If state Sen. Wendy Davis gets into the race for Texas governor, abortion won’t be the only hot-button social issue dividing the major candidates.
The topic of gun restrictions will spice things up, too.
Davis, who became an instant political celebrity after filibustering a restrictive abortion bill in June, voted in favor of allowing students to carry guns in their vehicles on college campuses. She is a gun owner and has said she believes the Second Amendment guarantees Americans that right. In a lot of states, that would probably put her in the pro-gun camp.
But this is Texas, where licensed gun toters are allowed to bypass the metal detectors at the state Capitol and the sitting governor once shot a coyote to death while jogging. Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor, found out the hard way that getting between Texans and their guns can be politically dangerous. She opposed concealed handgun legislation and vetoed a referendum on it, handing George W. Bush a great campaign issue in 1994. Texans got a concealed carry law in Bush’s first session as governor.
Despite the risks, Davis, known for waging sometimes lonely political battles, has not been afraid to pick a fight over guns — in particular over gun shows.
As a member of the Fort Worth City Council, Davis tried to impose restrictions on guns shows held at municipal facilities. She wanted to ensure that people were buying from licensed dealers or otherwise faced background checks.
Under current law, nothing prevents people at gun shows from buying guns from other people attending them. Critics say evil-doers exploit this loophole by buying and selling firearms at gun shows, often in large quantities, that later show up at crime scenes. According to a recent report in the Dallas Observer, for example, a Texas man went to numerous gun shows around the state to purchase dozens of assault rifles that authorities say were sold at a high profit to buyers who sent them to Mexico.
According to the report, one of his gun show stops was the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, which would have been regulated by the restrictions Davis unsuccessfully sought.
In a recent interview, Davis didn’t back down from her position on gun shows, though she acknowledged it’s not a politically popular one. She said that if she were governor, she would leave the issue to the will of the Legislature but would happily sign gun show regulations into law.
“I haven’t pursued it as a senator because I know it’s like spitting in the wind,” she said. “But I still believe it’s the right thing. And if I were governor and a bill came to my desk that provided for background checks at gun shows, I would sign that.”
That position puts her at odds with the front-running GOP candidate for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott. When Travis County and the city of Austin were mulling gun show restrictions several months ago, Abbott warned on Twitter that they better start preparing for “a double-barreled lawsuit.”
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch says the attorney general “opposes any new laws or ordinances — local, state or federal — to limit the rights of law-abiding gun owners.” That’s not going to change if Abbott becomes governor, Hirsch said.
“As an avid hunter and member of the Texas State Rifle Association and National Rifle Association, Greg Abbott will continue to fight for the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans,” Hirsch said.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.