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Texas to appeal that ridiculous ruling that forbade banning handgun sales to those under 21

Good. Now we’ll see if their heart is in it.

Texas is gearing up to fight a judge’s ruling that the state can’t ban adults under 21 from carrying handguns, a move that’s drawing anger from some gun rights groups.

Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed a notice of an appeal of the ruling on behalf of the Texas Department of Public Safety. It came almost a month after U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, issued the original ruling on Aug. 25, writing that the Second Amendment protects all adults’ right to bear arms without an age limit. The suit was brought on by two plaintiffs within the 18-to-20 age range and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. against the state of Texas.

The notice, which includes Paxton’s name on the filing, did not say the ground on which it would base its appeal. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for DPS said the agency does not comment on pending legal cases.

But in prior filings in the case, the state has argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment as it is consistent with Texas’ “longstanding tradition” of restricting access to guns based on age.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder that Greg Abbott is either a bad lawyer, a bad liar, or both. A couple of gun-worship groups are quoted as being disappointed in this decision; I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I’m glad that the state didn’t just punt on this, but I’ll want to see how they actually act before I give them any credit for it beyond that.

Uvalde parents file lawsuit against multiple defendants

Keep an eye on this one.

The first major lawsuit has been filed over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by the families of three surviving students.

“The horrors of May 24, 2022, were only possible because so many in positions of power were negligent, careless, and reckless,” Stephanie B. Sherman, the lead attorney in the case, said in a statement.

Defendants in the federal lawsuit include the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the city of Uvalde, former school district Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, suspended Uvalde Police Lt. Mariano Pargas and then-Robb Principal Mandy Gutierrez.

The families also are suing Daniel Defense, the Georgia manufacturer of the assault-style rifle Salvador Ramos, 18, used in the massacre; gun accessory maker Firequest International Inc., over a mechanism that makes a semi-automatic rifle fire like an automatic; Uvalde gun shop Oasis Outback LLC, which transferred guns Ramos purchased online to the mass shooter; lock manufacturer Schneider Electric, over alleged problems with locks on Robb Elementary doors; and Motorola Solutions, over issues with a dispatch communications system that complicated the police response.

Another defendant: an unknown company, John Doe Company 1, that the lawsuit said the district contracted with to ensure security measures were in place and effective.

The 81-page lawsuit, filed in Del Rio, accuses most defendants of negligence, inaction or defective products or systems that enabled Ramos to buy the firearm, ammunition and gun accessories he used to kill 19 students and two teachers. He wounded 16 others.

[…]

“Due to the conduct of the school and police, and the deliberate choices of the gun makers and sellers to directly market their lethal weapons to young untrained civilians, the shooter bought and assembled a military grade assault weapon with 30-round magazines days after his 18th birthday…,” the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs include Corina Camacho, the mother of G.M., a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the leg in classroom 112; Tanisha Rodriguez, the mother of G.R., a 9-year old girl who was playing with classmates on the playground when Ramos began firing; and Selena Sanchez and Omar Carbajal, the parents of D.J., an 8-year-old boy who saw the shooter firing as the boy headed from the gym to the nurse’s station.

Sherman and Monique Alarcon, Texas-based attorneys for the Baum Hedlund law firm of California, and attorney Shawn Brown of San Antonio allege a host of civil claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, product liability and violations of due process, among others.

The suit seeks undetermined compensatory damages against all defendants and punitive damages against all the defendants except the school district and the city.

There was a class action lawsuit announced in August that perhaps hasn’t been filed yet. The intended defendants are roughly the same, but I see in those earlier stories that there was no mention of who the plaintiffs were, and I believe that’s because the final paperwork hasn’t been filed yet. Of greatest interest to me is the inclusion of the gun manufacturer and sellers – there’s a legal example to follow, but I don’t know how effective it will be. Let’s just say that I wish these plaintiffs, and those who follow them, a lot of luck. The Trib has more.

Another hoax shooting situation

And this one shows another challenge for school districts and law enforcement to reckon with.

After a lockdown at Jefferson High School sent worried parents to the school, the San Antonio Independent School District says it will enhance communications with families in such situations.

On Tuesday, a report of a shooting at Jefferson High School caused the campus to lock down, sparking a chaotic scene outside the school as panicked parents waited for updates. As school district police officers and other law enforcement searched the campus and found the report to be unfounded, verbal disputes erupted between parents and officers. Some parents had to be physically restrained from entering the school. A few parents grappled with police.

The incident showed how parents of school-age children remain concerned about school safety — and law enforcement response — in the wake of the May 24 Uvalde mass school shooting that left 21 dead. School officials said it’s possible the report of a shooting was a hoax.

Superintendent Jaime Aquino sent a letter Wednesday to all district families praising local law enforcement for responding quickly to the shooting report and explaining the district’s lockdown procedures.

“Yesterday, our officers worked seamlessly with the officers from the San Antonio Police Department as part of our unified command protocol,” he wrote in the letter, adding that 29 district officers and 58 San Police Department officers quickly arrived at the scene.

But as the crowd of parents at the scene grew larger, resource officers informed parents they weren’t allowed to enter and that students could not be released because of the lockdown. Parents grew angry and frustrated as they waited for updates on the situation.

An hour and a half after the first notification to parents, the district informed them that no evidence of a shooting had been found, but by that time some physical altercations had broken out on the steps of the high school.

In his letter, Aquino stated that when a school is locked down, students and staff cannot be released “until officers determine that the threat has been resolved, give clearance, and lift the lockdown.”

To improve communication in such incidents, Aquino said the district will send staff to the campus to keep families on the scene informed of what is happening.

See here and here for some background. As before, I don’t blame any of the parents for their reactions. To me, the lesson here is that schools and police need to recalibrate their responses to take into account the level of anxiety parents are (justifiably!) feeling these days. They need to come up with a strategy that allows for quicker and more direct communication to parents, both those who are at the school that has had a (thankfully fake) report of a shooting, and to those who haven’t yet shown up at the school. It’s in everyone’s best interests to do so. I hope HISD is paying attention to this.

Now we’re dealing with hoax shootings

A new thing we need to be prepared for.

Texas and other states have experienced hoax shootings, but experts say these threats shouldn’t be taken lightly. Research shows that if someone is going to commit a mass shooting there is a good chance they’ll drop hints beforehand.

Sometimes it’s just a student testing the system, said Julia Andrews, director of Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools, an organization that develops best practices for school security systems.

“Sometimes, it can mean getting out of school early, avoiding a test or just seeking attention,” Andrews said. “We are now seeing a lot of copycat threats, but we must take all threats seriously.”

However, schools need to be prepared when that isn’t the case, she said.

An analysis of 170 perpetrators of mass shootings found that nearly half leaked their intention to act violently, with 44 percent of them leaking specific details of their plans, according to a 2021 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

For decades, school’s have experienced bomb threats, but this many shooting threats — happening at the same time — is unusual, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“For false bomb threats we have those better figured out, but with a false active shooter situation we’re not there at all,”Canady said, “because we’re dealing with this new trend.”

[…]

In recent years, these threats have likely become more prevalent with the rise of social media, said Zachary Kaufman, the co-director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston.

“Social media and (cell) phones have enabled such hoaxes to be made easier, quicker,” Kaufman said, “and seemingly more genuine than ever.”

See here for the background. As the story and my Facebook commenters noted, there were other hoax reports that day (in Waco, Eanes, and Pflugerville) and the next day, in Klein ISD. That feels a lot more precarious and unsettling than a one off to me. I don’t know what to do about it, I’m just flagging it for your attention. I’m glad to see there are people in the field who do have expertise in this. I really hope they won’t be called on to use it very often.

The active shooter hoax at our neighborhood school

This made for a super eventful Tuesday afternoon.

Police and panicked parents scrambled to Heights High School Tuesday afternoon, in frantic response to a false report that a gunman had shot 10 people in a room on the 2,400-student Houston ISD campus.

The school went into lock down around 1 p.m., and police officers found the room locked and immediately breached the door, according to Chief Troy Finner. Two sweeps of the school found nothing, according to the Houston Police Department.

