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Texas governor expresses concern about private gun sales

AUSTIN — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday raised concern about private firearm sales but didn’t commit to crack down on them or act on gun control issues following a meeting on ways to prevent mass shootings such as the El Paso attack that killed 22 people.

While lawmakers are feeling pressure to respond quickly to the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart, Abbott signaled that Texas would take a long and careful look at gun laws and other safety measures before its Legislature next meets in 2021.

Scrutinizing private gun sales was among a list of ideas Abbott rattled off after emerging from a four-hour, closed-door meeting about the El Paso shooting with lawmakers, police and representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

He also floated the idea of “welfare checks” when worries are raised about people with access to firearms. Authorities have said the mother of the suspected El Paso gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, had called police weeks before the attack to express concern about her son buying an “AK” style rifle.

“Right now there is nothing in law that would prevent one stranger from selling a gun to a terrorist, and obviously that’s a danger that needs to be looked into,” Abbott said.

The El Paso shooting happened hours before another gunman in Ohio killed nine people in an entertainment district. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, responded days later with a package of measures that he said would prevent mass shootings. But Abbott is taking a slower approach.

The discussions will be closely followed by gun-rights supporters, including the National Rifle Association, which earlier this year praised Abbott for expanding gun rights in Texas. Some are set to take effect Sept. 1 and were passed after more than two dozen people were killed in a 2017 Texas church shooting and a gunman killing 10 people at a high school near Houston last year.

Abbott offered no details about how Texas might scrutinize private gun sales but expressed worries that it could lead to some firearms ending up in the wrong hands. Authorities have said Crusius legally purchased the rifle used in the attack but have not said from where.

Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter left the meeting before reporters were let back into the room. They were invited by Abbott after he called for a crackdown on internet sites used by violent extremists. Authorities believe Crusius posted a racist screed online shortly before carrying out the attack.

Abbott said the companies offered to provide a training program for both users and law enforcement to identify those who may pose a danger or deter potential attacks.

Gun Owners of America’s Texas chapter held a small rally outside the Capitol before Abbott’s meeting to protest the possibility of “red flag” laws that would allow guns to be removed from a person determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The group also spoke against any “social media monitoring” that might result from the discussions.

Stephen Willeford, who shot back at the gunman who attacked a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, said gun owners don’t want more restrictions and that “red flag” laws do away with due process.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a new report Thursday on firearm laws and gun violence in Texas, and geared up for its own town hall in El Paso.

Ari Freilich, an attorney for the organization, said that among the report’s proposals is disarming hate crime offenders and others convicted of violent crimes.

According to the report, under Texas law, those convicted of violent hate crime assaults and hate crimes involving “terroristic threats” of violence are generally able to legally buy and keep guns immediately after conviction.

“We’ve also seen this before, so we want to make sure the folks having these conversations know that it’s time for a really serious conversation that’s responsive to ways in which Texans are being harmed every day by guns,” Freilich said.

Pine Tree Primary School hosts kindergarten camp

Even though Thursday was only her second day of school, Shaylee Fauver knows the lay of the land.

“I love it. I love how they separate us for different groups to different classes with different teachers so it gives me more kids to find,” she said. “I think I’ve made two friends. I’m sure I’ll make some more.”

Shaylee was referring to Pine Tree Primary School’s kindergarten camp, which allows kindergarten students to rotate classmates and teachers the first three days of school before being assigned to a class and teacher.

Principal Cristi Parsons said she had the idea for the camp about five years ago after reading about a Washington school district.

The camp helps the staff get to know where the students are academically, to place them in a class that will fit their needs, she said.

“We look at which students have the best relationships with which teachers, who did they connect to, which student connected with which teacher, because they see eight teachers in three days,” Parsons said. “We look at what relationships were strong from the very beginning. Then we look at what other peers did they interact with well, and we also look at what peers did they not interact with well.”

Today, the staff will meet to determine where each student will be assigned, and on Monday, the pupils will go to their assigned class and teacher, Parsons said. The classes will be reevaluated at the end of the day, and final classes will be revealed Tuesday.

“This is really like a camp experience,” she said. “They get to do arts and crafts. They get to do motor skills. We get to see their socialization.”

The Primary School has 354 kindergarten students, Parsons said. That will mean 17 classes of about 21 students if the enrollment does not grow enough to add another class, she said.

Shaylee was working on math Thursday, she said. She was using foam shapes to make a tent, matching the shapes to a picture.

“It’s kind of math and not math,” she said. “But it’s still math.”

One of her classmates, Ja’Kylan Wilson, was stacking blocks together, counting them as he went.

“I’m building a big ‘ole tower,” he said. “I love school. I was good, and then I got a lot of stars.”

Yvette Acuna also was at a table with building blocks.

“It’s so fun,” she said about school. “I get to play with stuff all day, and I made friends already.”

Dulse Aguilar Sosa said she can count to 100 while working on writing her numbers.

“(We also) learned about ABCs,” she said. “I like (school) because of my teachers.”

Kindergarten teacher Anna Veralli is one of the teachers who organized the camp.

She said she went to Hallsville because the district did something similar to get ideas on how to best create the camp.

“Most are very excited; most are excited to see new teachers, see different friends, see different items in each class,” she said. “Of course, there’s a couple that transitions are hard, but we’re powering through and just trying to find the best fit for every kid.”

The camp’s goal is creating classrooms that fit the needs of the school’s children, she said.

