A Special Session on Guns? Reform Advocates Are Wary

Nonprofit Texas Gun Sense responds to Uvalde

Hundreds gathered at the Texas state Capitol on May 25 to remember the victims of the Uvalde school shooting (Photo by John Anderson)

Nicole Golden, executive director of nonprofit Texas Gun Sense, has dedicated her career to gun reform in the state. And as much as she'd like to see common-sense legislation enacted posthaste, she's wary of a special session of the Texas Legislature that may be called in response to the May 24 slaughter of 19 children and two adults at Uvalde's Robb Elementary School.

Her organization's relationship with the Lege reached an all-time low during its 2021 session(s). Bills supported by Texas Gun Sense never left committee (one would have closed loopholes in background checks; another would create an extreme risk protection order allowing a threatening person's guns to be temporarily taken). At the same time, the passage of permitless carry despite an outpouring of opposition – even from law enforcement – was "a really challenging thing to witness," Golden said.

Texas Gun Sense's work for the last decade has focused on the Legislature – offering reliable data and guidance on policy and making sure lawmakers can hear the voices of survivors of gun violence. It's been an uphill battle, and the group has pivoted to also work with local governments in establishing programs that prevent community violence and offer education on gun safety and storage. "Those are things we can move on outside of the Legislat­ure," Golden said, noting that state laws would trump any local gun reform city councils or county commissions could try to enact. "And then redefining what success looks like and playing the long game. Last session was particularly brutal – last session was so rough."

Gov. Greg Abbott gave two contradictory speeches on Friday, May 27 – one in Uvalde before grieving families, and one prerecorded that played at Houston's NRA convention. In Uvalde, he said, "With regard to a special session, let me just say this: All options are on the table." In his NRA speech, he said plenty of gun control laws already exist and yet they "have not stopped madmen."

In terms of a special session, Golden said, "There's some precedent for that … But Gov. Abbott's school safety plan after the Santa Fe shooting … it seemed like maybe we could move some things forward and those things just didn't happen. What I wouldn't want to come out of a special session is more harmful legislation, so I'd be cautious."

However, she's not without optimism. "Where my hope lies is in the movement, the gun violence prevention movement," she said. "It's been building since Sandy Hook. In Texas we have a strong coalition, it's diverse, and I have hope and faith in that. We have a strong voice and it won't stop. Do I think that it's gonna change legislatively at the state level? I can't say that. Maybe we can move the needle on some small things." And one crucial win that Texas Gun Sense secured last session may come back to haunt supporters of lax gun laws: an amendment to the permitless carry bill ensured the state is studying the impacts of the bill.

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