ways in which Texans are being harmed every day by guns,” Freilich said.