Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces roundtables to explore responses to El Paso shooting

Abbott announced a similar series of roundtables after the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

Flanked by El Paso lawmakers, Gov. Greg Abbott talks to the press after meeting with state legislators on Wednesday, August 7, 2019.

Days after a white gunman murdered 22 people in El Paso in a shooting fueled by racism, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said that he will hold another series of roundtable discussions to consider legislative proposals to address the tragedy.

The roundtables, which may start later this month, are meant to collect ideas to legislatively address the domestic terrorism El Paso experienced as well as ensuring guns do not end up in the hands of “deranged killers like the man who committed this heinous crime,” Abbott said.

The announcement came after the governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen met with El Paso’s legislative delegation, which for days has been reeling from a massacre at the hands of a gunman who reportedly targeted Hispanics.

“We need new and different strategies that go above and beyond what we did in the aftermath of dealing with shootings that took place at the school in Santa Fe,” Abbott said, referencing the 2018 shooting at a high school that killed eight students and two teachers. After that 2018 shooting, Abbott similarly called for roundtables.

The meeting with Abbott came five days after a 21-year-old from Allen drove 10 hours to a Walmart in El Paso and opened fire, killing 20 people on site and injuring dozens of others in a massacre federal law enforcement officials have deemed an act of domestic terrorism. Two of the injured died in El Paso hospitals on Monday. The meeting was set up at the request of El Paso lawmakers who spent recent days pushing back on remarks made by state leaders in which the leaders largely blamed the attack on mental illness or video games, even as word of a racist manifesto possibly written by the gunman began to spread.

Officials have since said they’re investigating a manifesto rooted in white supremacy ideology that described the attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas." Republican leaders like Patrick and President Donald Trump have used similar wording to decry an “invasion” across the state’s southern border.

“In this case, we’re dealing with domestic terrorism. We’re dealing with a white supremacist. We’re dealing with racism,” Abbott said on Wednesday. “We’re dealing with broad-based challenges that need to be tackled.”

Members of the El Paso delegation went into the meeting hoping to secure state funding for crime victims assistance and the local mental health authority to support the victims and their families as well as to call for swift action to combat white supremacy and gun violence.

“We don’t know what they are offering yet,” state Rep. César Blanco, whose district includes the site of the shooting, said before the meeting. “I want to know what they are offering first, and we’ll take it from there.”

Asked whether the governor had indicated how far he was willing to go in other discussions since Saturday, Blanco said “that’s what we’re here to find out.”

Abbott said Wednesday that the state was providing $5 million to assist El Paso organizations in the aftermath of the shooting. For now, it appears the roundtables will be the next step in the state’s response.

As in the case of the Santa Fe roundtables, they’re likely to be followed by a list of recommendations for the state Legislature to take up when it reconvenes.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Abbott said those roundtables had yielded 25 proposals he signed into law. But none of those measures restricted gun access or touched on gun regulations. Instead, they were focused on mental health initiatives available to children and school safety.

Abbott demurred on the possibility of passing a so-called “red flag” law — a version of which was included in the governor’s school safety plan following the Santa Fe roundtables. The law Abbott asked the Legislature to consider would have allowed courts to order the seizure or surrender of guns from people who are deemed an imminent threat by a judge.

But Abbott backed away from his request to study the proposal after it drew the ire of Republican hardliners and Patrick, who suggested such a measure would be dead on arrival in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Abbott seemed to throw cold water on reconsidering the measure.

“Our goal is to make sure we do everything we can to make sure a crime like this doesn’t happen again,” Abbott said. “In this particular instance, there were no red flags about this particular shooter. We want to identify ways that we would be able to root out this shooter.”

In a joint statement following the meeting, the El Paso lawmakers described the meeting as a "productive" initial conversation during which state leaders "pledged to work with the El Paso delegation to address gun violence driven by white nationalism."

"Gov. Abbott, in his remarks, was frank about calling the shooter a white supremacist and his actions domestic terrorism," the statement read. "All leaders, from local to state to federal, must reject the ideology of white supremacy."

Julián Aguilar contributed reporting.

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