“A lot of these kids we’ve never seen before,” she said, “and so we just wanted to make sure that we found the best fit with kids that they get along with, teachers that mesh with their personality — just making sure that we’re seeing who gets along and who doesn’t and put them where they fit best.”

Boyd won't seek reelection as Gregg commissioner; Wingo says he plans to run

Gary Boyd won’t be running for reelection as Gregg County Pct. 3 commissioner.

That said, he still has 17 months and change left in his term. The Kilgore resident is at work and will stay there; some folks just needed a heads-up as he plans to stand down from the upcoming election cycle.

“I’m just announcing I’m not going to run,” Boyd said. “I’ve still got a year and a half.”

A former Kilgore City Council member and past Kilgore ISD trustee, Boyd was appointed to the commissioners court in September 2010 by Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt after the resignation of Bob Barbee. Boyd sought and won reelection in 2012 and 2016.

“Oct. 1 will be nine years,” he said Thursday. “When I finish up on December 31 of 2020, I will have been a commissioner 10 years.”

Making up his mind about the 2020 election cycle, Boyd spent the better part of Wednesday reaching out to staffers, local leaders, media and would-be successors.

“People who have come to me and said they would like to run if I didn’t run, I’ve contacted those folks,” Boyd said.

Among them was Floyd Wingo, who unsuccessfully challenged Boyd in the Republican primaries in March 2016. Boyd garnered 2,437 votes, or 50.68% of the total votes. Wingo had 2,372 votes, or 49.32% of the total.

Wingo already had appointed a treasurer two months ago for his 2020 campaign for the Pct. 3 commissioner post, he said.

“I have spoken with Mr. Boyd, and he told me his intention not to seek reelection,” said Wingo, who has been Gilmer Police Department captain since February 2018.

Boyd said he will leave the campaigning to whomever throws a hat in the ring for Election 2020. Boyd’s remaining time in office will be spent pursuing his ongoing commitments.

“I made a couple of promises when I ran. One of them was to leave the precinct in better shape than I found it,” Boyd said. “I’m not saying it was in bad shape. I wanted to leave it in better shape than I found it, just like the person who comes after me will leave it in better shape than I do.”

Likewise, “I wanted to respond quickly to inquiries that people call in and handle problems that I’m able to handle. I promised fair and equitable service to the people of Gregg County. I feel like I’ve done that.”

More’s ahead for 2019 and the whole of 2020.

“I still have a project or two that I’d love to get done before I leave office,” he said.

Certainly, he also intends to enjoy the job to the end of his stint.

“I will miss my men,” Boyd said. “I have five cities in my precinct. It’s really pretty diverse. I’ll miss the interchange I have with all my communities.”

Developers say they're 'not walking away' from Starbucks deal

Consultants wanting to add digital signs and redevelop the site of a vacant restaurant in Longview say they’re not giving up, despite a setback from a city panel this week.

“We’re not walking away,” Grant Gary, brokerage services president for The Woodmont Co., one of multiple firms trying to broker a multifaceted deal to build a $2 million Starbucks coffeehouse store at the site of the former Waffle Shoppe Restaurant.

The deal involves Lamar Advertising converting three existing billboard signs elsewhere in Longview into changeable-copy digital-face signs and taking down a three-sided billboard at the vacant restaurant site.

On Tuesday, however, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment didn’t grant the variances Lamar needed for new digital signs.

“I think the key takeaway was, needless to say, we’re disappointed in the outcome,” Gary said in a conference with the News-Journal involving Lamar Advertising Vice President and General Manager Dan Noyes and John King Jr., owner and broker of JBK Enterprises of Longview.

The three men, along with Tyler planning consultant Mark Priestner, regrouped and weighed their options the morning after the Zoning Board denied Lamar a variance and permanently tabled two other variance requests.

“I think it’s a value-add solution for the city,” Gary said, “and I think that is something that has been conveyed and was conveyed (Tuesday) by the city — that they want to see this variance process approved.”

King said they want to consider all of their best paths forward and determine the path of least resistance to getting a deal done.

“We’re just finding the best avenue forward in response to” Tuesday, King said.

The potential tenant, identified by city records as Starbucks, wants the three-sided billboard removed from the restaurant site on the northeast corner of East Marshall Avenue and Spur 63, considered a prominent entryway into the city, developers have said.

At the intersection each day, nearly 30,000 drivers pass down Spur 63, and more than 27,000 drivers pass down Marshall Avenue, according to the city’s more recent traffic counts.

Developers say state traffic counters estimate the traffic at more than 80,000 drivers through the intersection.

“I wasn’t disappointed,” Noyes said about the ZBA’s decision.

“I was just confused, because I was pretty sure that I heard the sentiment from all parties there the desire that they want to see more development in Longview and reduce signage,” Noyes said, “and it seemed that this accomplished both aspects, so I was just a bit confused that everybody wasn’t for it.”

A Facebook page created by the developers about the redevelopment was inundated with comments, either through satire or complete seriousness, from people who expressed shock, anger and disappointment at the ZBA decision, King said.

He encouraged supporters of the project to reach out by phone or email to their City Council member, the mayor, Development Services Director Michael Shirley or City Planner Angela Choy.

“Everybody wants accountability and for their voices to be heard,” King said. “We’re not done.”

Two Longview City Council members said at the ZBA meeting Tuesday that they will ask colleagues on the seven-member council about possibly revisiting the sign ordinance.

No mention of the ordinance or the ZBA meeting was made during the council’s regular meeting Thursday.