Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is shifting the focus of his meetings on school safety and mass shootings this week to those who have been closest to the recent violence, including students, surviving victims and one person who grabbed a gun and fought back.
Abbott, a staunch gun-rights supporter, called the meetings to look for “swift and meaningful” ways to prevent future violence following the shooting last week inside Santa Fe High School that killed 10 people. The final meeting, slated to start Thursday afternoon, will include more than 30 people who can provide personal accounts of last week’s attack in Santa Fe and last November’s massacre at a tiny church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Much of the first two days of meetings focused on student mental health and ideas about “hardening” school campuses, including beefing up security and possibly arming more teachers.
Most of those scheduled to attend Thursday are students, families and staff from the shooting in Santa Fe, a city about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Houston. Also invited are two survivors of the church shooting that left more than two dozen people dead, the church’s pastor and neighbor Stephen Willeford, who lives across the street from the church and has been hailed as a hero for grabbing a rifle and shooting back at the attacker.
One of the students set to attend has said the Santa Fe shooting should not lead to new gun restrictions in Texas, where more than 1.2 million people are licensed to carry handguns and openly carrying rifles in public is legal.
“Something needs to happen,” 16-year-old Callie Wylie said Monday as she stood at a memorial for her classmates who were killed. “But I don’t think at this time people need to be pushing politics on us and telling us, ‘Oh, this is gun control.'”
Abbott has signed bills in recent years that reduce the cost and training needed for a handgun license, and expanded where handguns can be legally carried. The governor said Wednesday he could support stronger requirements for reporting lost or stolen firearms and quicker reporting to law enforcement of court orders that deny people access to guns.
Still, few people expect proposals for any major new restrictions to emerge from this week’s meetings.
Rhonda Hart, a military veteran whose daughter Kimberly Vaughan was killed at Santa Fe, said Texas should make it much harder to buy and own guns. She is not among those meeting with the governor.
“You should have to wait a week, have counseling, and walk through lines of protesters who tell you you’re a murderer” to buy a gun, Hart said Wednesday.
Texas’ reaction to the Santa Fe shooting so far has been in sharp contrast to the response after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. Three weeks after that massacre, Florida politicians passed a gun-control package after a lobbying campaign led by student survivors of the attack.
Abbott has said his meetings are to explore ideas that could be pursued in the law or by executive order, but has given not timeframe for acting on any proposals. The Legislature doesn’t meet again until January 2019, and Abbott has so far ignored calls from a handful of lawmakers to call them into special session.
Associated Press writers Emily Schmall in Dallas and Claire Galofaro in Santa Fe contributed to this report.