This past Monday, a shooting at Texas A&M Commerce took the life of two women and sent a 2-year old boy to the hospital. This tragedy comes just three months after a shooting following a Texas A&M Commerce homecoming celebration that left 12 injured and two people dead. In both instances, no suspect has been convicted of murder, leaving the campus and Greenville community mourning without answers.
Texas students face significant challenges going to school — be they economic, physical, or cultural. The last worry on their minds should be whether or not they can feel secure on their own campus.
As State Representatives, our job is to ensure we do everything we can to prevent tragedies such as these. Our primary task must be to support our students and provide safe environments that promote innovation and learning, not fear. Texas A&M Commerce students noted that, despite statewide policies, the campus’ gun safety regulations are clearly in need of revisiting.
Since 2016, Texas has had its “campus carry” law in effect. The law allows:
- Licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus, and
- Gun owners to store handguns in safes within dorms and university residences.
While there are some restrictions to the concealed carry law, including mental health and student service locations, we need to seriously consider the implications of these laws and if they are costing students their safety. Additionally, we must continue pursuing common-sense policies that can help us put an end to gun violence.
Photo courtesy of Washington Post.
Over the last decade, Texas Republicans have shown a pattern of disregard for public safety and the rights of local governments, notably in terms of environmental protections. We now face contaminated water and air, incalculable injuries, and even fatalities due to the GOP’s indifference.The State repeatedly chips away at local governments’ ability to hold polluters accountable for negligent behavior. This has become increasingly evident in recent State-filed lawsuits against polluters in the Harris County area, specifically in county and State-filed lawsuits against ExxonMobil.
Within a span of five months, the Baytown ExxonMobil power plant had two severe, life-threatening explosions. The first released contaminants into the surrounding area for nearly 8 days following the explosion. The second left 37 people injured. The power plant has also been violating pollution laws since 2013. Harris County immediately took action and filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, stating the company violated the Texas Clean Air Act. Days later, the State filed the same lawsuit.
In a hearing this Friday (1/17), the State will present the case that Harris County’s lawsuit is in violation of the Texas Water Code.
Beyond taking away local governments’ right to file environmental lawsuits that affect their communities, a State-filed lawsuit against ExxonMobil has two very large implications. First, the case will be heard in Austin rather than Harris County. Second, any money from civil penalties will go directly into the State’s general revenue rather than being split between the State and Harris County.
The fight over the ExxonMobil case is one of many attempts by Attorney General Paxton to stomp out local control. Over the past few sessions, the State voted to limit the amount of civil penalties a county may collect from a lawsuit, forced local governments to notify the State when a lawsuit is filed and allow the State to take over the lawsuit, and barred counties from hiring outside parties. These actions have all been taken under the guise of ‘unity’ and ‘uniformity.’ However, these policies enable the State, and Attorney General Paxton, to control the lawsuits and ultimately let polluters off easy.
On Thursday, the Texas House Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety will hold a hearing in the city of El Paso just five months following the El Paso Walmart terrorist attack. Family members of victims and those directly affected by the mass shooting will provide testimony.
As the date grows closer, we can’t help but consider the legislature’s response, and specifically its failures to the people of Texas. In the wake of the El Paso mass shooting, Governor Abbott spent $5.5 million additional dollars on law enforcement, established a Domestic Terrorism Force, a Texas Safety Commission, released eight executive orders, and authored a Texas Safety Action Report. Additionally, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick created House and Senate Committees on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.
While this list seems robust, there has been little if any collective action since this summer’s shootings to address gun violence in Texas. Since the inception of these committees and task forces, two additional mass shootings have ravaged Texas – both in Midland/Odessa and White Settlement. People continue to lose their lives and Governor Abbott has seemingly given up on forwarding any potential solutions to the issue.
While Governor Abbott avoided meaningful gun safety reform, Texas House Democrats stood together across the state to call for an emergency special session. We prioritized five should-be simple policy changes that the majority of Texas supports:
- Extreme risk protective orders
- Close background check loopholes
- Ban the Sale of High Capacity Magazines
- Limit the Open Carry of Certain Semi-Automatic Long Guns
- Require Stolen Guns be Reported to Law Enforcement
We want our places of worship to be filled with joy and reverence, not fear or hate. We want our playgrounds to be a place of imagination and wonder, not shrouded in suspicion. We want our citizens to live with open arms and without the constant threat of violence.
In 2019 alone, 37 Texans have died in mass shootings. We know we can do better and our goal for 2020 must be to set politics aside and tirelessly work to protect Texans.
Photo above courtesy of KFOXTV in El Paso.