Nearly two weeks after a mass shooting in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott promised that his office, and the Legislature, would take appropriate action to stop future tragedies — but quashed any speculation that he’d call lawmakers back for a special session to make it happen.
Despite calls from a number of Texas Democrats to come back to Austin and address gun violence, Abbott told a live audience during a televised town hall at the University of Texas at Tyler that “it doesn’t require a special session for lawmakers to act.” Still, he insisted that waiting until 2021 to formally meet didn’t mean he wouldn’t act — calling the man who killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart an “enraged killer.” Police said the gunman told authorities he was targeting “Mexicans” when he surrendered.
“[The shooter] said in that manifesto that the reason why he made this attack is because of racism, because of hate, because of his desire to eliminate people from the face of the earth,” Abbott said Thursday evening, referencing a hate-filled manifesto allegedly penned by the shooter that decried an “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“We need to get at the root of this,” Abbott said during his hourlong appearance.
Abbott, who has called the shooting an act of domestic terrorism, said he plans to release more details next week about a series of roundtables he’ll host with other lawmakers and state leaders to discuss possible legislative solutions that could prevent another massacre.
The governor said Thursday that the roundtables would include all the members of the El Paso legislative delegation. News of those discussions come around the same time, Abbott noted, that he formed a domestic terrorism task force, set to convene for the first time on Aug. 30, to protect against statewide acts of extremism.
Abbott said the task force was the first of its kind formed in Texas.
“Even though I’m in Tyler tonight, my heart is in El Paso,” Abbott said. “Our work to help you has just begun.”
Abbott also reiterated to an enthusiastic crowd that he didn’t think “red flag” laws, which in most cases allow judges to temporarily seize an individual’s firearms if that person is considered an imminent threat, would’ve stopped the shooter in El Paso.
“The El Paso shooter had demonstrated no red flags at all that would’ve triggered any type of mechanism that would’ve prevented him from being able to get a gun in the first place,” Abbott said.
Despite scattered chatter among some national Republicans, including President Donald Trump, on red flag laws and background checks, Abbott said Texas lawmakers will “work on getting guns out of the hands of deranged killers, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans.”
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who delivered the Democratic response to Abbott's town hall, said the governor’s response to the shooting was too short-sighted.
“As the school year starts, we are all facing the fact that we have to look into our children’s eyes and have a conversation — not about the excitement for the first day of class, but about people who could harm us, and getting back home safe. And active shooter drills,” Castro said.
“Every day that goes by Texans are in harm’s way,” he said, “and what is clear is that we cannot wait until 2021 for change.”
Answering questions about a range of other issues at Thursday’s event, Abbott insisted that Texas would remain red — despite a spate of GOP congressional retirements. He also touted the work done during this year's legislative session, including the passage of a property tax reform bill and a massive school finance bill. Plus, he insisted that Trump didn’t need to change his rhetoric.
Abbott was also asked about the Capitol drama surrounding embattled House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The lower chamber’s leader has been mired in controversy since news broke that he held a closed-door meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, where the speaker allegedly offered Sullivan’s organization media credentials in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.
Abbott has remained mostly mum on the matter so far, but said Thursday that he enjoyed working with Bonnen during the session and would leave the matter to the Texas Rangers — who were recently asked to investigate the allegations against Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants — before drawing any conclusions.
“What is happening now is the best thing that could happen — and that’s getting the Texas Rangers involved,” Abbott said, noting it was premature to say whether Bonnen should resign. “We need to get to the bottom of this and get to the bottom of this quickly.”
Texas Democrats chided Abbott for his succinct remarks.
“While Abbott’s right hand man Dennis Bonnen continues to face a crippling lawsuit and a criminal investigation conducted by the Texas Rangers, Governor Greg Abbott side-stepped all questions about these allegations currently roiling his party.
“In fact, this press release is longer than Abbott’s comments about Bonnen,” party officials wrote. “Seriously. 69 words.”