President Trump is talking about red-flag laws. Texas lawmakers have blocked those bills in the past.
In the wake of shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, the president and Congress are discussing laws blocking access to firearms for people considered an imminent threat. But here in Texas, bills that would do that have made little traction.
President Trump called for reforms to keep guns out of the hands of "mentally unstable" people on Wednesday, addressing reporters outside of the White House as he left for visits to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, where two mass shootings have left at least 31 people dead and dozens more injured.
This is the second time this week President Trump has brought up possible reforms to gun laws. In a speech addressing the nation on Monday, Trump called for law enforcement to do "a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs," citing warnings to the FBI about a potential school shooting before a shooter killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida last year. Trump said that people who pose a "grave risk" should not be able to access firearms and there should be "rapid due process" for the weapons to be taken from such people who already have them.
"That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders," Trump said.
Red-flag laws, which in most cases allow judges to temporarily seize an individual’s firearms if that person is considered an imminent threat, have faced a rough path in the Texas Legislature. At a 2018 committee hearing on gun proposals, law enforcement and gun rights advocates opposed such measures, citing worries that a progressive or unethical judge could take guns away from innocent people, or bend to the will of disgruntled family members or divorcees who may seek the order out of spite.
The preventative measure — which already exists in states like Connecticut and Florida — received the most heated debate in Texas in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting last year, when Gov. Greg Abbott encouraged lawmakers to "consider the merits" of adopting such a law. His 43-page school safety plan released after shooting, appeared to give the idea a nod of approval. But after criticism from conservative groups and Texas Republicans, the governor clarified that he wasn't necessarily endorsing such a law in Texas.
"I don’t advocate red flag laws. Only that it is something the Legislature can consider," Abbott, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, tweeted during a committee hearing on gun proposals.
Yet the Texas Senate’s powerful and right-leaning leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, suggested last year a red flag law would never pass in the upper chamber of the Legislature.
"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 after hearings on gun reform in the Texas House and Senate. " … 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."
But such legislation this year never went before either chamber for a vote or even debate.
State Rep. Joe Moody and state Sen. José Rodríguez, both Democrats from El Paso, each filed legislation in their respective chambers that would have created a lethal violence protective order, resembling red flag laws in other states. Lawmakers never discussed them.
While signing several Santa Fe-related school safety bills in June — two months before the shooting in El Paso — Abbott said that such a measure wasn’t necessary.
Now that Trump is suggesting the measure be implemented federally, and more Republicans are coming out in support of such measures, it is unclear if Texas officials will follow suit and change their stance on the preventative measures.
"Our goal is to make sure we do everything we can to make sure a crime like this doesn’t happen again,” Abbott said at a meeting with El Paso lawmakers on Wednesday. “In this particular instance, there were no red flags about this particular shooter. We want to identify ways that we would be able to root out this shooter.”
Patrick's office did not respond for comment.
But other Texas Republicans are reportedly demonstrating an openness to the laws.
"I know there’s a lot of discussion about so-called red flag laws," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said at a press conference in El Paso on Wednesday. "This is something that I think we need to discuss and see is there a way to identify some of these shooters early …"
Quality journalism doesn't come free
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.Yes, I'll donate today