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As Abbott orders special committees after Uvalde, can Texas lawmakers find common ground on gun safety?

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Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference at Uvalde High School on May 25, 2022.

Under the orders of Gov. Greg Abbott, top Texas lawmakers are starting to form committees to address the mass shooting in Uvalde. On Wednesday, Abbott ordered Senate and House leaders to create special committees examining topics related to school and firearm safety, to name a few – but stopped short of calling a special legislative session over mass shootings, as more and more Texas lawmakers have been demanding. Abbott also announced he’s directing state resources to conduct random safety reviews in Texas’ public schools.

Abbott’s request to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan was to form special committees that would “… review what steps previous legislatures have enacted, what resources the State has made available to local school districts, and make recommendations to the Legislature and the Executive Branch so that meaningful action can be made on, among other things, the following topics to prevent future school shootings: School safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearm safety.”

The Texas Senate, under Patrick, has formed the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, made up of eight Republicans and three Democrats. The Texas House hasn’t announced a committee yet, but Phelan has said they are working on it and that he also wants to address what’s known as the “dead suspect loophole,” which allows law enforcement to withhold information about cases that don’t end in a conviction.

Cayla Harris, who reports on Texas politics for the Houston Chronicle, said the governor’s response in the aftermath of Uvalde has had a much less direct call to action compared with the aftermath of the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that left 10 people dead.

“Abbott is, of course, you know, asking to form these committees, but committees can’t really do anything. I mean, they can hold hearings and they can make recommendations, but there’s no immediate action that comes out of a committee,” Harris said. “There’s no roundtables that have been announced so far like he did after Santa Fe. There have been no specific policy proposals, at least regarding guns, that we have seen. Those are all different. It’s a lot more muted this time, I would say.”

» RELATED: Texas’ school security efforts following 2018 Santa Fe shooting have largely ignored gun safety

At a town hall in Dallas on Wednesday night, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke laid out his plan to protect Texas children from gun violence.

“Let’s start where we have some agreement … universal background checks, red flag laws, safe storage laws,” O’Rourke said. “These are places where gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans, Democrats, independents alike, are on the same page.”

But it’s unclear what consensus, if any, can be had among lawmakers in regards to gun safety.

In public polling, at least, there’s huge support for universal background checks, but that hasn’t been something that the Legislature has wanted to pursue,” Harris said. “The last legislative session was very friendly to gun owners and gun policies. This is a Legislature that really values the Second Amendment and is trying to protect gun rights at all costs. So it’s difficult to say whether Republicans would support any measures that would restrict gun access.”

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