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Texas This Week: Gun Legislation and why new laws haven't passed

After the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, people started calling on lawmakers to take action, but proposed solutions tend to spark more debate than new laws.

AUSTIN, Texas —

Three Things To Know in Texas Politics

President Donald Trump traveled to El Paso Wednesday to visit with families impacted by the massacre. Governor Greg Abbott was there to meet him along with other Texas lawmakers. But prior to meeting the president on the tarmac, Abbott met with state lawmakers and announced more than $5.5 million is available in grants to help with recovery efforts.

RELATED: Texas governor sending $5.5 million to El Paso for recovery efforts

There is a bit of drama brewing at the Texas Capitol centered around Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen. Monday members of the Texas House General Investigating Committee will hold a hearing with the intention to open an investigation into a conversation between Bonnen and the CEO of the conservative group Empower Texas Micheal Sullivan. In short, Sullivan wrote an article reporting Bonnen called a meeting with him and gave him a list of Republican incumbents to target through the Empower Texas PAC. Bonnen denied it but Sullivan said he recorded the conversation and started playing it for Reps on the list. Bonnen apologized, but for some members that may not be enough. And now, the Texas Democratic Party is suing, alleging the meeting violated the Texas Elections Code.

RELATED: Texas Democrats file lawsuit as fallout continues over Speaker Bonnen 'backroom' meeting

Several GOP U.S. Reps have announced they won't seek re-election in 2020, including three from Texas, Will Hurd (Helotes), Mike Conaway (Midland) and Pete Olson (Sugar Land). Some analysts see this as a ill-timed exodus that could flip those seats blue.

The Politics of Passing Gun Legislation

After the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, people started calling on lawmakers to take action. But proposed solutions tend to spark more debate than new laws. Ashley Goudeau sat down with The Texas Tribune executive editor and co-founder Ross Ramsey who says part of the reason why is voters. 

Ashley Goudeau: Ross, thank you for joining us this morning.

Ross Ramsey: "Thank you."

Goudeau: We first want to take a moment to acknowledge, this is your hometown. So for you, when you heard what was happening, what were you thinking?

Ramsey: "You know I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's just different. You know, it's different when you know we hear about these things all the time and have been for years. And you hear about one in your home state and that hits you in a certain way. And it turns out, I found out on Saturday, if it's in your hometown, it hits you in a certain way. And it was just a little bit personal. And, you know, the first thing you do is, you check on your family. Everybody's fine. And you check on your friends. Everybody's good. And then you start to take it in and this part of El Paso is a part of El Paso that, you know, it's a commercial center. People go through this place all the time. It's one of the busiest Walmarts in the country, it's a busy, busy mall. El Paso, to an extent that people off the border sometimes don't realize, is full of Americans and Mexican nationals all the time. It's just, you know, that's a very fluid border and the commercial interests of Juarez and El Paso are intermixed. And, you know, you're just going about your business. It's always been a fairly, non-violent town. It has a low murder rate, it has a low violent crime rate, it's a shocker."

Goudeau: And so when we think about this, obviously, the conversation turns to guns. When we think about guns in Texas, first when we talk about obtaining a gun in Texas, it's pretty easy to do.

Ramsey: "You know, the gun laws here are fairly lenient. People are pretty open to guns, it's part of the mythology of Texas, the iconography, the culture, it's kind of a regular thing and you know, I don't know that that's why we had a shooting in El Paso, but, you know, it does raise the question."

Goudeau: So when we also take this notion of how we think about guns in the State of Texas, guns are a very big part of politics, right, and they have been for a very long time.

Ramsey: "Yeah, it's a complicated thing in politics. You know I think that politicians are generally representative of the people who elect them. And when you see politicians frozen between what you think they ought to do and what they're doing, the best place to look is to see where their voters are and to see what they're responding to. And in Texas, often times, you're responding to an electorate that is very pro-Second Amendment. A voting, you know the voting population is very in favor, very much in favor of the Second Amendment, in favor of guns. Wendy Davis, when she ran for Governor, you know, backed off on guns. Later said she thought that was a mistake, but she was clearly looking at the voters and saying, this is what they want me to do. What you sort of look at as a political matter every time there's a shooting or a massacre like the one in El Paso is, has something happened here that's going to change the direction of the electorate, that's going to change the minds of voters? And if voters change their minds, you'll see politicians change their minds just like that."

Goudeau: We want to point out, this is both Democrats and Republicans. Because anytime we talk about guns, you hear Democrats and Republicans both say, no we support the Second Amendment, I'm a gun owner too.

Ramsey: "Right. And you see politicians from certain states, Texas is certainly one of them, who go to Washington and the other Democrats, for example, look at them and say, you know, 'we're against guns' and they go, 'no, no, no. I'm from Texas.' They're reflecting their electorate, they're representing their voters."

Goudeau: So when we think about that, when we think about the electorate and we think about the voters, there's been a lot of polls about Texans and Texans do support some forms of, what people might consider to be, gun control.

Ramsey: "You know, after the shootings at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church and at Santa Fe High School, the Governor convened a bunch of round tables. And you remember this, you covered it, and they came out of there and a lot of what they decided, they had common ground on, was mental health stuff. And they went right up to what they call red flag laws. The red flag laws, if you see somebody and you feel like something about them says that this is not a good time for them to have a gun, you can go to court, have the court confiscate the gun temporarily because a red flag has been raised about that person. And coming out of those round tables, the Governor was, said I'd like to see us looking at this. And then very quickly backed off and said, well it was just a thing to consider. And then very shortly after that, this was a year ago, very shortly after that, the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said the Senate is not going there, we're not going to do red flag laws. So in Texas, the decision at that point was to do the mental health steps all the way up to but not including red flag laws and we'll see if it changes after this latest shooting."

Goudeau: When you guys look at polls, you work alongside the Texas Politics Project at UT. What do you see from people, from voters, when they're talking about what they want to see done?

Ramsey: "It kind of depends on when you poll. There's a question about what version of guns are we talking about and right after an incident like this, people are thinking about that. If you've just had an incident when someone's rights were challenged, then you get a different answer. Generally, people are in favor of more gun control than you see politicians going along with. But the politicians are just a little bit scared to go there."

Goudeau: And why? Let's talk about the big question, why are they afraid to go there?

Ramsey: "Because they, they see so many ways that you can get beat on this. You know, Ann Richards, 25, 30 years ago, was against a concealed handgun law and it's one of the things that got her beat. You know, the Republican voters were in favor of that, some of the Democrats were, some of the independents were. Everybody takes their lesson in politics from the folklore and every time something like that happens, you've got another story that everybody tells, 'now you remember when that happened.' The politicians in Texas are just afraid to step into this part of the mythology without a rally clear signal from voters that it's time to draw a line."

The Last Word

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In this week's The Last Word, Ashley discusses racism and the actions all people can take to help put an end to it.


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