“We have no injuries here,” Finner said at a news briefing as a crowd of parents stood at an intersection near the high school. “Thank god for that.”

Officials intend to determine who made the hoax call and hold that person accountable. Finner said police believe the call may have come from outside the school.

“There was no active shooter here — there was a fight,” said Constable Alan Rosen.

An email notified parents later that Heights High, as well as nearby Hogg Middle and Harvard and Travis Elementary schools, were placed in lockdown.

“As a precautionary measure, we went into lockdown mode,” Heights Principal Wendy Hampton said in an email to parents. “Houston Police Department and HISD Police are onsite and continue to investigate, though no evidence has been found to substantiate the threat. We take all threats seriously as the safety of our students and staff is always our top priority.”

As it happens, I had to go into the office Tuesday afternoon. I was headed out a little after 1 PM, and was on Studewood going towards the I-10 entrance when I saw three HPD cars with lights and sirens going headed the other way at full speed. I didn’t give it much thought until after I had arrived at the office, took a minute to check Twitter, and found out what was happening. I don’t currently have any kids at Heights or the other schools that got locked down, but my kids have friends there and I have friends and neighbors who have kids at all of them. It was pretty stressful, to say the least, and I had the luxury of not having to be frantic about my own kids. My thoughts today remain with those parents and those kids.

Shannon Velasquez burst into tears on Tuesday afternoon as she waited on the sidewalk near Heights High School, where her daughter and hundreds more students were locked down in their classrooms after someone made a false report about a mass shooting.

The mother knew her daughter was fine — she had spoken with the sophomore student on FaceTime as she sped to school from work.

Still, she could not shake a horrible feeling, and her frustration bubbled over as she heard conflicting information from parents and officers about where she should go to reunite with her child.

“As if this isn’t bad enough?” she said. “I just can’t wait to put my arms around my kid.”

Anxiety, panic and confusion erupted on Tuesday afternoon in the residential streets surrounding Heights High School. Personnel from at least eight law enforcement agencies sped to the scene with lights and sirens. Panicked parents rushed from jobs and lunch appointments. Some drivers ditched their cars on the grassy median along Heights Boulevard, and walked or ran several blocks to the school.

Parents gathered information from their children, other parents, news reports and officials — eventually learning that their kids were safe and the massive frenzy actually stemmed from a false alarm.

Still, some parents said they were frustrated by sparse communication from the school, district or law enforcement agencies, although HISD and law enforcement agencies have defended their response.

[…]

Luis Morales, HISD spokesman, said notifications went out to parents 23 minutes after the district became aware of the situation.

“We were able to get that out a quicker than we have before,” Morales said, adding that the district must verify information before sending out notifications.

Chief Troy Finner said during a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon that he sympathized with parents who were frustrated. But safety comes before notifications, he said.

“We have to search the school. That is the most important thing — to stop the threat if there’s a threat,” he said. “We don’t have time to call. Once we make it safe, we start making those calls.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said more than two dozen units from HFD responded to the scene. The first unit arrived two minutes after HFD received the call, he said, and quickly began coordinating a rescue team with police.

“The community expects the first responders to get on scene quickly, to get on scene and coordinate and start taking action as soon as they get on scene,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

I have nothing but sympathy for the parents here. I was scrambling around looking for accurate information too, and the stakes were much lower for me. I have no doubt I’d have been out of my mind and super upset at how long it took to get updates. I also have a lot of sympathy for HISD and HPD, who were understandably reluctant to get out ahead of what they knew. I don’t have a good answer for this.

As relieved as we all are that this turned out to be nothing, we have to talk about the law enforcement response, since that is an obvious item of interest after Uvalde. In addition to HPD, there were deputies from the Precinct 1 Constable and the Sheriff’s office at the scene, and I assume there were some HISD cops as well. We do know that HPD entered Heights HS in search of the alleged shooter, which is good to know, but we don’t know more than that about who was in charge and who was making what decisions. Given what we know about the thoroughly botched response in Uvalde, this should be used as an opportunity for HPD and HISD to review their processes, make sure they have agreements in place, and so on. In the end, thankfully this was just a drill. We damn well better learn from it.

Five DPS agents being investigated for their Uvalde actions

It’s a start. It just can’t be the end.

Five Texas Department of Public Safety officers who responded to the Uvalde school shooting in May will face an investigation into their actions at Robb Elementary, the agency said.

The officers were referred to the inspector general’s office, which will determine if they violated any policies in their response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, said DPS spokesperson Travis Considine. The inspector general’s office will also determine if the five officers will face disciplinary actions.

The investigation was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE.

[…]

The announcement of an investigation into five DPS officers coincided with the first day of classes for Uvalde students, which marks 15 weeks since the shooting. Following Arredondo’s firing, residents called for further accountability from public officials, including the firing of school district employees.

Arnulfo Reyes, a Robb Elementary teacher who was shot and injured in Room 111, said the investigation into DPS officers “will give the families a sense of accountability” that they’ve demanded.

Reyes didn’t go back to teach his fourth-grade class Tuesday because he is still mentally and physically recovering from injuries to his left arm and lower back. Before the gunman was confronted, Reyes could hear officers outside of his classroom trying to negotiate with the 18-year-old. When officers stopped talking, Reyes thought the officers had “abandoned” him and his students.

He added that he hopes other agencies’ officers are also investigated.

“It’s a glimmer of hope that there will be justice served,” Reyes said.

The story goes into the House committee investigation and report, and the responses from DPS director Steve McCraw, among other things with which we are familiar. I say this is a good start because there needs to be a transparent investigation into everyone’s actions on that horrible day. It’s not just Pete Arredondo and the local cops, and it’s also not just DPS. We need a full accounting of what happened, with consequences as needed for those who should face them. Until then, this is all unfinished business.

Abbott weasels on raising the minimum age to buy an assault weapon

Typical.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to increase the minimum age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old — a key proposal Uvalde parents have called for after an 18-year-old gunned down their children’s school in May.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used those weapons to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Senate Democrats have asked for a special legislative session to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Families of Uvalde victims and survivors also have pushed for a three-year increase to the legal purchasing age.

[…]

In the days after the shooting in Uvalde, Abbott was asked if he would consider banning assault-style weapons for 18-year-olds. The governor at the time appeared hesitant.

“Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle. Since that time, it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings. For a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings. But we do,” Abbott said. “Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

Abbott that day was immediately interrupted by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who said, “Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.”

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” Gutierrez later said in June.

See here for the ruling Abbott refers to. I’ll get to the legal stuff in a minute, but first as you might imagine, not everyone cared for this response.

A video of Abbott making the claim circulated on social media, drawing reactions from Texas leaders and Uvalde parents. Brett Cross, father 8-year-old victim Uziyah Garcia’s father, tweeted a video in response to Abbott, noting the “parents matter” signs.

“What parents are you referring to actually? Because it’s not us in Uvalde,” Cross said. Cross also claimed that during a conversation he had in person with Abbott, the governor shut down any talks about changing gun laws because it wouldn’t have changed anything. Abbott allegedly pointed to the 17-year-old gunman from the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, Cross said.

“Except it would have,” Cross said. “You see that piece of s–t that murdered our children legally bought that damn gun. You could do something about it. You’re just too chicken s–t to do it. So don’t sit there and act like you’re for the people, that you’re for the parents, that you’re for the children, because you don’t give a damn.”

Cross continued: “But I implore you, make a liar out of me. Call a special session. Or don’t and prove me right. The choice is yours buddy.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately on Wednesday return a request for comment on his conversation with Cross.

The video also drew reactions from other Texas leaders. Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted in response: “Seven states have raised the minimum age to 21. It is possible.”

Abbott’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O’Rourke denied the governor’s claim, writing on Twitter: “Yes, it is. And thanks to the leadership of the families in Uvalde, we are going to do it.”

David Hogg, gun control activist and survivor of the Stoneman Douglass High School shooting tweeted: “Bulls–t we did it in Florida.”

