Driftwood lawmaker joins call for gun reform special session

A Driftwood-area lawmaker is joining a handful of state legislators asking Texas’ top elected official to call a special session to talk gun reform.

While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott quashed the request for now, State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) hopes to generate some discussion on the topic, perhaps even reform, sooner rather than later.

Calls for Abbott to call a special session comes weeks after a Plano man entered an El Paso Walmart Aug. 3 and killed 22 people, all of them Latino, under the premise of preventing an “invasion” of migrants. Lawmakers that had called for a special session include Zwiener, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and State Rep. Gina Hinajosa (D-Austin), according to a Texas Tribune report.

However, Abbott said during a town hall in Tyler that a special session wasn’t needed for action to take place, per the Texas Tribune’s report. Abbott plans to host a domestic terrorism task force Aug. 30.

Zwiener said lawmakers cannot wait until the next legislative session in 2021 to address gun reform and said that “Texans are asking us to take action now.”

Zwiener cited previous mass shootings in Southerland Springs and at Santa Fe High in recent years. Those events are part of a trend of mass shootings, which include Parkland High and in Las Vegas in 2017.

Democrats in the Texas House and Senate were ready to act on gun legislation during the last two legislative sessions in 2017 and 2019, Zwiener said.

Zwiener said one area of gun reform that could be tackled quickly is through stronger safe storage laws. State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) got the furthest on the topic when she introduced a public safety announcement on the importance of putting firearms away in a safe when not in use.

However, proposed legislation on the matter never got on the House floor. It was later tacked onto another bill as an amendment that did not receive any votes.

Zwiener said a law making gun owners liable for incidents when firearms are not stored properly could encourage safety. Such a proposal has support from Democrats and some Republicans.

“This is a concrete thing we can do that can reduce accidents and teen suicides, and reduces the risk of a firearm being stolen and later used to commit a crime,” Zwiener said.

Support is also growing for implementing “red flag laws,” which would prevent those with a history of mental illness or domestic abuse or violent crime from obtaining a gun, Zwiener said.

By enacting “red flag” laws, it could offer a safety net for victims of abuse who try to leave their partners. Most abuse victims are murdered by their partners when they attempt to leave.

But gun reform such as limiting the size of ammunition magazines and reducing access to semi-automatic military-style rifles could be “trickier” to impose, Zwiener said.

Zwiener felt most gun owners “don’t need” a 60-round magazine to go hunting or a semi-automatic rifle such as an AR-15 in most cases. The suspect in the El Paso shooting used a semi-automatic, high capacity magazine assault-style rifle.

In order to make changes, those advocating gun reform must also change the state’s mindset when it comes to firearm regulations. In Texas, handgun ownership means going through strict regulation as the weapon is meant to be concealed.

However, long guns, such as an AR-15, do not need a permit and can be displayed in most public settings. Zwiener also wants to change the age of obtaining long guns from 18 to 21, as 21 is the age requirement for obtaining a handgun license in Texas.

Zwiener said lawmakers must understand they are not dealing with firearms similar to “grandpa’s hunting rifle” anymore. While she said most state elected officials are on board for more gun safety protections, she fears Republican lawmakers might be afraid to take action as they don’t want to be called “bad on guns” and be “primaried out” prior to the November elections.

“I hope we take meaningful action before next session. It is a year and a half before we meet again and we’re losing lives,” Zwiener said. “I don’t care if it’s because of the governor’s roundtable or special session. But it needs to happen.”

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