Texas Roundtable Will Discuss Ways To Address Gun Violence

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 8:05 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The governor of Texas is convening discussions, asking what the state can do about school shootings. Greg Abbott is taking that step after Friday's shooting in which a 17-year-old allegedly opened fire, killing 10 people in Texas. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Historically, the Republican leadership in Texas has been prone to send thoughts and prayers to the victims of mass shootings. But after 26 parishioners were massacred at a church in Sutherland Springs, and two teachers and eight students were shot to death at Santa Fe High School on Friday, Governor Greg Abbott changed his tune a bit outside the school.

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GREG ABBOTT: We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families. It's time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated in the history of the state of Texas.

GOODWYN: Abbott announced he was convening a series of roundtable discussions that will begin today and will include members of the Texas House and Senate, school officials, victims and relatives of victims, gun rights and gun control advocates. Why this change in a state that is overwhelmingly conservative? Texas Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey believes the leadership in Texas is starting to feel some political heat.

ROSS RAMSEY: It's not the usual thoughts-and-prayers language. They're sitting down to try to do some roundtables and try to figure out if there's something that they can do here. And I think that they're starting to get frustrated - and reflect the frustration of the voters who elected them - with not being able to protect kids and schools.

GOODWYN: On the roundtable's agenda - the danger of bullying, trying to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, speeding up background checks and hardening schools against attack, including arming teachers. That last one is a key NRA talking point, which was taken up by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

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DAN PATRICK: There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses. Maybe we need to look at limiting the entrance and the exits into our schools.

GOODWYN: On Twitter and other social media, many have commented on the difference in the students' and towns' reaction to the killings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the reaction in Santa Fe, Texas. In Santa Fe, there have been no demands for stricter gun control laws. The town is a predominantly white, rural and evangelical community. In 2000, Santa Fe High was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about whether students could pray over the loudspeaker before football games. When the court ruled no, they could not, it prompted anguish and outrage in the town. On Sunday, those sentiments, which are common in rural Texas, were on display at churches throughout the area. Here's John Elliott (ph), a member of Arcadia First Baptist Church of Santa Fe, speaking before the congregation.

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JOHN ELLIOTT: You know, it's so important to have legislators, but changing laws is not going to be what changes hearts. What changes hearts is going to be us getting outside of these laws, those of us who are believers in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that he died on the cross...

GOODWYN: The mass killings at the church in Sutherland Springs and at Santa Fe High are, in many ways, a mirror of the shootings at an Orlando nightclub and the high school in Parkland. Those tragedies forced Florida Governor Rick Scott, a gun rights supporter, to sign a gun bill, which, among other provisions, raised the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. But that's unlikely to happen in Texas. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN TEJADA'S "TWO 0 ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.