The most obvious thing to point out here is that this ruling can be, and should be appealed. Indeed, the judge in question put his ruling on hold for 30 days pending appeal. That stay can be extended by the appeals court or SCOTUS, and at this point we don’t know what a final ruling will be. That ruling was about carrying handguns, and the demand here is about buying assault weapons, so even if the ruling in this case is eventually upheld, it doesn’t mean that a law raising the age to 21 for assault weapons would be illegal under it. Actual legal experts agree with me on these points!

At least seven states — California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Washington — have passed legislation raising the legal purchase age for sales of long guns, and several are still cases regarding those laws are winding their way through the courts.

“It’s an unsettled question whether states can restrict guns to people under 21,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who studies gun policy. “There are court cases going both ways … This is one of many issues the Supreme Court is going to have to take up in the coming years.”

[…]

David Pucino, deputy chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said there is a well-grounded case to be made that age restrictions are lawful and in keeping with historical laws.

“There is really strong law and strong history to support the principle that you can have these restrictions,” Pucino said. “Historically, the age of 21 was the age of majority (legal adulthood); it’s only a far more recent development that it’s been lowered to the age of 18.”

Pucino added that the cases to which Abbott refers had to do with carrying of handguns, not purchasing of assault weapons.

“An important distinction is that handguns are recognized by the Supreme Court as being the quintessential weapon for self-defense, and that is absolutely not the case with assault weapons,” Pucino said. “These rifles in particular have offensive capabilities, and that’s their distinguishing feature is the fact that they can be used to inflict an incredible and horrifying amount of damage in a very short period of time.”

Greg Abbott is a lawyer and he knows these things perfectly well. He just doesn’t want to deal with them, and so he dodges the question. Oh, and did I mention that the state of Texas is the defendant in that handgun lawsuit? The state of Texas is the party that would be making the appeal of that ruling. If it chooses to, of course, which is also a thing Greg Abbott has a say in. Don’t believe his “we can’t do anything” baloney.

The gaps in Texas’ background check law

From Pro Publica:

In the spring of 2009, Elliott Naishtat persuaded his colleagues in the Texas Legislature to pass a bill that he believed would require the state to report court-ordered mental health hospitalizations for Texans of all ages to the national firearms background check system.

Nearly two years had passed since a student with a history of serious mental illness had gone on a deadly shooting rampage that left 32 dead at Virginia Tech. And Naishtat, then a Democratic state representative from Austin, argued that Texas was as vulnerable as Virginia had been to such mass shootings because it didn’t require the reporting of involuntary mental health commitments to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Federally licensed dealers are required to check the system before they sell someone a firearm.

“This bill will ultimately save lives, and I hope you’ll give it your most serious consideration,” Naishtat said when he introduced the measure.

But 13 years after the legislation became law, following a string of mass shootings carried out by troubled young men, an investigation by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune has uncovered a major gap in the law and its implementation.

Despite language in Naishtat’s bill that says local courts should report to the state’s top law enforcement agency any time a judge orders any person, regardless of age, to receive inpatient mental health treatment, the news organizations found that they are not reporting juvenile records because of problems with the way the law was written, vague guidance from the state and conflicts with other Texas laws.

[…]

When it comes to the reporting of adult mental health records, the Texas law has been highly effective. By the end of 2021, the state had sent more than 332,000 mental health records — the sixth-highest number in the country — to the national background check system, according to FBI data.

Unlike adult records, juvenile records are tightly controlled under state law, which includes criminal penalties for officials who release them unlawfully. That has likely contributed to widespread confusion about the reach of the 2009 law, which does not differentiate between adults and minors, said Dru Stevenson, a South Texas College of Law professor whose research focuses on gun violence and regulation.

“Anybody dealing with either health records or juveniles are super skittish about preserving privacy and confidentiality,” he said.

Mike Schneider, a former Harris County juvenile court judge, said the 2009 law fails to account for nuances in the juvenile code. For example, the law requires the reporting of all court-ordered mental health commitments. But Schneider and other juvenile officials say that in many cases juveniles end up in inpatient treatment not through a judge’s order, but via treatment plans agreed to by mental health professionals working on their cases. Additionally, Schneider said he interprets the law to directly address only the mental health commitments of juveniles already in lockup, not those first entering the system.

As a result, he estimated that some 99% of juvenile mental health commitments in the state are not the result of the kinds of judicial orders spelled out in the 2009 law.

“It’s just a really, really, really tiny sliver and would miss most of the people who are juveniles who have court-ordered mental health services,” he said.

The Office of Court Administration convened a task force of clerks, judges and various state officials more than a decade ago to figure out how to increase the number of all mental health records being sent to DPS.

The resulting report, published in 2012, found that “DPS lacks the resources to assist the district and county clerks with reporting mental health information.” It made a number of recommendations for ensuring better reporting across the state, including that OCA distribute a reporting manual to clerks detailing the law’s exact requirements. But neither the report nor the resulting manual addressed the reporting of juvenile records.

The agency has since moved to remedy that.

“Recently, because of increased questions, we decided to update the quick reference table to make it even more clear that juvenile records should be included under those provisions, and an updated FAQ section will be going in the manual,” spokesperson Megan LaVoie wrote in an email last month.

Amid a lack of clear direction, courts across the state aren’t following the law as Naishtat intended.

[…]

Schneider, the former Harris County juvenile judge, said the Legislature should address the narrowness and ambiguity that has resulted in the widespread failure to report juvenile mental health records, though he said such an effort will require lawmakers to answer difficult questions about how to handle sensitive records. In his mind, the law should cover young Texans with troubling histories of bullying, animal cruelty and sexual assault, behavior that foreshadows what experts call “future dangerousness.”

“What do you do with kids who have tortured a cat or a dog or done something really cruel, sexually or not, to another kid?” he said. “Those are, I think, the ones that people really worry about, because that seems to be so strongly correlated with really, really bad outcomes in the future.”

This is a long story with a lot of detail, so go read the rest for yourself. I think I’ve captured the main points in my excerpts, so the real question is whether the Lege is even interested in trying to address the gaps in that law. On that score, there was no comment from either Dan Patrick or Dade Phelan, so at the least there’s a lot of work to be done to even get it on the radar. And in keeping with what I’ve suggested before, this isn’t a whole solution but a part of one. Combining a fix to the Naishtat law with a ban on most types of gun purchases by anyone under the age of 21 would be a start. But first, the will to act has to be there. We can have a say in that this November.

The Lege sure thinks a lot of companies need to be coddled

It’s kind of amazing, actually.

Texas banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state after Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Wednesday that they did not support the oil and gas industry.

Hegar, a Republican running for reelection in November, banned BlackRock Inc., and other banks and investment firms — as well as some investment funds within large banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan — from entering into most contracts with state and local entities after Hegar’s office said the firms “boycott” the fossil fuel sector.

Hegar sent inquiries to hundreds of financial companies earlier this year requesting information about whether they were avoiding investments in the oil and gas industry in favor of renewable energy companies. The survey was a result of a new Texas law that went into effect in September and prohibits most state agencies, as well as local governments, from contracting with firms that have cut ties with carbon-emitting energy companies.

State pension funds and local governments issuing municipal bonds will have to divest from the companies on the list, though there are some exemptions, Hegar said.

“The environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) movement has produced an opaque and perverse system in which some financial companies no longer make decisions in the best interest of their shareholders or their clients, but instead use their financial clout to push a social and political agenda shrouded in secrecy,” Hegar said in a written statement on Wednesday.

New York-based BlackRock, which has publicly embraced investing more in renewable energy, criticized Hegar’s decision.

“This is not a fact-based judgment,” a spokesperson for the company said in a written statement. “BlackRock does not boycott fossil fuels — investing over $100 billion in Texas energy companies on behalf of our clients proves that.

“Elected and appointed public officials have a duty to act in the best interests of the people they serve,” the spokesperson added. “Politicizing state pension funds, restricting access to investments, and impacting the financial returns of retirees, is not consistent with that duty.”

The other nine companies banned completely are: BNP Paribas SA, a French international banking group; Swiss-based Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS Group AG; Danske Bank A/S, a Danish multinational banking and financial services corporation; London-based Jupiter Fund Management PLC, a fund management group; Nordea Bank ABP, a European financial services group based in Finland; Schroders PLC, a British multinational asset management company; and Swedish banks Svenska Handelsbanken AB and Swedbank AB.

