Wednesday, Texas House Democrats made a show of force, or as close to a show of force as a party out of power can make, around the state. At a series of media events, dozens of Democrats laid into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, calling on him to convene a special session of the Legislature to address the gun violence that's marred the state over the last several years.
“Last Saturday, another dark cloud fell over our great state of Texas when a domestic terrorist killed seven people and injured 22 ... Right here in our hometown of Dallas, we lost six law enforcement officers; in Santa Fe, eight students and two teachers; in Sutherland Springs, we lost 22; and in El Paso, we lost 22 lives," state Rep. Victoria Neave said in Dallas. "Our current laws are simply not enough. Our laws are insufficient to protect the lives of the people of Texas. Our laws are enabling domestic terrorists.”
Abbott responded Thursday. Rather than calling a special session or expressing support for any new, specific legislation, Abbott announced a series of executive orders.
"Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings," Abbott said. "One of those objectives is to marshal law enforcement resources to stop violent criminals before they commit mass murders. But more must be done. I will continue to work expeditiously with the Legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans.”
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The governor's eight orders don't mention the word "gun" or suggest any sort of increased gun control. Instead, they focus on developing better procedures for identifying and snuffing out threats through law enforcement. In at least two recent cases — the Dallas federal courthouse shooting in June and last month's mass murder in El Paso — family members of the alleged shooters reached out to law enforcement. In both instances, officers didn't take action because the family members' reports lacked a specific threat.
Order No. 1 Within thirty days of this order, the Texas Department of Public Safety shall develop standardized intake questions that can be used by all Texas law-enforcement agencies to better identify whether a person calling the agency has information that should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
Order No. 2 Within thirty days of this order, the Department of Public Safety shall develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.
Order No. 3 Within sixty days of this order, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall make training available to educate all law-enforcement officers regarding the standards that will be developed pursuant to Order No. 1 and Order No. 2.
Order No. 4 The Department of Public Safety shall create and conduct an initiative to raise public awareness and understanding of how Suspicious Activity Reports are used by law-enforcement agencies to identify potential mass shooters or terroristic threats, so that the general public and friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates will be more likely to report information about potential gunmen.
Order No. 5 The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.
Order No. 6 The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.
Order No. 7 The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of the Governor, shall use all available resources to increase staff at all fusion centers in Texas for the purpose of better collecting and responding to Suspicious Activity Reports, and better monitoring and analyzing social media and other online forums, for potential threats.
Order No. 8 Beginning January 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety. By January 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who announced a select committee intended to address gun violence on Tuesday, said that Abbott's orders provided a "road map" for how Texas can address the crisis.
"Protecting the state of Texas from future tragedies requires an immediate, multifaceted approach on the part of our Legislature, state and local governments and their agencies," Bonnen said in a statement. "The state of Texas is taking swift action to put a stop to this epidemic of violence, and I thank Governor Abbott for his leadership on the matter."