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.”
By Patrick Svitek
Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday called on the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make legislative recommendations in response to the Uvalde school shooting.
In a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate's presiding officer, Abbott told his fellow Republicans that the state "must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence." He said the committee process should start "immediately" and outlined five topics he would like the committees to take up.
Notably, the topics included "firearm safety." Abbott last week essentially ruled out gun restrictions as a response to the massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two adults last week at Robb Elementary School. He focused his attention on mental health care and school security in his public comments.
The other topics Abbott charged leadership with making recommendations on were school safety, mental health, social media and police training.
The committees are different from a special legislative session, which Democrats — and at least a couple Republicans — have asked for after the shooting. Abbott has not ruled that out.
Spokespeople for Phelan and Patrick did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.
In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.
The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”
Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.
Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.
“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”
He resisted the idea of increasing the age to purchase a firearm, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.
He also dismissed universal background checks saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, which both happened while he has been in office.
“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest is mistaken.”
Since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the governor’s comments about potential solutions have centered around increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to firearms.
This story has been edited for length.
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