[…]

Texas energy experts said the intent of the law, and Wednesday’s announcement, was to punish financial firms that don’t want to invest in the backbone of Texas’ economy — oil and gas.

“But at the end of the day, it’s all about a rate of return,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “Quite honestly, fossil fuel companies, in particular oil and gas companies, have not been great performers in the (stock market) prior to this year.”

The Lone Star Chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club said Hegar’s “climate-denying publicity stunt will be costly for taxpayers.”

​​“Major financial institutions like the ones on this list are beginning to recognize that investments in fossil fuels bring significant risk in the face of an inevitable clean energy transition, and that addressing the financial risks of the climate crisis is essential to good business,” said Sierra Club Fossil-Free Finance Campaign Manager Ben Cushing. “The fact that the Texas Comptroller has arbitrarily picked a handful of companies that, despite their climate commitments, continue to have massive fossil fuel investments, shows that this is nothing more than a political stunt at Texas taxpayers’ expense.”

We’ve already determined that Comptroller Hegar is math-challenged, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve also seen the Lege make similar laws to protect gun manufacturers and the country of Israel, about which more in a minute. I suppose one could make a protectionist case for this kind of legislative cherry-picking, and as someone old enough to remember the efforts to divest from South Africa in order to pressure it to abandon apartheid, there is certainly a moral case for this kind of law, if not for these specific ones. But if you’re going to go that route, you need to be clear about what you’re aiming at.

The firms on Hegar’s list are BlackRock, UBS Group, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Group, Danske Bank, Jupiter Fund Management, Nordea Bank, Schroders, Svenska Handelsbanken, Swedbank, and UBS Group.

Of the six firms that responded to the Houston Chronicle’s inquiries by press time, four deny that they are “boycotting” the oil and gas industry, even if they admittedly have some investments that reflect the growing influence of — and consumer and investor interest in — the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement.

“As we noted in our response to the Texas Comptroller, Credit Suisse is not boycotting the energy sector as the bank has ongoing partnerships and strong client relationships in the energy sector,” said a spokesperson for Credit Suisse, based in Zurich. Spokespeople for BlackRock, UBS Group, and Schroders made similar points in disputing the comptroller’s “boycotting” label.

[…]

This is a different approach than the one taken by BlackRock, for example, which had $287 billion in assets invested in energy companies globally as of June, $108 billion of which is invested in Texas energy companies, a spokesperson said.

There are “many similarities” between BlackRock’s approach to investing in the fossil fuel industry and that of other major firms, such as JP Morgan, didn’t make the list, said Andrew Poreda, senior vice president and senior ESG Research Analyst at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm based in Austin.

A “frequently asked questions” document prepared by Hegar’s office, raises questions itself about the state’s methodology, Poreda said. For example, the comptroller’s initial criteria included whether a firm had made public pledges to the Net Zero Banking Alliance or Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, which call for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, nearly three decades from now.

That’s not exactly radical territory. Oil and gas companies are openly talking about plans for the energy transition — including getting to net-zero emissions.

“Envisioning a different world in three decades hardly classifies as a boycott, and at this point is so far away that it is largely aspirational,” Poreda argues.

It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to make the base think they’re owning the libs. That’s Republican policy in a nutshell these days.

To bring it back to the Israel example for a minute, that law has been mostly blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that an engineering firm that couldn’t get a contract with the city of Houston had its free speech rights violated by the Texas law. I Am Not A Lawyer, but it sure looks to me like the laws banning “boycotts” of fossil fuels and gun manufacturers are at least in the same neighborhood as the anti-Israel boycott law is. Credit Suisse and Blackrock probably don’t need the state of Texas’ business, but other red states are adopting similar laws, and at some point it does start to cost them real money. When that happens, the lawyers usually get involved. I don’t know what happens from there, but I won’t be surprised if that’s where it goes. The Chron has more.

More on the Uvalde class action lawsuit

A few more details, anyway.

Charles Bonner served the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District with the multibillion-dollar claim Monday, requesting compensation for the victims. Bonner told The Texas Tribune he intended to serve Uvalde city leaders on Tuesday evening at a City Council meeting.

As evidence of the school district’s responsibility, the claim pointed to a Texas House committee’s report that investigated the shooting as well as law enforcement’s response. The report, which was published a month ago, found that “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” contributed to the gunman’s ability to get inside a classroom and law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting him.

[…]

The claim, which could become a precursor to a class-action lawsuit, puts the would-be defendants of a potential suit on notice. Bonner said he hopes to reach a settlement ahead of the class-action suit, but if those parties don’t come to the negotiating table, he plans to file the federal lawsuit in September.

Bonner said the claim seeks to establish a medical monitoring fund to pay for counseling for those affected by the incident and further compensation for the victims of the shooting, their families and the other people in the school on the day of the tragedy.

As it stands, the class named in the prospective lawsuit covers nine families of shooting victims, but Bonner said he expects that more people impacted by the shooting will sign on moving forward.

“The theme of this invitation to negotiate is accountability, responsibility and justice, and that’s what we want for everyone in that class. We will leave no victim behind,” Bonner said.

See here for some background on the lawsuit, and here for more on that House committee report. I don’t know what might qualify this as a class action lawsuit – I know that having multiple plaintiffs isn’t enough for that. I do know that $27 billion could pay for a lot of counseling and still provide for significant “further compensation”. I don’t expect there to be a settlement, though one presumes with an opening bid of $27 billion there’s plenty of room to negotiate, so we’ll see what the filing looks like next month. Any lawyers want to comment on this? ABC News and the Express News have more.

Judge rules Texas cannot ban handgun sales to 18-to-20-year olds

WTAF?

A federal court in Fort Worth on Thursday struck down a Texas prohibition that limited adults under 21 from carrying handguns.

Texas law bars most 18- to 20-year-olds in the state from obtaining a license to carry a handgun or carrying a handgun for self-defense outside their homes. Two plaintiffs, who fall within that age range, and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc., filed a lawsuit against the state to challenge the statute. The suit says the Texas law prevented the plaintiffs from traveling with a handgun between Parker, Fannin and Grayson counties, where they lived, worked and went to school.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote that the Second Amendment does not specify an age limit and protects adults under 21 years old.

“Based on the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, the Court concludes that the Second Amendment protects against this prohibition,” Pittman wrote in the ruling.

The order will not go into immediate effect. Pittman stayed the ruling for 30 days pending appeal.

I didn’t know this lawsuit existed; it was filed last November, apparently. The under-21 law is nothing new, I guess it was just a matter of someone deciding that now was the time to sue. I find the reasoning specious – if there’s no age limit in the constitution, then why allow the restriction for anyone under 18 as well? Sure, there are plenty of laws restricting other things that minors may want to buy, but if we are talking about Our Sacred God-Given Unalienable Right To Own Guns, then who cares about that? Eighteen is just as arbitrary as 21 when you get right down to it.

The ruling is on hold pending appeal, and I have questions about whether it actually will get appealed. Do you expect Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton to want to appeal this, and to have their hearts in it if they do? Color me suspicious. We’ll see what happens next.

Arredondo fired

Took awhile, but there it is.

The Uvalde school board agreed Wednesday to fire Pete Arredondo, the school district police chief broadly criticized for his response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in a vote that came shortly after he asked to be taken off of suspension and receive backpay.

Arredondo, widely blamed for law enforcement’s delayed response in confronting the gunman who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary, made the request for reinstatement through his attorney, George E. Hyde. The meeting came exactly three months after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at the school.

“Chief Arredondo will not participate in his own illegal and unconstitutional public lynching and respectfully requests the Board immediately reinstate him, with all backpay and benefits and close the complaint as unfounded,” Hyde said in a statement.

Arredondo didn’t attend the meeting, citing death threats made against him.

But about 100 people, including relatives of the shooting victims, showed up for the vote. Many chanted “coward” and “no justice, no peace.” Four people spoke during a public comment period before the seven-member board went into closed session to deliberate Arredondo’s employment, criticizing the decision to not discuss the matter in front of the public.

