Some Texas GOP donors urge Congress to act on gun control measures like red flag laws, expanded background checks
By Eleanor Klibanoff
Major Republican donors, including some that have contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns, joined other conservative Texans in signing an open letter supporting congressional action to increase gun restrictions in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead last week.
The letter, which is expected to run as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, endorses the creation of red flag laws, expanding background checks and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21. More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts signed it.
“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”
“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”
In an interview with Politico, Cornyn stressed that he was not interested in “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment,” but said it would be “embarrassing” if Uvalde didn’t spark Congress to reach some sort of bipartisan legislative response.
The letter was paid for by Todd Maclin, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who now runs the Dallas-based finance firm Maclin Management. Maclin said he is a conservative gun owner who has been stirred to action by the shooting in Uvalde.
“These events have really motivated me and really gotten under my skin and encouraged me to support the effort that’s underway,” Maclin told The Texas Tribune. “I just felt like I needed to do something, and I also believe that there are reasonable things that can be done.”
He said he is still hearing from more conservative gun owners who are feeling a “great sense of urgency and a great need to support [Cornyn] as he does his best to address these issues.”
Maclin said the group is focusing on federal legislation, which he believes is the best avenue to passing gun safety laws and ensuring they are applied uniformly across the country. He declined to comment on the state response to the shooting or gun legislation, except to say that he hopes any federal plan led by Cornyn and passed with conservative support would be embraced by state governments.
Among the signatories are deep-pocketed Abbott supporters, including billionaires Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, and Ray L. Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc.
The contents of the letter are in line with policies Abbott and other party leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have supported in the past — though not the ones they are endorsing now.
After the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, outside Houston, Abbott supported “red flag” laws, which would allow local officials to take someone’s guns away if a judge declares them to be a danger. He later dropped his support for the measure, citing a “coalescence” against it from his own party.
The next year, after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Patrick said he was “willing to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association and support expanding background checks.
The next time the Legislature met, however, lawmakers instead passed a law that allows Texans to carry a handgun without a license or training.
This time, neither Patrick nor Abbott have expressed any support for tightening gun laws. They have instead offered suggestions that have ranged from expanding mental health services and minimizing the entrances to school buildings to doing surprise security checks.
On the federal level, both Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz have A+ ratings from the NRA and are top Senate recipients of gun industry donations. But they’ve taken differering tacks in response to the shooting in Uvalde.
Cruz said in the wake of the massacre that passing laws that restrict gun access “doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.” But Cornyn has shown a willingness, now and in the past, to support some bipartisan gun legislation.
In the wake of the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting outside San Antonio, Cornyn worked with Democratic colleagues to improve the background check system to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.
He has also supported banning “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic guns to fire faster, and shepherded into law a bill that funded the screening and treatment of offenders with mental illness.
After last week’s shooting, Cornyn has said he’s “not interested in making a political statement,” but is focused on making “the terrible events that occurred in Uvalde less likely in the future.”
Emmy Amash has always been the friend that people would go to with questions about sex, birth control and women’s health issues. It’s what called her to work as a birth doula and go to nursing school.
But during rotations around Austin, she’s noticed a shift in the trust between patients and healthcare providers, and it’s been happening under Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
“What I've seen working in the emergency room with women who are coming in experiencing complications after or during a miscarriage is a lot of what feels to me like mistrust and hesitancy to be sharing complete histories of what's going on,” Amash said.
Over the last 10 months, SB 8 has had a chilling effect on healthcare workers and patients that’s endangering people’s lives, says a new study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project in the New England Journal of Medicine. It also offers a glimpse at how the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade—which is expected to outlaw or restrict abortion in almost half of the states—will make the risks to patients more common.
The study shared findings based on interviews with Texas clinicians and 20 people who had medically complex pregnancies and sought care under SB 8. The law—which bans abortion before many even know that they are pregnant—is aimed at those providing abortion care. But researchers say that, to the detriment of patients, it has an effect on other health care workers.
For example, a woman who took part in the study reported receiving a fetal diagnosis of trisomy 18, a rare condition lacking a cure that causes most babies to die before they are born. But the woman’s physician didn’t inform her about termination options.
“When you already have received news like that and can barely function, the thought of then having to do your own investigating to determine where to get this medical care and to arrange going out of state feels additionally overwhelming,” the woman said.
On the health provider side, Amash understands the frustration and secrecy of patients, citing Lizelle Herrera’s case as an example of the kind of situation patients may worry about running into.
Herrera, a 26-year-old in the Rio Grande Valley, was arrested on a murder charge in April for a self-induced abortion. She was held in jail for three days on a $500,000 bond until a local district attorney dropped the case.
🚨Breaking News!!!🚨 Charges are being dismissed for Lizelle Herrera!!! #Justice4Lizellepic.twitter.com/yG15cw74Oi
— Frontera Fund (@LaFronteraFund) April 10, 2022
But there could be more instances like Herrera’s, and Amash talked about what it’s been like to continue working amid added restrictions on abortion rights. It’ll only continue given that Texas and a dozen other states have a trigger law making abortion illegal after the repeal of Roe v. Wade. In Texas; it’ll go into effect within 30 days.
“I feel like I've been holding my breath,” Amash said. She went on to describe “feeling powerless to this larger system that's making these choices that's so far removed from the actual lives of individuals.”
But local officials are taking action in light of the high court's decision. Austin City Council will hold a special meeting the week of July 18 on a resolution aimed at decriminalizing abortion. Submitted by council member Jose "Chito" Vela, it would direct the police department to make criminal enforcement, arrest and investigation of abortions its lowest priority. But for Central Texans, it may only allow for a patchwork system in which only abortions within the city escape criminalization.
“That's nice, and also, it's just not enough,” Amash said. “Not enough for how big Texas is for us to have one little area. There's a lot of people here that need care and aren't going to have access to it.”
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This month has been Austin's hottest June on record after 21 days of triple-degree heat, according to the National Weather Service.
Despite a weather forecast that predicted otherwise, Austin beat the odds and logged its 12th straight day of 100+ degree high temperatures Monday. On the same day, the city also broke its 2008 record with the most triple-digit temperatures ever recorded during the month.
Austin has now hit 100 degrees 21 times this month and 12 days in a row, a new June record.
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) June 27, 2022
The city has now broke heat records for two months in a row after recording its hottest May ever last month.
But at least some of Austin's hot and dry start to summer may be alleviated soon as a so-called cold front heads into town Monday night. Temperatures are expected to remain below the mid-90s for the rest of the week, and Tuesday could break the nearly two-week streak of 100-degree highs.
With the cold front comes much-needed rain, which is expected to scatter across Central Texas skies Monday night. Lightning and gusts of wind up to 60 mph could hit the area, especially along the I-35 corridor near San Marcos, where a Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued.
Storms will continue to develop along an east to west line through sunset. The Hill Country, I-35 Corridor, and Coastal Plains will be most affected. The main dangers are lightning and gusts winds to 60 mph. pic.twitter.com/ocKg9cYDSd
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) June 27, 2022
Scattered storms are expected to remain Tuesday with possibly bouts of gusty winds and small hail, and some storms could continue in the area east of I-35 through Thursday. Austin has seen 2.8 fewer inches of rainfall than the average this month and is only expected to see about a quarter inch of rainfall this week.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to persist through about 9-10 pm this evening before weakening. Expect a similar setup on Tuesday, but chances look better for the Rio Grande Plains and Winter Garden region. Gusty winds and small hail are possibly. #txwxpic.twitter.com/X4tmSTLBQu
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) June 27, 2022
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