City Council Joins Calls for Special Session of Legislature on Gun Violence

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, "I'm incredibly proud of my colleagues. ... We have come together in unity to show a commitment to getting things done."

San Antonio City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for state and federal governments to address gun violence Thursday after the deadly mass shooting in El Paso this month and previous shootings in Texas and throughout the country.

The resolution asked for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to bring up proposals to stem gun violence.

“I’m incredibly proud of my colleagues across the dais,” Nirenberg said. “We come from different perspectives and backgrounds and even politics on a number of different issues, and this is probably the most volatile issue of all that we could be tackling, but we have come together in unity to show a commitment to getting things done.”

Separately, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez released a series of proposals Thursday as part of what he calls the Secure Access Firearm Enforcement (SAFE) Act.

“We’re not asking for the moon and we’re not asking to take anyone’s guns away,” Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) told City Council. “We’re simply asking for common-sense solutions.”

A gun buyback program, gun lock giveaway, increased funding for mental health, background checks for private gun sales, and a task force “to identify and eliminate white supremacist activity and networks” are among the elements of Gutierrez’s legislation. The El Paso gunman’s manifesto said he was trying to stop a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Rep. Roland Gutierrez criticizes Donald Trump during the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio)

Gutierrez joins dozens of lawmakers who have asked the state and federal governments for special sessions to discuss new rules surrounding gun access.

Abbott formed a domestic terrorism task force on Wednesday that will analyze threats and develop prevention and response strategies. Later Thursday, speaking at a town hall at the University of Texas at Tyler, the governor told the crowd that “it doesn’t require a special session for lawmakers to act,” the Texas Tribune reported.

Council’s resolution also initiated a review of “available alternatives and policies to enhance the safety of San Antonio residents.”

There is very little control the City has over the sale or use of guns. That power resides with the State. But at the very least we can try, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).

“We know that this week many families had their children go off to school today,” Viagran said. “And no doubt many parents held their children tighter – hugged them longer.”

It took the city clerk six minutes and 41 seconds to read the full resolution, she noted, “in Dayton, Ohio, it took 32 seconds to injure 26 people.”

The gunman there killed nine people with an AR-15-style rifle.

Council’s Intergovernmental Relations and Public Safety committees will soon discuss what can be done locally.

Unfortunately, Councilman John Courage (D9) said, the State has already taken away zoning authority from cities that restricted the sale or transfer of firearms and ammunition in certain areas and recently passed new gun laws that relaxed gun regulations.

Beyond this resolution, he said, Courage proposed that the City “initiate a gun buyback program and add advocacy for meaningful background checks to our State Legislature agenda in 2021 and, furthermore, request our congressional representatives to support a ban on the sale of military-style weapons to the public.”

House Bill 8 was passed by Democrats the U.S. House in February, but the first major gun safety legislation in more than two decades has not been discussed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

After a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School near Houston, Abbott convened stakeholders to discuss school safety and the second amendment. That produced the 40-point School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, which included a push for the Legislature to consider adopting a red flag law that would allow police, family members, school employee or other officials to take away guns from a potentially dangerous person. That never came to fruition, but Senate Bill 11 – which enhances emergency response training for school employees – was passed this year.

The City resolution includes instructions for City Manager Erik Walsh to send copies of Abbott’s plan and of the resolution to legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, and to the speaker of the Texas House as well as a copy of the resolution to “the Texas Municipal League and to all municipalities in the State of Texas with populations over 500,000 residents to encourage them to consider taking similar action.”

Austin City Council also has urged the governor to call a special session, as have State lawmakers, Councilman Manny Pelaez noted.

“You would have to be very, very naive to think that the governor hasn’t heard calls from cities like this recently,” Pelaez said, but he said he’s not hearing it from Republican representatives like Donna Campbell of New Braunfels.

“We all know she’s got very strong opinions regarding chicken sandwiches at airports” and can send out a press release about that and other issues, he said. “But when it comes to the deaths of her own constituency her silence is deafening and so is the governor’s and so is the lieutenant governor’s.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), often the lone conservative voice on Council, surprised many people in Council chambers by casting a vote in favor of the measure.

“I really appreciate what Rep. Gutierrez said about the common sense,” Perry said. “Part of the issue is whose common sense? Where is that middle ground?”

He doesn’t know what the answer is, he said, but the State and federal government need to take action.

Nirenberg characterized the resolution as a “commitment to action.”

“This comes with a healthy degree of cynicism because there’s been a lot of talk about guns and gun violence over the last few decades – local governments notwithstanding – but this vote signifies a commitment to action and I think that gravity has all set in for all of us,” Nirenberg said.

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