[…]

In his statement Wednesday, Arredondo’s lawyer said that the school district violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to provide him notice of the complaints against him and conduct an investigation of his response to the mass shooting ahead of the termination hearing.

Arredondo’s lawyer said that he received an email from the district on July 19, recommending his termination based on his failure to establish himself as the incident commander during the shooting, but argued the letter should have been sent earlier and in a physical format.

Arredondo was listed in the district’s active-shooter plan as the commanding officer, but the consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that Arredondo did not assume that role and no one else took over for him, which resulted in a chaotic law enforcement response.

See here and here for some background. I wasn’t particularly inclined to be sympathetic to Pete Arredondo, though I do agree that not all of the blame for the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary is his and I will push back against DPS’ self-serving efforts to scapegoat him, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. Seeing him refer to this as a “lynching” and whining about his “constitutional rights” in an employment matter confirms to me that I’m in the right place. Go away and find another line of work, dude. We’ll all be better off that way.

Class action lawsuit for Uvalde parents being prepped

There are a lot of blanks to be filled in for this. You can be sure I’ll be watching for them.

Some of the families affected by the Robb Elementary School mass shooting are now a part of a major lawsuit.

The class action lawsuit, which was announced Sunday, is going after several law enforcement agencies as well as the manufacturer of the gun used in the massacre.

”What we intend to do (is) to help serve this community, and that is to file a $27 billion civil rights lawsuit under our United States Constitution, one-of-a-kind in the whole world,” attorney Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner Law said.

The civil rights attorney is holding no punches. He intends to file a class action lawsuit against anyone who can be held responsible for what happened inside Robb Elementary on May 24.

“We have the school police, OK, Arredondo, we have the city police, and we have the sheriffs and we have the Texas Rangers, the DPS and we have the Border Patrol,” Bonner said.

The defendants also include gun manufacturer Daniel Defense and Oasis Outback, where the gunman bought the weapon used in the shooting.

“There will be some institutional defendants as well, such as school board or such as City Council or such as the City of the Uvalde,” Bonner said.

[…]

The suit is being filed on constitutionality, as Bonner said the victims, survivors, and their families had their 14th Amendment rights violated.

“People have a right to life under the 14th Amendment and what we’ve seen here is that the law enforcement agencies have shown a deliberate conscious disregard of the life,” Bonner said.

Bonner’s law firm is taking on this class action lawsuit with a team of other firms, including a local Uvalde law office and Everytown, a gun safety organization.

See here and here for some background, though it’s not clear to me that there’s a connection between the previous actions we’ve seen and this pending case. Attorney Bonner says he will file in September, after the Justice Department releases its report on Uvalde and the various law enforcement failures.

I have no idea what to expect from this lawsuit. I think the odds of the plaintiffs winning a judgment whose dollar value starts with a B are vanishingly small, but they could win multiple millions. How long it takes, and what the fallout from it might be – assuming they do in fact win and not have the suit tossed by an appeals court or SCOTUS – is anyone’s guess. We’ll know a little bit more next month.

A long look at the lack of accountability in Uvalde

CNN has a very long piece about how there are many investigations going on about the Uvalde massacre but seemingly little to hold anyone accountable for it. Uvalde residents, especially the parents of Robb Elementary children, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of information and the lack of action.

At Uvalde school district and city council meetings this week, community members again pressed their elected officials on why officers at the school that day haven’t been relegated to desk duty or fired. The school district superintendent also was asked why he had not sought an independent investigation into the tragedy, and the mayor was pressed on how and why the city chose an Austin, Texas, investigator to lead its internal review.

“We have yet, almost three months later, to hear any answers or to see any accountability from anybody at any level — from law enforcement officers, to campus staff, to central office and beyond,” Uvalde resident Diana Olvedo-Karau told the school board. “And we just don’t understand why. I mean, how can we lose 19 children and two teachers tragically, just horribly, and not have anybody yet be accountable.”

“It’s approaching three months, and we are still being placated with tidbits or being outright stonewalled or being given excuses” about the city police department’s response, said resident Michele Prouty, who passed out complaint forms against Uvalde police at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “What we have instead — what we are traumatized again and again by — is an inept, unstructured national embarrassment of a circus tent full of smug clowns. These clowns continue to cruise our streets sporting their tarnished badges.”

A looming US Department of Justice after-action report has perhaps the strongest chance of giving a clear understanding of how the day’s horrific events unfolded, experts who spoke to CNN said. Such reports tend to home in on opportunities for improvement, while discipline typically must be backed by precise allegations that would hold up if challenged by an officer or subject to court hearings or arbitration processes.

But it’s not clear precisely what parameters those who are overseeing reviews of the city and school district police departments are using to identify systemic failures or root out findings that could lead to discipline for officers.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has said its wide-ranging internal review could result in referrals to an inspector general. The agency also is conducting the criminal investigation into the Uvalde massacre itself — probing details such as how the shooter got his guns and his online communications before the attack — separate from the internal review of its officers’ conduct at Robb Elementary. Part of that work, it has said, is “examining the actions of every member of (a) law enforcement agency that day.” But it’s not clear whether officers are cooperating with the inquiry.

The district attorney reviewing the criminal investigation, Christina Mitchell Busbee, said she would “seek an indictment on a law enforcement officer for a criminal offense, when appropriate, under the laws of Texas.” But it’s not clear under what law any officer might be charged or whether evidence so far supports charges.

Meantime, how Texas DPS has cast its own role in the tragedy already has come under scrutiny. Its officers were at Robb Elementary earlier than previously known — and longer than Texas DPS has publicly acknowledged — materials reviewed by CNN show, with at least one DPS trooper seen running toward the school, taking cover behind a vehicle and then running toward an entrance within 2-1/2 minutes of the shooter entering. The agency’s director instead publicly has focused on when the first DPS agent entered the hallway where classrooms were under attack.

Further, a Texas DPS spokesperson who made three phone calls to a DPS sergeant inside the school during the 70-plus minutes officers waited to confront the gunman later gave journalists a narrative that quickly unraveled. Since then, news organizations, including CNN, have sued the Texas DPS for access to public records related to the massacre.

Amid the inconsistencies, the head of the state’s largest police union, along with a senior state lawmaker, have questioned Texas DPS’s ability to investigate itself. “I don’t know that we can trust them to do an internal investigation,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told CNN.

“It would be best if the investigation were headed up by an outside independent source that the public can have total confidence in,” said Wilkison, whose union represents law enforcement officers across the state, including some in Uvalde. 

[…]

It’s not clear whether any internal city investigation was underway between the May 24 massacre and the announcement of the internal investigation, though best practices for investigations dictate they usually begin as close to the incident as possible.

Then at a July 26 city council meeting, city officials said they’d hired the firm of Jesse Prado, a former Austin police homicide detective, to lead their review. Council members said their investigator should finish his work within two months, then Prado will make recommendations — possibly including disciplinary actions — to the council.

“If there’s any officer that’s in violation of any policy or procedure that they needed to act on and did not and might have caused these children to die, these teachers to die, I can assure you, heads are going to roll,” Uvalde City Councilmember Hector Luevano said during the session. Prado declined to comment for this story.

City officials, meantime, have refused for nearly two weeks to answer questions about their review of officers’ actions that day. Tarski Law, listed on the city council’s website as city attorney, also declined to comment and referred questions to Gina Eisenberg, president of a public relations firm that specializes in “crisis communications” and was hired by the city to field media requests. Eisenberg said the city would not comment. McLaughlin, the mayor, said Tuesday he couldn’t characterize the city’s relationship with Eisenberg, who hired her or who is paying her bill, saying, “I don’t know anything about her. I have nothing to do with it.”

Eisenberg also declined to answer questions about the city police department review process. McLaughlin was certain such a process existed but wasn’t aware of related procedures, he told CNN on Tuesday. The internal investigation led by Prado was launched August 1, Eisenberg said. The city attorney chose Prado for the job without a bidding process and based on word-of-mouth recommendations, the mayor told CNN; Tarski Law referred CNN to Eisenberg, who wouldn’t provide a copy of its contract with Prado’s firm, explain what the department’s internal affairs process was before the shooting or say whether that process was used at any time before Prado was hired. Eisenberg said the city would not release further information or comment.

