If he cares about his public reception at all, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott can't be happy with his Thursday, the day he convened the first of a series of roundtable discussions he's called in the wake of the Aug. 3 massacre in El Paso. Gun rights advocates held a rally of their own in Austin, galled that Abbott was even considering taking action to address mass shootings while Texas' left raged at the governor after news outlets got their hands on a provocative fundraising letter sent out by Abbott the day before the El Paso shooting.
Stephen Willeford, the Sutherland Springs resident who shot the First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs shooter in November 2017, headlined a rally for gun-right maximalist group Gun Owners of America outside the capitol. Willeford, holding the AR-15 he'd used to take down the shooter, said one change to Texas' gun laws is too many.
"Gun owners are done," Willeford said, according to the Texas Tribune . "We don't want any more restriction. It does not stop the bad guys."
Inside the capitol, Abbott gave a brief introduction in front of media members, then shooed the press away while the roundtable had more than three hours of discussion. When reporters were let back in, Abbott didn't take any questions, but he did speak for the group.
Rather than red-flag laws, the governor said, the group focused on expanding welfare checks for potentially dangerous gun owners.
"We want to be more advanced than we are right now with regard to soliciting and receiving information from anybody that has any type of information that there is something suspicious going on," Abbott said. "We're looking at ways of encouraging better detection, better disruption."
Specifically, Abbott pointed to the El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius. Crusius bought his gun legally and wouldn't have qualified for red-flag intervention, Abbott said, but police could've checked in on him after his mother called the Allen Police Department saying she was worried about him having purchased a semi-automatic rifle.
"If you look at the details of what happened with the shooter in Allen, Texas, it really — arguments can be made that it wasn't sufficient to raise to the level of what someone would call a red flag, or something that would lead to an emergency protection," the governor said, "but it could be categorized as something that would lead to a welfare check."
Existing state laws should be shored up, Abbott said, so that they are enforceable. Domestic violence offenders in Texas are supposed to give up their guns, but forcing them to do so is often impossible for law enforcement, Abbott said.
"There are some open gaps in already-existing laws and already-existing emergency protective orders that we need to focus on filling," Abbott said. "We as a state have to do a better job just with our existing laws."
Texas Democrats took Abbott to task after the roundtable for not taking questions from the media. The governor, the Texas Democratic Party said, should've answered for an Aug. 2 fundraising letter unearthed Thursday by the Texas Signal and the Texas Tribune.
"If we're going to DEFEND Texas, we'll need to take matters into our own hands," Abbott opens his missive, before informing his readers in the next paragraph that "45,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended crossing the Mexican border into Texas" in June.
Abbott goes on to warn that increased immigration is part of a liberal plan to turn Texas Democratic.
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"Unless you and I want liberals to succeed in their plan to transform Texas — and our entire country — through illegal immigration, this is a message we MUST send," he wrote.
Texas Democratic Party executive director Manny Garcia didn't mince words in his description of the letter.
“Despicable doesn’t even begin to describe Governor Abbott’s racist, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant letter sent one day before the El Paso shooting," Garcia said. "There is no difference between Donald Trump and Governor Greg Abbott’s toxic rhetoric of racial grievance. This kind of rhetoric fueled the hatred of a terrorist who drove 10 hours to murder members of the Latino community. This is not a game. It’s long past time for Republicans to eradicate white supremacist language from their discourse — people are dying.”