With Texas schools restarting classes in less than two months, Texas Senate Democrats renewed calls Monday for Gov. Greg Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin this summer to enact legislation that might prevent another mass shooting like the one at a Uvalde elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers last month.
The senators said if lawmakers reconvene for a special session, they would support proposals like raising the age to legally own an assault weapon from 18 to 21, creating red flag laws for gun purchases, instituting a 72-hour “cooling off” period and regulating the private sale of firearms.
But first there has to be a debate, and a vote, to let Texans know where their elected officials stand on how to respond to the Uvalde shooting, said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and was unsuccessful in passing his red flag legislation last session.
“The people are urging us to take action, but first we have to let them know we’re listening to them,” he said. “We’ve heard the public, we want to represent them, but we have to have a session to do that.”
The Texas Legislature is set to reconvene in Austin in January. Democratic lawmakers first asked in May, four days after the Uvalde massacre, for Abbott to call for a special session, saying there is a critical need for new laws to prevent more mass shootings.
On Monday, they laid more pressure on Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin before school starts in August.
“The circumstances that brought us here are devastating,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. “We are 56 days away from the school year starting. We must take action to ensure that another group of parents are not planning funerals instead of planning summer vacations or summer camp.”
The governor’s office, several other statewide offices, half of the state Senate seats and all of the House seats are up for election in November. Abbott’s press office did not respond immediately to requests for comment Monday. His opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, has repeatedly called on him to order a special session for gun reform.
“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde.
The Robb Elementary School shooting was the second-deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States and the deadliest in Texas, which has seen 527 children die from gun murders from 2015-20 — more than any other state, lawmakers said.
Abbott has batted away arguments that Texas’ lax gun laws were at fault when the Uvalde shooter legally purchased two assault rifles as soon as he turned 18.
Instead, Abbott argues that the lack of mental health services in Uvalde was the problem, even though the gunman is not believed to have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness.
The measures proposed by Senate Democrats — who are in the minority in the Texas Senate — are moderately controversial. The draft bill includes the creation of red flag laws, which can result in banning people deemed by a court to be at “extreme risk” of violence against themselves and others from purchasing guns and confiscating their weapons.
Bills creating those protective orders were filed in both chambers last session but died when they didn’t get committee hearings.
Some of the most divisive issues in the gun debate, such as a total ban on assault weapons, bans on high-capacity magazines or universal background checks, are not in the Senate Democrats’ proposed legislation.
“Nobody here is looking to prevent law-abiding, stable adults from possessing guns,” said state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin. “That is a right, and we stand by it.”
The Texas Republican grassroots demonstrated during their state convention last weekend that they have no patience for gun control, nearly booing off the stage Texas GOP U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator on bipartisan talks for gun reform after the Uvalde shooting.
Days before, a group of senators announced that they had made progress on a deal, which includes requiring mental health records in background checks for gun buyers under age 21 and the creation of a federal grant program to encourage states to enact red flag laws.