The full scope of Prado’s investigation also isn’t clear — whether he’s conducting an after-action review meant to identify failures for future understanding or investigating specific allegations of broken rules in response to internal complaints, or some hybrid. Prado will have “free range to take the investigation wherever the investigation takes him,” McLaughlin told CNN on Tuesday. While it’s unlikely Prado’s source materials will be released, the mayor said, he vowed to make Prado’s report public after first sharing it with victims’ families — “if I have any say in it.”

“When we see that report, whatever it tells us we need to do and changes we need to make — if it tells us we need to let people go or whatever it tells us — then that’s what we will do,” McLaughlin told CNN.

[…]

While it’s unclear when any of the reviews of law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre will wrap up, the Texas DPS probe — like the others — could have implications for its own and other officers, raising the stakes for how impartially and transparently it’s handled. As with the other probes, too, how it’s conducted and what it concludes will impact what closure families of the slain in this small, tortured city can receive.

Texas DPS “was fast to wash its hands, to point fingers and to make sure that the general public, particularly the elected officials, knew that they were spotless, blameless and that this was a local problem,” said Wilkison, the police union chief.  ”No one created this environment, (in) which everyone’s to blame except DPS. No one did that except them. If we’re to never, ever let this happen in Texas, we have to know what happened, exactly what happened.”

Even with that long excerpt, there’s a ton more at the link, so go read the whole thing. I can’t say I’m a big fan of CLEAT, but Charley Wilkison is right that the report DPS is working on is deeply suspect. I expect that the Justice Department probe will be the most useful, but all they can do is make recommendations. They have no power to change anything. That’s up to DPS and the locals themselves, and it’s clear none of them are particularly motivated to examine themselves.

As I see it, there are two paths to actually making things happen. One is through lawsuits, filed by the parents of the murdered children. File against DPS, against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde police and the Uvalde school police, and so forth. This will be painful for them, it will take years to get to a conclusion, and it will be a massive fight to get the kind of information they’ve been demanding released, but the discovery process once it kicks in will be a very effective provider of sunlight. The downside is as noted – it will take years and be traumatic over and over again for the families – but in the end I would expect to finally get a real view of what happened, and maybe some financial penalties for the malfunctioning government entities.

The other is through elections. The people of Uvalde should give strong consideration to voting out their entire city and school district governments. Maybe some of those same parents might want to run for one or more of those offices. You want transparency, put some people in power who are truly committed to it. Along those same lines, voting in a new Governor would be the most direct route to getting transparency from DPS. I feel quite confident that Governor Beto O’Rourke will be delighted to appoint a new head of DPS with a mandate to clean house and make public all of the things that department did wrong in this debacle. Nothing like a little regime change to make things happen.

HISD buys stuff for its police

Okay, but I hope the plan to deal with an active shooter has more than this in it.

Houston ISD trustees Thursday evening approved a measure to buy 200 rifles, ammunition and 200 ballistic shields for the district’s police department, which Superintendent Millard House II said last week was not prepared with its current equipment to stop an active shooter.

Trustees voted 6-3 on the purchase after spending roughly an hour in closed executive session discussing the item and about 20 minutes of intense discussion from the dais. Trustee Dani Hernandez proposed postponing the measure by a week because she was “not willing” to proceed without more specific information. That effort, however, failed with a 3-6 vote.

Earlier in the meeting, about a dozen speakers urged the board to delay the vote or to vote no.

“I need more information about the broader safety plan for the district in general. At this time, I don’t believe I have all the information I need,” Hernandez said before the vote. “I don’t think that we have explored all options at this point — safety is essential for HISD.”

HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told the board last week he was confident in the training the police department had received but he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” The equipment to be purchased would be used to help with scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

“My officers are dedicated to our students and to our staff and regardless if we have the equipment or not, we are still going to respond,” Lopez said after the vote. “This act tonight will allow us to respond in a safer manner.”

The police gear will be for specific situations, not items that police will walk around with, House said.

“The bigger issue here is ensuring that they have all the tools possible so that they can be as safe as possible,” House said, “and provide the kind of safety that we want to provide on campuses.”

See here for the background. While in general I tend to think that most police departments have (and spend money on) too much stuff, I don’t have an opinion on this particular purchase. I’ll accept that they need it in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. I will just say again that all the manpower and equipment added up to diddly squat in Uvalde, so what I want – what I would think we would all want – is to know that there’s a plan in place for this kind of horrific scenario, and training in place to back it up. I still haven’t seen any talk about that, and that concerns me. Buying stuff is the easy part. Please reassure all of us that you’re at least working on the hard part, HISD.

Motherfuckergate

Sometimes, I just enjoy a a story about swearing.

Beto O’Rourke confronted a heckler Wednesday at a campaign event who laughed while he was talking about the Uvalde school shooting, telling the person, “It may be funny to you, motherfucker, but it is not funny to me.”

The moment, which spread quickly online afterward, came as the Democratic gubernatorial challenger was hosting an evening town hall in Mineral Wells. On live broadcasts of the event, loud laughing could be heard as O’Rourke described the impact of AR-15s, dropping to a knee to emphasize what he said were the wartime capabilities of the firearm.

O’Rourke’s admonishment of the person drew sustained applause and cheers from the crowd. He quickly moved on in his stump speech, talking about wanting to keep kids safe as the school year begins.

It is unclear who exactly was laughing, but tweets from the event showed there was a group of protesters present holding campaign signs for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. On one live broadcast, the camera panned to the group after O’Rourke’s response and showed one of them laughing.

“Nothing more serious to me than getting justice for the families in Uvalde and stopping this from ever happening again,” O’Rourke tweeted afterward.

It was not the first time O’Rourke has addressed heckling at an event while discussing gun violence. He responded less explicitly last month in Snyder, telling the person, “Might be funny to you. It isn’t to me.”

It’s well known by this point that Beto has a potty mouth, which for many of us is part of his appeal. I don’t know why this particular example of said saltiness went national, but it did. The story notes that while there have been some examples of tension and conflict at Beto rallies with Republican protesters and troublemakers, there have also been examples of Beto engaging with these Republicans in a fairly cordial and civil manner. There were enough of these that Team Abbott warned its supporters to avoid wearing GOP-branded attire to Beto rallies, for fear they may get involved in one of these examples of civil discourse and thus used as part of the case for Beto. Anway, while I don’t engage in a lot of profanity on this blog, sometimes one has to do what one has to do.

Also, too:

I mean, I know which of the two I find far more offensive.

DPS can keep Uvalde info secret for now

Hopefully not for much longer.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

A state district judge ruled Wednesday that the Department of Public Safety does not have to turn over records related to the Uvalde school shooting sought by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who had sued the state police in hopes of securing them.

The order by Travis County 419th Civil District Court Judge Catherine A. Mauzy was narrow, however, and sidestepped the question of whether the state police can withhold records concerning their response to the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School. Mauzy concluded that Gutierrez had not properly filed his request under the Texas Public Information Act, the state’s public records law, and therefore DPS was not obligated to fulfill it.

Still, the outcome grants a reprieve for the state police, who have fought to keep secret the details of how 91 officers responded to the shooting. Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, wrote a letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw on May 30, requesting the agency’s training manuals as well as any documents that detail how the state police responded to the shooting that day. In a hearing last week, DPS officials said that request should have gone to the agency’s media relations office.

Gutierrez said Wednesday he disagreed with the ruling and suggested the state police were simply looking for an excuse not to comply with his request. The lawmaker has been among the most critical state officials of how DPS has handled the shooting.

“It is most absurd that Department of Public Safety continues to fight even the most benign distribution of documents, like a training manual,” Gutierrez said. “And they refuse to do it because they’re culpable of their negligence and malfeasance on that day.”

See here for the background. Sen. Gutierrez has since released a statement that says he will appeal, and he will also re-file his request per the court’s orders. If so, then one way or another he should be able to get that information eventually. I’m sure we’ll have to go through more litigation before DPS complies. But I do expect that at some point they will have to.

How would HISD’s police respond to an active shooter incident?

