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How Gun Laws In Texas Have And Haven't Changed Following Mass Shootings In The State

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A church, a high school, a Walmart - all three have been the scene of a mass shooting in Texas over the past two years. Our next guest writes that the shootings appall Texas lawmakers but so do the solutions. Ross Ramsey is executive editor of The Texas Tribune. He's from El Paso, where Saturday's shooting took place.

Welcome to the program.

ROSS RAMSEY: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has already proposed new gun legislation. This is following the shooting in Dayton. What have leaders in Texas been saying about this over the past couple of days?

RAMSEY: You know, for the first few days and, you know, hours after the shooting, it's mostly condolence and emergency help and that sort of thing. The president's coming to El Paso. Some of the state's leaders are probably going to be there to meet him. And they haven't really shifted completely to policy yet. We had shootings, of course, in Texas at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, at the Santa Fe High School. And the legislature, which meets every two years, met from January to May of this year and took up some of these questions. They didn't get to gun legislation, really. They did a lot of mental health legislation. They did some school safety legislation. But they couldn't, in Texas, given voter attitudes, get to gun control or anything like that.

CORNISH: You write that guns are woven into Texas culture. What does that mean for how this discussion plays out? What are the nuances here that people are missing?

RAMSEY: You know, I think that you start with the position that Texans believe that people ought to be able to carry guns and have guns. We're an open carry state. You can wear one on a holster that's visible if you're permitted to do that. In Texas, it's legal to carry a long gun or a rifle without a permit. And so that's the baseline. You know, Texas is - has a particular attitude about this. In the governor's race in 2014 when Wendy Davis, a fairly liberal Democrat who was a senator, was running against Greg Abbott, who is now the governor, she came out in favor of legislation that would allow people to open carry, to carry guns if they were licensed in holsters that were visible. She later wrote that she regretted doing that, and it was against her principles. But I think it was a recognition on her part, or a calculation on her part, that she needed to be where the voters were. And it tells you a little bit about Texas voters and Texas sentiment about guns.

CORNISH: And yet you have some Democratic state lawmakers who are calling on Governor Abbott to call a special session on gun violence. Do you think this is likely? If so, what will you be listening for?

RAMSEY: You know, it's only likely if they sense that the voters want them to go there. Legislators filed, you know, dozens of bills that would have regulated guns in the last session - background check loopholes, local options against local carry, all kinds of things like that. The governor actually vetoed one bill that would have prohibited handguns on airport tarmacs, said, you know, that Texas wasn't ready to go there. If they don't sense a change in the voters, I don't think that they'll call this. And the - you know, frankly, the clamor from Democratic politicians has been in place for a while in Texas and hasn't taken the day.

CORNISH: Reading your writing and listening to you now, I get the sense that you don't expect very much movement. And maybe I am hearing a note of resignation. Kind of - where's your head at? How are you thinking about this now?

RAMSEY: You know, I don't know if El Paso is going to be the kind of episode that changes public opinion. A lot of people thought that maybe people would change their minds in Texas or allow some regulation that they hadn't previously allowed after you saw people in a high school shot or after you saw people in a church get shot or after you watched national events, you know, whether it was, you know, Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or, you know, choose one. And I think it would be against recent history to say that El Paso is the one that's going to change it. If it changed it, that would be a little bit of a surprise.

CORNISH: Ross Ramsey is the executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune.

Thank you for explaining it to us.

RAMSEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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