Texas governor convenes discussions on school safety

Jim Vertuno
Associated Press

Austin, Texas – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott convened the first in a series of discussions on school safety Tuesday, declaring in response to last week’s shooting near Houston, “We all want guns out of the hands of people who would try to murder our children.”

The governor called the meetings after the attack on Santa Fe High School, where eight students and two teachers were slain Friday in an art classroom. The initial gathering involved school districts that arm some teachers or hire local police for security.

Abbott planned to talk Wednesday with gun-rights advocates and gun-control groups, followed Thursday by meetings with survivors of the school shooting and the November assault on a rural church that killed more than two dozen worshippers in the village of Sutherland Springs.

The Republican governor has been a staunch supporter of gun rights, and there has been little mention of any new weapons restrictions in Texas, where more than 1.2 million people are licensed to carry handguns and state law allows for the open carrying of rifles. The state’s top GOP leaders have instead called for “hardening” school campuses and arming more teachers.

“Every time there’s a shooting, everyone wants to talk about what the problem is,” Abbott said before the meeting was closed to the media. “By now, we know what the problem is. The problem is innocent people are being shot. That must be stopped.”

The Santa Fe gunman used a handgun and a shotgun that were owned by his father, police have said. It’s unclear whether the suspect’s father was aware that his son had taken the weapons.

“The reality is we all want guns out of the hands of people who would try to murder our children. The question is, what are we, the leaders of Texas, going to do to prevent this from happening again?” the governor said.

After the meeting, Abbott said the topics discussed included better tracking of student mental health, including monitoring of social media; boosting a program that trains and arms teachers; and finding a way to hold parents accountable when their children threaten classmates or kill.

Gun-control measures did not come up, Abbott said.

One gun-control group, Texas Gun Sense, said it will push this week for tougher background checks on gun purchases, suicide-prevention programs, gun safety at home and so-called “red flag” laws that restrict gun access for people identified as potentially dangerous.

“We can’t do gun violence prevention without being optimistic. We are glad the governor invited us,” said Gyl Switzer, executive director of the group. “We need immediate action. School starts in the fall, and we can’t be fooling around.”

The Texas State Rifle Association, which has played a key role in getting state lawmakers to relax gun licensing and passing open-carry laws in recent years, dismissed the idea of new gun restrictions.

Alice Tripp, the rifle association’s legislative director, said the guns used in the Santa Fe attack are common in many Texas homes.

“That’s about as basic of a firearm as you can possibly get. Assigning blame to a particular firearm or a caliber, that’s not helpful. You’ve got to look at whatever it is that happened and see what failed,” Tripp said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Texas should consider limiting school access, perhaps by reducing the number of entrances and arming more teachers, which is already allowed under Texas law.

Nearly 200 Texas school districts allow staff to carry guns.