It’s a question we would all rather not have to think about, but this is the world we live in. And at this time, the answer that Superintendent Millard House gave to that question was not reassuring.

Houston ISD’s police department would not be prepared should Texas’ largest school district be targeted by active shooter, Superintendent Millard House II said Thursday night.

“I don’t know that this has garnered community insight but what I do know is that, if there was an active shooter in HISD, our police department is not prepared,” House said during an agenda review meeting.

His remarks were in response to questioning from Trustee Dani Hernandez regarding an item the board is expected to vote on during next week’s meeting for purchase of items worth more than $100,000. The specific agenda item includes various purchases for the school district’s police department.

House said the district would be buying 200 rifles, 200 ballistic plate shields and rifle ammunition.

“As we study the Uvalde scenario and looked at what … proper preparation that needs to be in place, officers would not have been prepared for what that looks like,” House said.

[…]

Hernandez asked what research was guiding HISD, instead of feelings. House asked HISD police Chief Pete Lopez to share information in response to her question.

Lopez said research showed police who were better prepared helped in stopping a shooter faster. He was confident about training the district’s police force — estimated to be more than 200 employees — had received. But he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” He said they needed scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

The school district has about 195,000 students.

“The equipment that I’ve requested is to provide additional training to teach the officers how to breach the doors, how to use those shields and also quickly enter that room and neutralize the suspect,” Lopez said. “And of course save our students and our staff.”

Like I said, nobody wants to have to think about this. Given that we have to, there are two things that I want to know up front, based on what we have witnessed from Uvalde. One is that there is always a clear definition of who is in command at such a scene. While it’s unlikely that DPS and Border Patrol would show up at an HISD school wit an active shooter, HPD and the Sheriff’s office will almost certainly have officers on the scene. Make sure that there is a written policy that says who is the leader, so that we don’t have a nightmare situation where dozens of cops are waiting around for someone to tell them what to do. And two, the policy must also state that the top priority is going after the shooter, again to avoid a repeat of what happened at Robb Elementary. Everything else, from best practices to training to equipment to whatever else can be provided for. First and foremost, we have to make sure that there’s a commitment to stop the person or persons responsible for the shooting. You wouldn’t think this is a thing that needs to be said, and to be clearly spelled out in an official document for which there would be severe consequences for now following it, but it is and we do. So let’s make sure we have one. Campos has more.

House passes assault weapon ban

Another bill that won’t pass the Senate, but nonetheless shows the gap in values and priorities between the two parties.

As the House passed legislation to ban assault weapons for the first time in nearly two decades Friday, Democrats pointed to a string of mass shootings in Texas where such weapons were used to kill dozens of people: Nineteen children and two teachers in Uvalde in May; 23 shoppers in an El Paso Walmart almost exactly three years ago; 26 congregants in a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.

“We’ve turned our churches, our schools, our shopping centers, our entertainment venues — almost any place — into a battleground, with one massacre after another,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said some of her constituents who survived the mass shooting there in 2019 are still recovering from their injuries.

“The domestic terrorist who attacked my community was able to do so with a legally purchased assault weapon,” Escobar said. “What was once an unthinkable tragedy — the mass carnage we saw in El Paso — is now commonplace across America.”

[…]

The bill narrowly passed the House on a 217-213 vote as five Democrats joined all but two Republicans in opposing the legislation.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen — two Democrats whom Republicans have targeted in competitive South Texas midterm races — voted against the ban.

Gonzalez said in a statement that he “strongly supports” expanded background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“But there are tens of millions of assault rifles already in circulation across America, many of them are used by responsible gun owners for hunting in South Texas,” he said. “And a ban on some of those models will do nothing to reduce overall risks.”

The vote comes at the urging of gun safety advocates and survivors and family members of victims of recent mass shootings. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed at Robb Elementary School, asked lawmakers to ban the weapons during testimony before the House Oversight Committee last month.

“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony, thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain.’ Not knowing that our reality one day will be hers,” Rubio said. “Unless we act now.”

The bill would ban new sales of assault-style rifles and create a voluntary buyback program. It would add new safe storage requirements for existing assault weapons.

Three points of interest here. One, while I would have preferred for Reps. Cuellar and Gonzalez to have voted with the majority, I’m less concerned by such votes when the bill passes anyway. As long as you’re not preventing it from passing, like some Senators I could name, it doesn’t bother me that much. Your mileage may vary on that.

Two, I’m not interested in litigating what the definition of an “assault weapon” is. We’ve had such a ban on the books before, and if this bill is modeled after that law, it’s good enough for me. Including buyback and safe storage provisions are bonuses. I don’t need this law to be perfect, I just need it to have a positive effect.

Which leads to the final point, that Rep. Gonzalez’s complaint that this bill won’t reduce the overall risk is wrong on its face and is wrong in the way that the more sweeping critique of any gun control law that it won’t stop every gun death ever is wrong. I’m not going to make the cyberdefense analogy here again, but that’s the basic idea. It’s fine for each law to focus on one or two specific aspects of the issue. Do that enough and the sum total will be a robust attack on the overall risk level. You can never get the risk to zero, in cybersecurity or public health or climate change or gun safety or national defense or any number of other large multi-faceted threats. But you can significantly lower your risk and improve your ability to respond effectively when something unwanted happens. We do this all the time in many other fields, and making the “we shouldn’t do this thing because it won’t solve all of our problems” argument in those contexts would mark you as ignoramus. It’s way past time we stopped giving those arguments against basic gun safety laws any credibility. The Trib has more.

Uvalde school board asks for a special session on guns

They’re not going to get it, just like everyone else who has asked that Greg Abbott Do Something about them.

The Uvalde school board is formally urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call state lawmakers back to Austin so they can raise the legal age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21, more than two months after a gunman used such a weapon to kill 19 elementary school students and two teachers days after he turned 18.

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District trustees approved the largely symbolic resolution in a unanimous vote on the same night they voted to delay the start of the school year. Trustees moved the first day of school from Aug. 15 to Sept. 6 so that more security improvements can be made to campuses and district staffers can receive trauma-informed training.

Uvalde County commissioners have also asked Abbott, who in June asked the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make recommendations in the aftermath of the shooting, to call a special session to increase the legal age to buy an assault rifle. Democrats have made similar calls since the May 24 shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary. The governor is the only Texas official with the power to call special legislative sessions.

In an emailed response to The Texas Tribune, a spokesperson from Abbott’s office said the governor “has taken immediate action to address all aspects” of the massacre in Uvalde.

“As Governor Abbott has said from day one, all options remain on the table as he continues working with state and local leaders to prevent future tragedies and deploy all available resources to support the Uvalde community as they heal,” the spokesperson said. “More announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks as the legislature deliberates proposed solutions.”

The vote on both items comes more than a week after a Texas House report detailed a series of “systemic failures” that allowed for the gunman to enter Robb Elementary in Uvalde and remain inside two adjoined classrooms for more than 73 minutes before law enforcement confronted him.

See here for some background. Two things to note here. One is that Abbott’s canned response every time someone asks him to Do Something to prevent teenagers from legally buying high-powered automatic weapons that they use to kill children is basically “I already did, so leave me alone”. He doesn’t want to take action, or to commit to something that might lead to action, so he deflects and hopes no one notices.

Two, the otherwise pretty good House report did not have any specific policy recommendations, such as raising the minimum age for purchasing the aforementioned weapons to 21. One assumes they got some sense of direction if not from Abbott himself then from the official Republican position, which is almost certainly farther to the right than the consensus of the individual members. I mean, I wouldn’t expect there to be anything like a majority within the GOP caucus for raising the age to 21, but I would expect there to be more than enough support when combined with Dems to pass such a bill in the House. I’d also expect that to have at least plurality support among self-identified Republicans, though likely not among Republican primary voters. Which in the end is the group that matters here. The obvious answer, if this is what one wants, is to elect enough Dems to make it happen, at least in the House. I’d still expect it to die in the Senate, but at least we’d have it all on record.

One more thing:

At a school board meeting last week, Uvalde residents called for district officials to fire district police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was among the first officers to arrive at the school the day of the shooting. School board members were scheduled to discuss that Saturday, but the school district postponed the meeting at the request of the police chief’s lawyer.

