AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Gov. Greg Abbott addressed a wide range of topics during a town hall broadcast across Texas, it’s clear what is top of mind for both him and his opponents: gun safety.
“As the school year starts, we all have to face the fact that we have to look into our children’s eyes and have a conversation, not about the excitement of the first day of class, but about the people who could harm us and about getting back safe and active shooter drills,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, who gave a Democratic response Thursday after the town hall.
Gov. Abbott also addressed topics such as immigration, school safety, property taxes, mental health issues and others, but what has been resonating for Texans and across the nation is the mass shooting that happened in El Paso on Aug. 3 where 22 people died and many more were injured.
“Even though I’m in Tyler tonight, my heart is still in El Paso,” said Abbott, as the town hall started with a question from KXAN’s Sally Hernandez about what he had to say to the city’s people after hate made its way to El Paso. “El Pasoans are unbelievable, the compassion they have, the resiliency they have, the support they have for each other. This is probably the biggest travesty that’s ever happened in El Paso,” he continued.
The governor has been to El Paso three times since the shooting took place and he was there Wednesday night for a city-wide memorial.
Rep. Castro also started with condolences to the beloved border town that made national headlines.
“Tonight, our state still mourns the lives lost in El Paso, gunned down at the hands of a racist terrorist with a weapon designed for war,” Castro said, referring to the alleged shooter’s confession to police that he was “targeting Mexicans,” according to an affidavit.
“We have to address head-on the shooting that took place in El Paso to make sure that travesties like that never happen again in El Paso or any other place in the state of Texas,” Abbott said.
Abbott announced the creation of the Domestic Terrorism Task Force Wednesday ahead of the town hall, which will be composed of state and federal officials.
“We need to call this what it is, and approach it for what it is,” he said. “Root out racist, domestic terrorism, whether it be in El Paso or any other part of the state of Texas, and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
However, Castro’s criticism extended to Abbott and Republicans alike.
“Gov. Abbott and the Republican establishment would have you believe that gun violence and mass shootings are inevitable, that evil exists and there’s nothing we can do about it — just brace for the funerals,” he said. “We know they’re wrong. Texas is at a crossroads. Either we succumb to the politics of hate and grievance or we embrace our growth and full potential and the diversity and opportunity that comes with that.”
Abbott said red flag laws would not have prevented the shooting in El Paso from happening and voiced his support for a balanced way to keep guns out of the hands of killers and the right to bear arms. Castro seemed to point to red flag laws as the start of solutions for gun safety across the state. The accused shooter’s mother had called police weeks before the tragedy, concerned that her son had a rifle.
“We could require universal background checks on all firearm purchases and we could keep weapons of war off our streets,” Castro outlined. “Every day that goes by, Texans are in harm’s way and what is clear is that we cannot wait until 2021 for change.”
Abbott also reminded the audience about roundtables he intends to host with all the delegations of El Paso as well as other leaders from across the state of Texas.
“Our goal is to make sure that we find strategies of laws that we can pass that will make Texas safe,” he said.
Immigration and the border
On the topic of immigration, Gov. Abbott focused on border security, explaining that while some are wanting to come to the United States for a better life, others are wanting to sell drugs and participate in human trafficking. He cited the $800 million that was appropriated to help secure the border, which goes to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“Understand this: there is one reason and one reason only why we have to spend that money — because the United States Congress is not doing its job to secure our border,” he said.
In contrast, Castro called for unity in figuring out solutions to stop family separations and provide protections for people already in the country.
“We could come together and enact real comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that families remain together and ensure that those who live in fear can come out of the shadows,” he said.
The future of Texas
Abbott has been the governor of Texas for five years, and drew on his love for the state during the town hall.
“I have a passion for this state,” Abbott said. “A passion for its people. A passion for a true exceptionalism that Texas has. I truly believe in my heart, Texas is the best state in the United States of America, and I wake up every day to keep it that way.”
Castro ended his response by calling for change and a different future for Texas and the country.
“Gov. Abbott, Donald Trump and the Republican establishment are not ready for change,” he said. “Well, Texans are because we fight for what we believe is right and no one messes with us.”