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President's Gun Plan Panned, Embraced by Texas Lawmakers

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, praised President Obama's proposals to curb gun violence, while Gov. Rick Perry shunned efforts to increase regulation and called for prayer.

By Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project
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President Obama's plan, announced Wednesday, to curtail gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings is drawing both criticism and praise in the gun-loving state of Texas.

The president is calling for Congress to implement background checks for all gun purchases and to ban certain assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Republican Gov. Rick Perry said the president's plan "disgusts" him and that it is an effort by the political left to use the killings to accomplish an anti-gun agenda. He called for prayer and a rejection of evil, as opposed to gun regulation. But Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said in the wake of the president's announcement that he plans to file legislation to close what has been called the “gun show loophole” in Texas.

“How many more tragedies must we endure before we step up and take action?” Ellis said in a press release.

Ellis said his proposal would require background checks at gun shows and other unregulated places where guns are sold. The requirement, he said, would "help ensure those who cannot pass a background check at a gun store will not be able to go to a flea market and buy one there, no questions asked.”

Ellis’ proposal is one of many policy changes suggested by Texas lawmakers in the wake of the shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Since then, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has proposed allowing more school teachers to carry concealed weapons. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called last week for more firearms training for school employees.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott launched a web ad campaign inviting residents of New York who feel their gun rights have been threatened by new laws signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to consider moving to Texas. “Is Gov. Cuomo looking to take your guns?” reads one of the ads, which appear on several media websites including The New York Times, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The ads lead to a  Facebook page that reads, “You’ll fit right in here in Texas!" (The Texas Tribune has a content partnership with the Times.)

Among Texas Democrats, Ellis is not alone in calling for more gun restrictions. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, has said he will file legislation to require training for buyers of certain guns.

Ellis’ focus on the “gun show loophole” is not a new one, and has been vigorously opposed in the past. Opponents point to a 2008 study that used data on gun show dates in Texas and California and nearby rates of homicide and suicide. “If anything, we find evidence of a modest decline in the number of homicides following the average gun show in Texas,” the authors concluded.

Perry, while not commenting specifically on the gun show proposal, said in a press release Wednesday that “the piling on by the political left, and their cohorts in the media, to use the massacre of little children to advance a pre-existing political agenda that would not have saved those children, disgusts me, personally.”

He added that the problem is broader than anything specific laws might address and called for prayer. “There is evil prowling in the world — it shows up in our movies, video games and online fascinations, and finds its way into vulnerable hearts and minds,” he said. “Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help. Above all, let us pray for our children.”

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner and a staunch gun rights advocate, said at a debate on the issue of the gun show loophole that many are worried that background checks at gun shows would be used to create a database of gun owners, something many see as an invasion of privacy. He added, however, that one way around that problem would be to require background checks as individuals enter a gun show, so that the background check is not “tied to an individual transaction.”

“Just like when you go into a beer joint, they stamp my hand and I can buy a gun,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “If I propose that idea, I’ll piss everybody off.”

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Politics State government Governor's Office Guns In Texas Texas Legislature