In the wake of the tragic school shooting that left 21 people dead in Uvalde, Texas Senate Democrats have implored Republican Governor Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session in a letter dated May 28. Democrats said the governor should call the special session to consider various new restrictions to tighten the state’s gun laws.
Signers of the letter included Senators Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), John Whitmire (D-Houston), Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), Royce West (D-Dallas), Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), Borris Miles (D-Houston), Beverly Powell (D-Burleson), Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin), Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), and César Blanco (D-El Paso).
Gutierrez is the state senator who represents Uvalde. He interrupted an Abbott news conference on Friday to ask the governor to convene the special session, foreshadowing the letter.
“My colleagues are asking for a special session. You’re getting a letter tomorrow. We’ve asked for gun control changes. I’m asking you now to bring us back in three weeks,” the state senator said to Abbott.
The cornerstone of the restrictions proposed by Senate Democrats is a measure that would raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm from the current 18 years old to 21. The gunman in Uvalde had recently turned 18 and purchased two AR-style rifles and over 1,600 rounds of ammunition.
Democratic caucus members are also asking for universal background checks to be conducted prior to any firearm sale, as well as the institution of a “cooling-off period” after one has been purchased.
The proposal asks that “red flag laws” be implemented, giving judges the authority to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed an immediate threat to themselves or others.
Lastly, the new proposed legislation also calls for tighter regulations on high-capacity magazines.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”
The Democratic senators added that they are not seeking “to take away Second Amendment rights.” “Instead, we are asking for reasonable laws or restrictions that will create a safer Texas for all of us,” they wrote.
Joining Democrats in calling for a special session was Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano).
“Texas Lawmakers have work to do. Conversations to engage in. Deliberations & debates to have. Important decisions to make,” Leach tweeted. “And the best way to do our jobs openly, publicly & transparently is in a [Texas Legislature] special session. Texans expect & deserve this & the time demands it.”
Only Abbott can call lawmakers back for an emergency special session, and he seemed open to the possibility at the Friday press conference, saying “all options are on the table.” However, he stopped short of explicitly calling for a special session until Wednesday, June 1.
Abbott added that new laws should address mental health rather than gun control.
“You can expect robust discussion, and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”
Senate Democrats pushed back against Abbott’s call to target mental health services instead of gun control in the letter. They criticized the governor for blaming a “broken mental health care system – that [he] and other state leaders continue to underfund severely.”
“We need evidence-based, common-sense gun safety laws. Without a doubt, if at least some of the measures noted above had been passed since 2018, then many lives could have been saved,” the state senators wrote.
The governor has rejected increasing the age to purchase a firearm, claiming that 18-year-olds have been able to buy guns since Texas became a state in 1845. He also dismissed calls for universal background checks, saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings.
“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said at last Friday’s press conference. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents.”