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Other Voices: Gov. Abbott vowed to lead on guns and safety before. Maybe he will now

Houston Chronicle

The dead can’t vote.

The 22 souls who perished in El Paso are a constituency with no representation, no voice, no power — except for us.

Those of us who watched in fresh horror at the tears, the panicked faces, the death counts ticking ever higher from yet another mass shooting in America have a choice to make. We can mourn, pray, squeeze our children and silently thank God we’re safe — this time.

Or we can act. We can hold our leaders accountable. And we can call them out on broken promises.

Many of us had hope after the slaughter in Santa Fe that Gov. Greg Abbott would not let the deaths of eight students and two teachers in May 2018 go without making a serious effort to address gun violence.

“It’s time in Texas,” he had said at a news conference in Santa Fe, “that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”

We wanted to believe the governor would somehow summon his better angels to override the political voice inside his head urging allegiance to the gun lobby — the same voice that led him to tweet in 2015: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.” He made sure to tag the NRA.

Abbott initially seemed sincere about change. He summoned experts, including a gun safety advocate, to Austin to talk for three straight days about protecting our schools. Less than two weeks later, he issued a 44-page report with 40 suggestions of what the Texas Legislature should consider when it met the following January.

Finally, it seemed, a Republican governor of Texas was leading on gun violence. He seemed poised to acknowledge that some guns are so deadly they ought to be more difficult to get. Some people, too, might be so dangerous or temporarily so out of sorts that they ought not to have guns at all.

It wasn’t entirely wishful thinking. President Trump had recently scolded Republicans for being afraid of the NRA and ordered the Justice Department to find a way to ban bump stocks, which it later did. Sen. John Cornyn led an effort to modestly enhance federal background checks, and it became law.

In Florida, after another school shooting, that state’s Republican governor and other leaders raised the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons to 21.

Abbott’s ideas in the report were modest but good. He urged lawmakers to consider red flag laws, noting five other states had already passed laws to allow family members or others to ask a judge, pending a hearing, to temporarily confiscate guns of especially dangerous owners.

Ed Scruggs, of Texas Gun Sense, sat right next to Abbott during one discussion. He was impressed. “I was right there and saw how he interacted with others on this topic. I know that he knows how tragic gun violence is, and he has a sincere desire to do something about it.”

By the time lawmakers returned to Austin for the 2019 session, bills were flying. In all, at least 19 sought some measure of gun reform. Two El Paso lawmakers, Rep. Joe Moody and Sen. Jose Rodriquez, filed companion red flag bills; another bill would have closed a loophole in the background check requirements.

Change was at hand. But suddenly, the governor’s leadership was nowhere to be found.

“He backed away from everything,” Scruggs said Sunday. “There were good ideas in the report. But after it was released, I am not aware of him ever speaking about them again.”

Abbott signed a law making it easier for teachers to arm themselves during the school day. He vetoed a law that would have further restricted guns at airports. The only good idea he supported was a series of measures strengthening mental health awareness and resources at schools.

Pessimists’ predictions proved true: the faded horrors of Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe were no match for the might of the gun lobby.

“When you get 10 pro-Second Amendment bills to the governor, and he signs them all,” NRA lobbyist Tara Mica boasted to the Dallas Morning News in June, “I would rank it up there with one of the most successful sessions we’ve had since I’ve been doing this.”

Today's Bible verse

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

James 2:17

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