AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The mass shooting at a Texas high school Friday led to promises from the state’s top Republicans to look for ways to improve school safety, but none of them suggested that substantial gun restrictions could be on the table.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a staunch advocate for gun rights, said at a news conference after authorities say a student killed 10 people and wounded 10 others at a high school in Santa Fe, near Houston, that he will start holding “round table” discussions on guns and school safety issues starting next week.
“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure that this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been a staunchly pro-gun throughout his political career, added his own sentiments, though he didn’t suggest that gun restrictions might help: “There’ve been too damn many of these. Texas has seen too many of these.”
Calls for tighter gun controls surged in other parts of the country after the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where a former student killed 17 people, but they barely registered in gun-loving Texas, where more than 1 million residents are licensed to carry handguns.
Since the 2012 shooting of an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Texas has expanded gun rights by making it cheaper and easier to get licensed and allowing handguns into college classrooms and dorms.
After a gunman in November killed more than two dozen worshippers at a church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio, Texas’ Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, called for there to be more guns in churches. President Donald Trump has been looking at Texas as a possible model for his proposal to arm teachers in the wake of the Florida shooting.
Abbott said Friday that he wants more safety “resources” devoted to school safety, though he didn’t offer specifics. He said he wants to include state lawmakers, educators, students, parents and gun rights advocates in his round-table discussions, which will seek to find ways to “protect 2nd Amendment rights … but ensure our schools are safer places.” He said he hopes to specifically invite victims from Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs.
Among the ideas that could be considered are ways to keep guns from those who pose “an immediate danger to others” and how law enforcement might better spot trouble signs or mental health issues in students, Abbott said, though authorities have said there were no obvious warning signs about the 17-year-old student behind Friday’s attack.
“The answers are not always immediate,” Abbott said. “But the answers will come by us working together.”
The response to Friday’s mass shooting was markedly different than after the church attack, which barely moved the needle on the gun control debate in a state with some of the most permissive firearms laws in the country. Dallas hosted the NRA’s annual conference earlier this month and until Friday, gun control wasn’t a main issue with candidates of either party in this year’s primaries.
The two Democrats vying to run against Abbott in November said Friday that it is time to discuss gun control. Houston businessman Andrew White and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez will compete in a runoff Tuesday for the Democratic nomination to run against Abbott.
“Thoughts and prayers don’t replace the need for a plan,” White said.
“Our children are literally marching in the streets, demanding that we, the adults, make the change to keep them safe,” Valdez said. “We will act to make change. There is no other option.”
Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is mounting a longshot bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, has gone further than other Democrats in calling for a ban on assault rifles like those used in both the Florida and Sutherland Springs attacks.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said adults who own guns should start by making sure they are locked in a safe place away from their children.
An avid gun rights supporters, Patrick didn’t mention gun control and instead said the Legislature will study how to “harden” schools to make campuses safe. He even suggested that could mean redesigning the state’s more than 8,000 public school campuses to limit entrances and exits to help law enforcement better know who is coming and going - while also noting that the price tag would be extraordinary.
Patrick also said that Santa Fe High School had recently completed a state safety course and had two officers on campus Friday.
“This is not acceptable in the state of Texas or in this country,” Patrick said. “This must end and we must do everything we can. We can’t protect every parking lot, every stadium and every building, but we can sure do better.”
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