Texas lawmakers work to prevent mass violence
AUSTIN, Texas - The hearing by the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety was more of a give and take discussion.
"My commitment to you is that we will listen, we will work, and will engage in a serious conversation about these important matters,” said Committee Chairman Drew Darby ( R ) San Angelo
The committee was created in response to the recent mass shooting in El Paso and in Odessa.
Ideas pitched Tuesday included going after those who lie on gun purchase background checks. It’s a federal offense, but the committee was told of more that 100,000 who recently made false application - only 12 were prosecuted.
That prompting a suggestion to also make it a state crime. "I don't how many of those were in Texas, but one of those was in Texas, because he shot a bunch of people in Odessa,” said Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren.
The hearing featured testimony from top officials with DPS.
"Frankly ... with mass killers, the motive and means matters not,” said DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw. The committee was briefed on the challenges the agency is facing in enhancing surveillance of social media sites.
"Without knowing the criteria of the searches y'all use or the keywords that come up, I'm sure somebody is googling who, to make some sort of explosive using fertilizer … it should pop up somewhere trying to get these implements,” asked Rep Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez (D) Eagle Pass.
Director McCraw told Representative Nevarez they are using different techniques but are having trouble getting social media companies to cooperate. “I can tell you because of privacy concerns there is fewer data available for law enforcement these days,” said McCraw.
The fear of trampling on free speech, according to Rep Giovanni Capriglione (R) Southlake, allowed threats by a Houston man to go unchecked for months. "I dont think this requires a law, some of what’s happening on line is already illegal, what we are lacking I think is the resource to go and deal with millions of posts a day,” said Capriglione.
An incident at Austin’s Pease Park last month was also held up as an example of a gun loophole.
A man was caught with a semi-automatic weapon that he purchased, despite have an active state arrest warrant involving family violence.
"I think it is absolutely inexcusable ..for us to look at the law as it is today, for domestic violence, for sexual assault, for stalking for human trafficking, where a judge has made a determination that this person is dangerous and shouldn't have a weapon, it is inexcusable for us as a state to turn a blind eye to the stats that show us those are the people involved in mass shootings those are the people that are going to go and committee to violence acts against their intimate partners, over a 100 a year, that are under protective order , now,” said Rep. Joe Moody (D) El Paso.
Advocates for tougher gun laws and those for gun rights packed the meeting.
"We are not afraid of the conversation, no. But we need to make sure that the conversation doesn’t go to taking away the rights of law-abiding citizens we need to make sure we don’t operate out of fear but out of facts, in the law,” said Teresa Beckmeyer with the Texas Chapter of Gun Owners of America.
Both sides on the gun issue agree the hearing is a first step. It remains unknown if a consensus can be built, let alone one that could prompt a special session.
"After the last session, I am personally hesitant to see the same legislature, unless they had a change of heart come back and, you know, my fear is that we'd end up with something that, after they relaxed all of these gun laws in the 86th Legislature, that they would come back and focus on the wrong priorities,” said Molly Brusey with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
The committee plans to hold more hearings across the state. They will be on a fast track. Members are expected to have a report ready for the governor to consider by December.
A similar hearing will be held next week by a Senate committee.