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Some in Texas Legislature call for rethinking state's gun laws

Following the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, some Democrats and at least one Republican in the Texas Legislature are calling on state leaders to take a hard look at the state's gun laws.

State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, discusses ways to control gun violence at a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Behind her, left to right: state Reps. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, and Ed Scruggs, vice chairman of Texas Gun Sense.

In the days after a lone gunman at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs left at least 26 people dead, some members of the Texas Legislature are pushing for their fellow legislators and other top officials to examine whether the state's gun laws need to be changed.

At a news conference organized by Texas Gun Sense at the state capitol on Wednesday, state Reps. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue and reform existing gun regulations.

Nevárez proposed limiting the ability of Texans to "walk around" with long rifles, such as the AR-15 variant used by the shooter Sunday. Texas has allowed long gun owners to openly carry their weapons for decades.

Collier urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue, comparing it to other health crises such as obesity and the opioid epidemic. She also denounced those, such as President Donald Trump, who have focused on addressing mental health issues following the shooting rather than guns themselves. While acknowledging mental health plays a critical role in gun violence, she said focusing entirely on mental health is a "distraction" from the role of easy access to guns and "stigmatizes" those with mental health issues.

"If any other consumer product resulted in a fraction of the injuries and deaths [that guns do]," Collier said, "we would be scrambling to find solutions."

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, was also at the news conference and spoke briefly about a list she authored of steps to prevent gun violence. Her suggestions include increasing public education on safe gun usage and requiring a license to carry long guns.

The press conference came a day after state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, urged state leaders to create a bipartisan commission tasked with recommending "common sense" gun reforms ahead of the next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

Villalba emphasized that the commission should tackle all the causes of violence — including the political third-rail of gun control.

“No shibboleth shall be off limits,” the Dallas Republican wrote in an email he shared with the Tribune. “THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL REFORMS IN TEXAS!”

Nevárez called Villalba's proposal insufficient. 

"We don’t need a commission. We need bills," Nevárez said Wednesday. "What are we going to do in a commission, sit around and talk?"

Nevárez and Hinojosa stressed that they did not advocate eliminating Texans' access to guns. Nevárez said he has "a lot of guns" and "no one is coming to take my guns." 

Nevárez did, however, criticize state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for not offering "anything that amounts to any real solution" to gun violence. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently suggested that introducing armed security or arming congregants at churches could prevent similar shootings in the future — a suggestion largely panned by the speakers at Wednesday's news conference.

"It’s almost fatalistic," Nevárez said. "And it will be fatal for the next group of people that are going to be killed by gun violence … if we continue down this path."

Abbott has suggested this week that the federal government lapsed in failing to block the shooter, Devin Kelley, from buying three firearms. Air Force records show Kelley's domestic violence record wasn’t entered into the National Crime Information Center database.

“So how was it that he was able to get a gun? By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun,” Abbott said on CNN Tuesday. “So how did this happen?”

Abbott, Patrick and Villalba did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Emma Platoff contributed to this report.

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Alfonso "Poncho" Nevárez Gina Hinojosa Gun rights Jason Villalba