Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggests improving voluntary background checks for person-to-person gun sales

Abbott stopped short of saying the Legislature should make the background checks mandatory.

From left: Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen hosted the first meeting of the Texas Safety Commission at the state Capitol on Aug. 22.

On the heels of two deadly mass shootings last month, Gov. Greg Abbott proposed a series of ideas to the Texas Legislature on Thursday aimed at keepings guns out of the hands of people who should not possess them — though he stopped short of joining another top Republican's push for mandatory background checks for person-to-person firearm sales.

Abbott’s Texas Safety Action Report, released Thursday, elaborates on the eight executive orders the governor issued earlier this month, his office said. One of Abbott’s more notable recommendations to the Legislature includes a suggestion to “consider ways to make it easy, affordable, and beneficial for a private seller of firearms to voluntarily use background checks when selling firearms to strangers.”

That suggestion differs slightly from what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican head of the Senate, has suggested in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in El Paso and another in Odessa and Midland.

Person-to-person sales of firearms do not require background checks in Texas, but after the two shootings, Patrick openly supported the idea of changing that. In a statement Thursday, Patrick said both him and Abbott "understand that a background check is needed" in such sales.

"I am glad he included that issue in his list of recommendations for the legislature to consider," Patrick said.

Abbott, writing in the report, said "every Texan has a role to play" in preventing future mass shootings. "Together," he wrote, "we will ensure a safe and secure future for our state, while also upholding the constitutional rights of all Texans."

Thursday's recommendations, Abbott wrote in the report, came after he met with roughly 50 state lawmakers, community leaders, law enforcement officials and others to discuss how to prevent future massacres.

After the mass shooting in El Paso at the beginning of August, Abbott formed the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission to begin exploring strategies for how to combat extremists and enhance law enforcement's capability to prevent such tragedies. The El Paso gunman's anti-Hispanic rampage at a Walmart led to the deaths of 22 people and injuries for dozens more.

Abbott's report also says the Legislature "should consider laws that crack down on criminals who try to illegally buy or possess guns" and "consider prohibiting straw purchases of firearms under state law." Straw purchases, which are already illegal under federal law, occur when a person purchases an item, such as a firearm, on behalf of someone else who is unable to buy it.

"A primary goal is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," the report says.

Later Thursday, state Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said the governor's report was "a good first step"— and reiterated his party's call for a special legislative session for state lawmakers to begin debating such proposals immediately.

"Many of [Abbott's recommendations] mirror proposals Democrats have put forward, such as requiring the reporting of stolen firearms to law enforcement," Turner said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. "We also support cracking down on straw purchases and codifying state and federal cooperation. With respect to background check loopholes, we continue to maintain that background checks must be mandatory in all gun sales. Nonetheless, these are all conversations Democrats are ready to have — and an emergency special session is the place to have them if we are to better protect Texans from gun violence."

At the beginning of September, Abbott issued eight executive orders that focused largely on strengthening law enforcement's ability to respond to — and prevent — future shootings.

The report states that those executive orders were "just the first step that the executive branch will take to improve public safety" and suggested other steps that state agencies may take in the future. Those recommendations include strengthening the Domestic Violence High Risk Teams across Texas and speeding up the implementation of the Department of Public Safety's safe firearm storage campaign, which just received a $1 million infusion from the Legislature to do just that.

The report also includes additional strategies, such as suggesting the Legislature work with the Texas Education Agency on developing "strategies to improve parental engagement in schools" and urging state lawmakers to "consider amending state law to ensure schools are notified when former students are arrested."

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