Texas Governor’s School Safety Plan: More Armed Guards, No Big Gun Controls

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, left, at a recent round table with people affected by gun violence. The series of round tables after the Santa Fe school shooting were seen by many as stacked against any significant tightening of gun laws.

Two weeks after a student armed with a sawed-off shotgun and a revolver killed 10 people at a high school outside Houston, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Wednesday proposed spending more than $100 million to put more police and armed guards on school campuses and expand programs to identify students at risk of engaging in mass violence.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican, also proposed stepping up security at schools by limiting the number of entrances and exits, and installing alarms specifically designated to warn of active shooters. “You have to know who is coming into the school, and you have to know who is leaving it,” Mr. Abbott said.

But his school safety plan contained only modest changes to gun laws: He proposed requiring parents to keep firearms locked away from children under the age of 18, a tightening of current law which requires such controls for families with children younger than 17. He also proposed improvements to the system for reporting felony convictions and adjudications of mental illness, both of which trigger prohibitions on gun possession under federal law.

And he asked state legislators to “consider the merits” of passing a so-called red flag law that would allow the police, family members or a school employee to petition a judge to temporarily take guns away from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. Texas would become one of only about 10 states with red flag laws, if legislators were to pass such a law, though proposals for similar legislation are pending in more than a dozen other states.

“I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership, which includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals,” Mr. Abbott said.

He said his aim was not to expand regulations, but help schools accomplish what they already want to do — protect students. “They don’t need mandates from the state,” he said. “They need assistance from the state.”

The proposals were spurred by the school massacre in Santa Fe, Tex., on May 18 that left 10 students and teachers dead and another 13 people wounded. The White House announced Wednesday that President Trump will visit families of the shooting victims in Houston on Thursday, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said a school safety commission convened by the president to look at federal solutions is meeting this week.

According to the authorities, a student at the school in Santa Fe, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, walked into the school wearing a trench coat and began shooting students with a gun owned by his father.

He later confessed, the authorities said, telling investigators that he spared students he liked so “he could have his story told.” Since Mr. Pagourtzis was 17 at the time of the shooting, his parents apparently cannot be prosecuted under state law for allowing him access to their firearms, as could have happened had he been one year younger.

It was no surprise that the proposals presented on Wednesday by Mr. Abbott, who is running for re-election this year, were heavily skewed toward hardening schools and bolstering campus security and mental health programs, while failing to endorse any significant new restrictions on gun ownership or sales.

Mr. Abbott is a staunch gun rights advocate who has urged Texans to buy more guns. And he is governor in a state where polling indicates that far more Republicans — the party that controls every major political office in Texas — blame mass shootings on failures of the mental health system than they do on the failure to pass more gun laws.

A series of round tables on school safety organized by Mr. Abbott after the Santa Fe shooting excluded most influential gun control and teachers’ organizations, and were seen by many as stacked against any significant tightening of gun laws.

Ed Scruggs, vice chairman of Texas Gun Sense, a nonprofit gun violence prevention group, said that Mr. Abbott’s proposals were “not enough to really tackle the issue of gun violence and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

Mr. Scruggs, the only gun control advocate to take part in the school safety round tables, called the governor’s failure to support background checks for all gun purchases “a missed opportunity.” But he said he was encouraged that Mr. Abbott was open to a red flag law, and that he had endorsed tougher gun storage laws.

Polls conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune have shown wide support among both Republicans and Democrats in the state for background checks on all gun sales, a measure that would eliminate the ability to purchase firearms in person or online from private sellers without the standard F.B.I. check on the buyer’s criminal, domestic abuse and mental health background.

But seven times as many Texas Republicans blame mass shootings across the United States on mental health system failures as on gun laws, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found in October 2017. The same poll indicated that five times as many Republicans in the state believed that more guns would make the country safer than those who believed that they would make it less safe.

Polling also shows that among Republicans, Texans who identify with the Tea Party and other conservative activists are considerably more likely to be staunch gun rights advocates compared with others in the party, said James R. Henson, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the director of the school’s Texas Politics Project.

The significance, Mr. Henson said, is that those are the Republicans who are most involved in primaries and party activities, and Republican officeholders who control state government are most responsive to them. “These are the voters who show up, and guns are one of those issues where they are remarkably more conservative,” he said.

Mr. Abbott’s suggestion for dedicated active-shooter alarms appeared to be a response to concerns that any fire alarms pulled during a school shooting may prompt students to leave classrooms instead of barricading themselves inside, where they might be safer.

Mr. Abbott, a one-term governor who previously served as the state’s attorney general for a dozen years, faces a re-election contest against Lupe Valdez, a Democrat and former sheriff of Dallas County who has little of Mr. Abbott’s name recognition — and only a fraction of his $43 million campaign war chest as of the beginning of the year.

Ms. Valdez favors regulations including background checks for all gun purchases and closing the so-called boyfriend loophole, which would make it harder for those who abuse their domestic partners to obtain guns.

The movement to boost gun controls became a major political issue in Florida after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February, leading the Republican governor, Rick Scott, a die-hard National Rifle Association supporter who faces a tough contest for a Senate seat this year, to back new restrictions.

In the wake of that shooting, Mr. Scott, with support from the Republicans who control the Florida Legislature, as well as Democrats, approved increasing the age to buy any gun in that state to 21; imposing a three-day waiting period for firearms purchases; establishing a red flag law; and banning bump stocks, which can make semiautomatic rifles fire almost like automatic weapons.

Any political effort resembling what happened in Florida would be harder in Texas, experts say. While gun control advocates consider Florida a permissive, pro-gun state, Texas is even more permissive, allowing gun owners to openly carry their handguns.

Two weeks before the Santa Fe shooting, Mr. Abbott made clear his leanings in a speech at an N.R.A. convention in Dallas, where he said the answer to gun violence was “to strengthen Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.”

He suggested that some parents were among the true culprits in the escalating gun violence at schools. “You know, someone said that the problem is not guns,” Mr. Abbott said. “The problem is hearts without God. It’s homes without discipline. It’s communities without values.”

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