Other Voices: Honor church shooting hero, but there's more to be done

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Gov. Greg Abbott has been at the forefront of hailing Jack Wilson, bestowing the state’s highest civilian honor possible on the hero of the White Settlement church shooting.

In the weeks since the shooting, Abbott and other Republican leaders have also reminded us, correctly, that Wilson’s courage shows how law-abiding, well-trained gun owners can help protect others from the evil of a potential mass shooter.

But we shouldn’t let that obscure the other work that must be done to prevent such shootings, particularly one of the few points most people can agree about in the heated gun debate: how to keep weapons away from troubled people with criminal histories, like the West Freeway Church of Christ killer. Abbott and others should use their influence to make sure one major step — a state red-flag law — gets serious consideration.

The idea got a fresh look after the mass killing in El Paso last year, and some gun-rights activists quickly rallied against it. They raise some valid points about how such a law, which would allow a judge to order that police seize a dangerous person’s weapons, could be abused.

But it’s important that Texas has a full debate. More than a dozen states have such laws, and their experience could help determine the best way to craft a Texas law that balances gun rights and imminent threats. No law would be perfect, but that’s never stopped Texas legislators before.

The governor has signaled he’s open to such debate. But he’ll have to ensure it’s a priority so the gun issue doesn’t get reduced to predictable tropes on both the left (a ban on “assault weapons”) or the right (“constitutional carry”).

Federal officials still haven’t revealed how the West Freeway shooter acquired the shotgun he used. But we know enough about his run-ins with the law to know he was the type of person we want to ensure can’t get his hands on a firearm.

He faced felony assault and arson charges in the past, but in both cases, the crimes were prosecuted as misdemeanors. A former wife sought a protective order and raised concerns about his mental health. These are the kinds of incidents a well-crafted red-flag law could catch.

Such a law would need to be crafted carefully. One interesting debate is who should be empowered to seek an order that could lead to gun seizure. And the steps for people to get their weapons back should be clearly defined.

This is far from the only thing that should be done. As we’ve advocated before, the databases used to process gun purchases need constant improvement. And prosecutors must be careful about the cases they plead down to misdemeanors. Eliminating plea deals in all assault cases is not realistic, but we’ve seen enough mass shooters with, say, domestic violence in their pasts to know what warning signs are there. And of course, our system of trying to help the mentally ill needs sweeping improvement.

The governor has raised the idea of red-flag laws before, after the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushed back, and the idea went nowhere in the Legislature last year. But Abbott has the clout to ensure that the idea at least gets a full airing when lawmakers meet again in 2021.

By focusing on how to deal with obviously troubled individuals, Texas could chart a way forward for addressing mass gun violence that doesn’t get bogged down in the same old, tired gun debate.

For Abbott, it would be a solid bookend to the poignant ceremony for Jack Wilson last week.

Today's Bible verse

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

— Deuteronomy 6:6-7

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