Texas Safety Commission discusses gun violence, social media monitoring and domestic terrorism

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says the state should explore ways to close the gap when it comes to background checks on gun sales. 

“There is sometimes a lag of the time period from when the person is convicted of the crime to when the information is reported, to the time that it would get to whoever is in charge of the background check,” Abbott told reporters after the first Texas Safety Commission meeting Thursday. 

Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen joined gun safety and mental health experts at the meeting, as well as lawmakers from the El Paso area: State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, State Rep. Cesar Blanco, State Rep. Joe Moody, State Rep. Lina Ortega and State Rep. Art Fierro. For around four hours, they covered a wide range of issues, including gun safety measures, threat assessment team, social media monitoring and domestic terrorism. 

Legislators emphasized the need to prioritize community healing and areas where the state can take immediate action to help El Pasoans. 

“We need counselors,” State Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said. “There are people who need that immediate type of counseling in our community. He’s providing funding for that. He’s also going to be looking at executive orders that can be entered immediately. Changing laws, as you know, takes a long time.” 

Red flag laws were part of the discussion. However, Abbott spoke about “welfare checks” as a possible idea. A lawyer representing the family of the man charged in the El Paso shooting told The Associated Press that his mother had called the Allen Police Department to ask about the firearm he owned. 

“Having a gun is not against the law, especially for someone of this age and especially because he received that gun through a background check,” Abbott said. “But there was a concerned mother who raised issues to law enforcement. Is there some new type of strategy that we can have that could lead to welfare checks when issues like that are raised?” 

Maj. Manuel Espinosa from the Texas DPS Criminal Investigation Division and Maj. David Cabrera from the Texas DPS Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division were also at the meeting. Abbott has also created a Domestic Terrorism Task Force that will work together with the commission. He says he wants to see a law that will allow authorities to go after, arrest and prosecute those who want to carry out domestic terrorism crimes before they commit their act of violence. 

“In the state of Texas, we already have a law that at least facially seems to address domestic terrorism,” Abbott said. “Substantively, it doesn’t really provide much power or many tools to law enforcement or to prosecutors to be able to prosecute domestic terrorism like what we saw happen in El Paso.” 

Representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were also at the meeting. One of the commission’s goals is to address hateful ideologies being shared online.  

“Free speech means there is some hateful, some disturbing things that are said over the internet,” Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said. “Unless it’s a crime, we can’t monitor it, so that’s why it’s important that these companies work with us so they can identify things that are really precursors to violence.” 

Authorities were investigating a manifesto posted online before the deadly attack that they believe was written by the suspect. State and federal lawmakers denounced the racist language in the manifesto. 

“We’ve seen during parts of our state history and our country’s history that we have tackled issues of racism and sexism through policy and we institutionalize change, so I’m not giving up,” State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, said. 

The Texas Democratic Party sent out an email pointing to reports by the Texas Signal and Texas Tribune about how Abbott sent out a fundraising letter one day prior to the shooting. 

“If we’re going to DEFEND Texas, we’ll need to take matters into our own hands,” part of the letter read. 

Other El Paso-area legislators say a takeaway from the meeting was how words and the language used by leaders are perceived. 

“There was a very poignant moment from one of the participants raising the issue of the language we use going forward and how important it is that we come together and are all one family,” State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said. 

Texas Gun Sense and the Texas State Rifle Association also had representatives at the meeting. However, the Texas chapter of Gun Owners of America held a news conference around the same time the roundtable discussions started. They were not part of the meeting. 

Rachel Malone, the director of the Texas chapter, had a message for Abbott: “Armed civilians save lives.” 

“I would hope they don’t blame the guns, that they don’t try to blame mental illness or domestic terrorism,” she said. “That they go to the root of the problem which is an evil heart. Realize some people are evil. Don’t restrict the rights and harm the safety of peaceful, law-abiding citizens.” 

The second meeting will be in El Paso on Thursday, Aug. 29. The Domestic Terrorism Task Force will meet in Austin that following Friday, Aug. 30.

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