Rosalinda Tapia told state lawmakers that her biggest fear is that she won’t see her grandchildren, who will enter pre-kindergarten and third grade in the fall, graduate from high school because they might be killed in a mass shooting.
“With this happening, it scares me,” Tapia said, holding back tears. “It scares me that something might happen to my grandkids. I want some change done.”
With about 100 people in attendance, she was one of nearly two dozen El Pasoans who shared their concerns and changes they would like to see from the Texas Legislature in the wake of the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas — the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. An 18-year-old armed with a military-style assault rifle entered an elementary school and opened fire, killing 19 students and two teachers and wounding 17 others.
El Paso’s state legislative delegation convened Monday the first in a series of community town halls put on by Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives to discuss ways to put an end to the state’s mass shootings. Other meetings will take place through next week across the state, some of which will be broadcast live on Facebook.
The next legislative session begins in January, and whether the Republican-led Legislature will tighten gun laws remains to be seen after inaction from lawmakers last year during the first session following the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting in El Paso, and the Midland-Odessa shooting later that same month. Together, 30 people died, and nearly 50 others were wounded.
The Legislature made it easier for Texans to carry guns when it passed permitless carry, allowing anyone over age 21 to carry a handgun without a license or training.
State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said he’s hopeful state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will agree to raise the minimum age to purchase a long gun, like the one used in Uvalde, from 18 to 21.
“If kids being killed in school isn’t enough, what will be enough?” Blanco told El Paso Matters. “What else is it going to take for Republicans or Democrats to say enough is enough.”
Blanco signed on to a May 28 letter the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus sent Gov. Greg Abbott calling for a special legislative session to do just that. The Caucus also wants universal background checks for all firearm sales, restrictions on civilian purchases of high-capacity magazines, and “red flag” laws, which would allow a judge to remove someone’s guns if a judge deems that person a danger to themselves or others.
Only Abbott can convene special legislative sessions. Thus far, he has shown no interest in doing so.
State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, believes raising the minimum age to purchase certain guns could be feasible in Texas if lawmakers carve out an exception for individuals who obtain a hunting license, which requires them to go through a hunter education training course.
“You give on an issue like that to get a broader policy passed,” Moody told El Paso Matters.
He said he’s had initial conversations with lawmakers about curbing access to body armor, such as the tactical vest worn by the Uvalde gunman. The number of mass shooters who have worn body armor has trended upward, NPR reported, including in the racially-motivated May 14 shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.
Thus far, no state legislature has passed restrictions on body armor.
Moody said he also sees an opportunity to tighten enforcement of existing family violence protective order laws that prohibit people from possessing firearms, something he has pushed for — unsuccessfully — in previous sessions. Right now, there is no statewide enforcement process for these orders.
Abbott, who is running for reelection in November, has focused on mental health care and school safety in the days after the Uvalde shooting — including arming teachers, a proposal educators in attendance at the town hall rejected.
“What we need to avoid is accepting as a solution (to mass shootings) an infusion of money into the mental health system or an infusion of money into school districts’ police departments or school hardening,” Moody said.
“I’m not saying that those things can’t be part of the conversation — they should be,” he continued. “This is not a simple issue. But the one thing people need to reject is the idea that those concepts are the only place that we can have this conversation.”
Verónica Carbajal, a former El Paso mayoral candidate, was blunt in her assessment of how the next legislative session may play out.
“While I appreciate all of your courage at the capitol, the fact is that most of your proposals — 99% of them — die in the abyss that is the Republican majority at the capital,” she told El Paso’s delegation.
She urged El Paso’s state lawmakers to speak honestly with their campaign donors who support Abbott and other Republicans about the need to restrict guns.
“We need to start taking back the narrative and the messaging that Texans love their guns,” Carbajal said. “They are repulsive at this moment and at every other moment.”