When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has done more than just about anyone in Texas to loosen access to guns in the state, calls for near-universal background checks, it’s a strong sign change is needed.
We encourage the rest of the Republican Party to follow his lead.
For Patrick, the shift was triggered by last month’s terror in Midland and Odessa. There, Seth Ator, a troubled 36-year-old Texan, went on a rampage that killed seven people and left about two dozen injured, including three police officers.
Ator had a gun only because he bought it from a private seller, a transaction that did not require a background check. He was able to acquire his rifle despite having previously failed a background check at a retail store because of a disqualifying mental health issue.
Patrick’s plan would not require checks in every instance. A gun owner could still sell to family members and “friends,” an allowance that could be problematic. However it would close the loophole Ator slipped through to get his gun.
The lieutenant governor is right that “not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger-to-stranger sale makes no sense to me and ... most folks.” Polls consistently show a majority of Texans, including 70% of Republicans in a 2016 poll, support background checks on all gun purchases.
Patrick has, or had, an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association for consistently falling in line with their lobbying efforts. And he is not likely to become a strict gun-control advocate now. Nonetheless, the NRA was swift in its condemnation of his idea.
It is not necessary to share the NRA’s words here. You’ve heard them all before and will hear them again after the next mass shooting brings another call for any sort of solution to the continuing violence.
Patrick is a member of the NRA, and we can’t help wondering how the rank-and-file membership must feel about being part of an organization that supports a system that allows guns in dangerous hands like Ator’s.
The lieutenant governor cannot be the only member who feels change is necessary. In the wake of last month’s massacre in El Paso, where 29 people were killed and another 49 wounded, several NRA board members resigned their positions.
So far as we can see, those resignations did nothing to change the way the organization works. So it is pointless to hope the NRA will be a partner in bringing about sensible change that might help curb the violence.
Patrick acknowledged as much in his announcement, saying he was willing to “take an arrow” from the NRA for his stance.
Any progress our state is going to make on gun violence is going to have to come through its Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott. Texas may be in the midst of turning into a Democratic state but any sea change — if it occurs — is a long way off.
Given Patrick’s past stances on gun law, there is understandable skepticism over his plan. But we are willing to believe he means what he says. At least he has a plan, and it has a better chance of making its way into law than any other we’ve seen, simply thanks to his support.
We encourage Abbott and other Republicans to follow Patrick’s lead in standing up to the NRA and working to pass common-sense gun safety measures that all Texans can support.