Abbott’s plan to tame the West passes Texas gun group’s test

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at the 35th Annual Awards Luncheon for the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce’s Juneteenth program at Hilton Hotel in Fort Worth, TX, Friday, June 19, 2015.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at the 35th Annual Awards Luncheon for the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce’s Juneteenth program at Hilton Hotel in Fort Worth, TX, Friday, June 19, 2015. Star-Telegram

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In a single sweeping proposal, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is breathing life into gun violence prevention measures local advocates say they’ve struggled for years to promote.

While the plan doesn’t address gun safety groups’ top priority of universal background checks, Ed Scruggs, a leader of the gun safety group Texas Gun Sense, said the governor’s proposals are upending a decades-long focus on expanding gun rights in a gun-friendly state — not keeping guns away from criminals.

“When it comes to gun violence prevention, on a scale of one to 10… we were probably about a negative 12,” Scruggs told McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble podcast. “Now, we’re about an eight.”

Other gun safety groups are less optimistic about Abbott’s proposal, which the governor assembled in response to a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas last month.

Texas Gun Sense was the only gun safety group invited to provide input, marking the first time any gun safety group has met with the state’s sitting governor since Democrat Ann Richards held office more than 20 years ago.

“Abbott’s plan doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t touch the issue of background checks,” said Scruggs. “That being said, some of his other proposals are actually very good proposals, that will make a difference.”

Abbott is asking lawmakers in Austin to draft legislation that would take guns from people deemed at high risk of committing a violent crime. He also suggested heightening penalties on people whose improperly stored gun caused injuries to others, and requiring gun owners to reporting stolen firearms.

“That’s something we have worked on for several legislative sessions,” Scruggs said of the reporting requirement. “You would think that would be a common sense minor initiative, but because of the polarization on the issue, we couldn’t get any movement on it.”

Scruggs’ group formed more than a decade ago to work with lawmakers in Austin on solutions both parties can support. After three legislative cycles, its leaders were still celebrating the mere introduction of gun safety bills — even if they were never discussed on the floor.

“Guns are part of the fabric of society in Texas, they’re everywhere,” said Scruggs. “The governor’s proposals represent progress on a certain level, and people need to understand that’s a big deal.”

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Abbott’s proposal also includes gun safety ideas pitched directly by the gun lobby. It recommends Texas award a $1 million grant to a gun storage education program launched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade industry representing firearm manufactures.

NSSF Vice President Larry Keane told BtB Abbott’s proposals are not without political risk.

His group, based in Newtown, Conn., championed an effort to strengthen the national background check system after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place there in 2012.

“The NSSF itself was criticized,” Keane said of that decision. “[But] there’s more than unites us than divides us… if people would step away from the overheated rhetoric and have an honest and thoughtful discussion.”

Keane said the industry has not embraced gun safety groups’ biggest priority, universal background checks, because it places a time-consuming burden on gun sellers.

Even in Texas, however, a Quinnipiac Poll conducted in May suggested there’s little public dissent about whether gun buyers should have to undergo background checks.

In Texas, said Scruggs, “You can contact someone on Craigslist, meet them at the Walmart parking lot and buy an AR-15 out of the trunk for cash with no [identification], and that is completely legal here.”

“We just feel that’s just unacceptable, and polls show that the overwhelming majority of people do [too],” said Scruggs.

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan Marie-Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, May 31, 2018.