Abbott Issues “Safety Action Report” on Gun Violence

Recommendations long on surveillance, short on gun restrictions

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a “Safety Action Report” in response to recent Texas mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa. It’s likely to have about as much impact as the one he issued last year … after the Santa Fe High School episode, in our ongoing list of brand-named mass shootings.

Gov. Greg Abbott addresses the 86th Texas Legislature (Photo by John Anderson)

A few days before the report (Sept. 5), Abbott issued a series of eight “executive orders,” all but one dealing with encouraging official and public reporting to the “Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.” (No. 8 incentivizes counties to promptly report convictions to the Department of Public Safety database.) Even after those orders, it’s likely that very few Texans will have ever heard of the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network — or its “iWatchTexas Community Reporting Network” web site, which allows anonymous online reporting of “suspicious activities or behaviors that may indicate criminal, terroristic, or school safety-related threats.” (One can only imagine the sorts of “suspicious activities” gathered there, while also wondering if Apple wants its “iWatch” back.)

The subsequent Safety Action Report is more expansive, and largely derived from Abbott’s well-publicized efforts to convene large, ungainly public safety task forces and commissions in the wake of the most recent mass shootings. With introductory nods to the previous mass shootings in Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, etc. (the list just keeps on growing), the report’s nominal goal is to “ensure a safe and secure future for our state, while also upholding the constitutional rights of all Texans.” Most Texans should be forgiven for silently translating: “Don’t worry, we’re not going to do anything about guns.”

What will we do? Spend more money on police and “mental health services.” The former is self-explanatory; the latter is in keeping with blaming mass shootings on the mentally ill rather than on easy access to guns, while also ignoring the persistent, overall resistance of the Legislature and state Republican leadership to spend more money on any “health services,” let alone mental health services. The push for more law enforcement resources against “domestic terrorism” does strike one unexpected note, promising more DPS resources devoted to “criminal gangs affiliated with Neo-Nazi and White Nationalist groups and networks espousing terrorist attacks.” Should they actually head off such criminal conspiracies, congratulations – but most of these mass shooters have been unaffiliated loners only inspired by online fascism and racism.

The report reiterates and elaborates Abbott’s executive orders, and then makes additional policy recommendations: more attention to domestic violence; more police training on “emergency detention” for high-risk suspects; encouraging health professionals to disclose information on “high-risk” clients to law enforcement (there’s a strategy ripe for abuse); and more support for law enforcement “fusion centers.”

"Avoid. Deny. Defend." Trademarked logo of TSU active shooter drill program (Courtesy of Texas State University)

Abbott also recommends more law enforcement training in various “active shooter response” programs, specifically those trademarked by Texas State University in its “Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program” (i.e., ALERRT), among a brace of related programs bristling with slogans like “Avoid, Deny, Defend” (also trademarked) and “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.” The folks at TSU (with the help of generous federal and state funding) are bringing “active shooter drills” to newly terrified groups of civilians and schoolchildren all across the nation.

Abbott’s report also calls attention to the $1 million budget rider for a DPS “safe firearm storage campaign.” The broader enabling legislation (sponsored by Austin Rep. Donna Howard), approved in committee, never made it to the House floor, and gun rights groups called for a line-item veto of the rider as an affront to already safety-first gun owners. Now Abbott is using the piffling funding as cover for avoiding more substantive action on guns.

Abbott’s report concludes with a baker’s dozen laundry list of legislative suggestions – not intended for the special session requested by Democrats, but to be pondered in the interim before 2021. The “Legislature should consider” list includes: expediting criminal reporting; banning “straw purchases” of weapons (already a federal crime); stronger penalties for illegal gun ownership by felons (and stronger reporting requirements); requiring reporting of stolen weapons (currently voluntary); easier “voluntary” background checks for private sales; stronger gun restrictions on juvenile offenders; requiring reporting by social media companies of “suspicious activity”; stronger enforcement against gun crimes; stronger enforcement of background-check violations (e.g., lying on an application); additional (informational) safeguards for schools.

Abbott’s list is notable for how heavily it relies on better information-gathering for police and volunteerism for gun-owners, and how lightly it treads on gun possession (that is, those allegedly inalienable “constitutional rights” to own weapons of war). Texas Gun Sense issued a statement applauding Abbott’s recommendations to prohibit straw purchases, prosecute deception on background checks, and to report stolen firearms, but said they were “stunned” by the governor’s failure to support universal background checks and “extreme risk” (aka “red flag”) laws. Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action said in a press release, “Lawmakers must support mandatory background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law.”

Meanwhile, in response to presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s aggressive call (during last week’s Democratic debate) for a federal buyback program of military-style assault weapons (AR-15s and AK-47s), Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, tweeted that his “AR is ready for you Robert Francis [O’Rourke’s given names].” Apparently, Cain was eager to demonstrate the responsible Texas gun-owner’s reaction to disagreements on public policy. Even Twitter was sufficiently alarmed to delete Cain’s chest-beating death threat.

O’Rourke’s campaign reportedly alerted the FBI to Cain’s twitter-fronting. While they’re at it, the governor’s office recommends an anonymous online notice to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network. They could also request that Cain receive some voluntary mental health services.

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Gun Control, Greg Abbott, gun violence, Texas Safety Action Report, Briscoe Cain, Beto O'Rourke

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