Hours after a Texas Senate committee mulled "red flag" laws at the request of the governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested in a news release Tuesday that any such law would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber in the next legislative session.
As mass shootings continue across the nation, more and more states have adopted laws that allow courts to order the seizure or surrender of guns from people who are deemed dangerous by a judge. After the fatal shooting at Santa Fe High School in May, Gov. Greg Abbott held multiple roundtable discussions and then released a school and gun safety plan, which included a page requesting that the Legislature consider red flag laws.
But after a four-hour hearing on the subject in the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security, Patrick released a statement making clear such proposals wouldn't make it far in his chamber.
"Regarding the topic of 'Red Flag' laws, which was discussed today in the select committee, I have never supported these policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate," Patrick said. "A bill offered last session garnered little support. Governor Greg Abbott formally asked the legislature to consider 'Red Flag' laws in May so I added them to the charges I gave to the select committee. However, Gov. Abbott has since said he doesn’t advocate 'Red Flag' laws."
In his safety plan, Abbott urged the Texas House and Senate to hold hearings before the next legislative session, which begins in January, to "consider the merits of adopting a red flag law," claiming that such orders could have been used to prevent the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs and Parkland, Florida. Democrats took the call as a nod of approval toward potential legislation.
Last month, however, after the topic drew opposition from conservative groups and was knocked in the Texas GOP's party platform, Abbott tweeted during a House hearing on red flag laws that the school safety plan he released in May wasn't specifically advocating red flags laws — "only that it is something the legislature can consider."
In the House hearing, the cultural divide was evident as members of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee listened to 12 hours of testimony. Speakers included students who lost their friends and siblings in the recent shooting, as well as those who feared disgruntled divorcees may be able to have someone's firearms seized. The committee chairman, state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who authored the failed 2017 legislation similar to many red flag laws, knocked Patrick's dismissal Tuesday evening.
"When my committee considered these laws at Governor Abbott’s request, we began with one fundamental premise: There are some very disturbed people who shouldn’t have guns, at least temporarily, and we believe we can devise a way to identify them fairly and constitutionally while protecting Second Amendment rights," Moody said in response to Patrick's statement. "Obviously, the lieutenant governor — who’s in charge of the Senate — doesn’t have the same faith in our lawmakers.”
Abbott also asked the Legislature in his plan to evaluate whether existing protective orders are sufficient. Currently, courts can notify Texans under domestic violence protective orders that they cannot own guns or ammunition, but state law gives no guidance on how to get those Texans to hand over their firearms.
Today's meeting was the Senate committee's fourth and final on school safety. Its chair, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said the panel would release a report based on its meetings by the first week of August.
Matthew Choi contributed to this report.