See here and here for the background. I was hoping to see an update on when this might happen, but not yet. I’ll keep watching.

Protecting those poor, discriminated against gun manufacturers

I have three things to say about this.

Texas lawmakers, frustrated with what they viewed as liberal political activism from some of the titans of American industry, banned banks last year from doing business with Texas municipalities unless they could certify to the state attorney general they don’t “discriminate” against the gun industry.

The Legislative Budget Board, which estimates the costs of proposed legislation, predicted no significant financial impact on the state or on local governments.

But in the first eight months since the law was enacted, local governments seeking to finance building projects through bonds — for instance school districts trying to build new football stadiums, cities looking to upgrade their airports — have already paid between $300 million and $500 million more in increased interest payments, according to a study from a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Federal Reserve economist based in Washington.

And the paper estimates the annual cost in higher interest payments will be around $445 million per year going forward, if nothing changes.

“There’s a cost to making this political statement. We can say that cost for Texas is between $300 million and $500 million dollars,” said Daniel Garrett, the professor.

The bill, SB19, was aimed at large banks that reconsidered their investment in the gun industry in the wake of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead. For instance, Bank of America refuses to fund companies that build military style rifles for civilian use. JP Morgan Chase won’t fund companies that sell guns to people under the age of 21. And Citigroup won’t fund those that don’t background-check all buyers.

Citigroup announced its updated policy on guns in a blog post one month after the Parkland massacre, with an executive vice president calling for “our grief to turn into action” and for the U.S. to “adopt common-sense measures that would help prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands.”

The gun industry and its allies say the policies amounted to attempts from the banks to coerce customers to endorse their politics.

“Texas’ law has become probably the blueprint for other states considering similar legislation, and similar legislation has been introduced in congress,” said Mark Oliva, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which lobbied for SB19. Other states such as Georgia, Wyoming and Oklahoma have passed similar laws, Oliva said, and there are more to come.

[…]

The paper analyzed interest rates before and after five banks backed away from the state last fall — JP Morgan, Citi, Bank of America, Fidelity and Goldman Sachs — to estimate the effect of their departure. Those banks have traditionally financed about 15 percent of the total number of loans taken out by Texas governments, but the average size of those projects is about $120 million.

As a result, the effects are particularly concentrated among large school districts and cities that frequently borrow money to finance those larger projects, Garrett said.

“The way it would manifest is when they reach out to their banker to see how much it’s going to cost to, say, refinance the bonds they borrowed back in 2019, or something. Their banker is gonna say, Hey, I’m not in Texas anymore. And then when they call someone else, they’re gonna get a bid that looks really high,” Garrett said.

1. My first instinct was to be outraged at this story, but on reflection I see it as a sign of decline for the gun industry. They’ve entered a place similar to where the tobacco industry was in the 80s, which is to say where mainstream public opinion was turning decisively against them. And much like the tobacco industry at that time, the gun industry needs to be propped up by its hardcore political supporters, to try to slow down that decline. This is a long-term decline – it took 20-30 years for cigarettes to basically disappear from most people’s lives, and the gun industry has some powerful friends and deep pockets, with a lot of people still willing to buy their products – but I believe it’s there. When staid and status quo-oriented firms like those five banks would rather not do business with you, you’re on the way out whether you like it or not.

2. That said, in the short term things can get worse in various ways, and the price that cities and school districts will have to pay for this fit of pique is one of those ways. While rural and Republican areas will also feel some of this pain, the fact that it is cities and school districts on the sharp end of the stick here is very much a feature and not a bug as far as the law’s authors are concerned. They will feel no pressure to do anything about it.

3. Man, the list of laws we’re going to have to repeal or completely rewrite in order to undo the damage of 20+ years of Republican dominance in this state just keeps on getting longer. I hope someone better organized than I am is keeping track of this.

Uvalde school superintendent recommends firing Arredondo

I suspect he’ll get his wish.

Uvalde school officials will decide the fate of district police Chief Pete Arredondo during a special meeting Saturday after Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended the police chief’s firing.

The meeting falls almost two months after Arredondo was among the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene of Texas’ worst school shooting.

Blame for the fiercely criticized response to the massacre — during which law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter — has largely fallen on Arredondo. The district placed him on administrative leave roughly one month after the shooting.

[…]

Much of Uvalde residents’ anger over the delayed response to the shooting has been directed toward Arredondo. In a school board meeting Monday, residents chastised school officials for not already firing Arredondo. They also criticized officials for what residents saw as slow attempts to improve campus safety.

Arredondo’s actions at the scene were also criticized in a Texas House committee report released Sunday, though the report also points to the failure of other agencies to respond appropriately. Arredondo was among 376 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies on the scene. The responding officers, though, lacked clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report states.

The consensus of those interviewed by the House committee was that either Arredondo — or no one — was in charge at the scene, which several witnesses described as chaotic.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Arredondo said he did not think he was the incident commander on the scene. Yet according to the school district’s active-shooter response plan, authored in part by Arredondo, the district chief would “become the person in control of the efforts of all law enforcement and first responders that arrive at the scene.”

See here and here for some background. I agree that Arredondo bears a lot of responsibility for the response – it’s mind-boggling that he didn’t think he was in charge, especially without having explicitly handed over command to DPS or Border Control or whoever – and I’d vote to kick him if I were on the Uvalde school board, but he’s hardly the only incompetent here. The report was clear that DPS and the other law enforcement agencies on site were part of the chaos, and we have previous and more recent reporting on DPS’s failures. Maybe someone should suggest to Greg Abbott that he do Steve McCraw next? But then Abbott would have to admit some responsibility as well, and we know that’s not going to happen.

On a more practical level, the “I didn’t think I was in charge here” issue is something that the Lege can and should address. It may be a matter of handing the issue off to a committee or an agency – ironically, DPS might be best suited for this – and then mandating that the process and its details be drilled into every current and future cop. Because Lord knows, until we actually get serious about curbing gun violence, situations like this will come up again. And we’ll have even less of an excuse for not knowing how to handle it. Texas Public Radio has more.

House committee report on the Uvalde massacre

The special State House committee that was tasked with investigating the response to the Uvalde mass shooting released its report yesterday. The report identified numerous failures, in law enforcement and in the school and in other systems, though it’s clear to me that they studiously avoided mentioning one particular type of failure. I’ll get there in a minute. First, the law enforcement failures.

The 18-year-old who massacred 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde on May 24 had no experience with firearms before his rampage began. He targeted an elementary school with an active shooter policy that had been deemed adequate but also a long history of doors propped open.

No one was able to stop the gunman from carrying out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, in part because of “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by nearly everyone involved who was in a position of power, a new investigation into the shooting has found.

On Sunday, a Texas House committee is releasing the most exhaustive account yet of the shooter, his planning, his attack and the fumbling response he provoked.

The 77-page report, reviewed by The Texas Tribune, provides a damning portrayal of a family unable to recognize warning signs, a school district that had strayed from strict adherence to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.

It explains how the gunman, who investigators believe had never fired a gun before May 24, was able to stockpile military-style rifles, accessories and ammunition without arousing suspicion from authorities, enter a supposedly secure school unimpeded and indiscriminately kill children and adults.

In total, 376 law enforcement officers — a force larger than the garrison that defended the Alamo — descended upon the school in a chaotic, uncoordinated scene that lasted for more than an hour. The group was devoid of clear leadership, basic communications and sufficient urgency to take down the gunman, the report says.

Notably, the investigation is the first so far to criticize the inaction of state and federal law enforcement, while other reports and public accounts by officials have placed the blame squarely on Uvalde school police Chief Pete Arredondo, for his role as incident commander, and other local police who were among the first to arrive.

The report also reveals for the first time that the overwhelming majority of responders were federal and state law enforcement: 149 were U.S. Border Patrol, and 91 were state police — whose responsibilities include responding to “mass attacks in public places.” There were 25 Uvalde police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies. Arredondo’s school police force accounted for five of the officers on the scene. The rest of the force was made up of neighboring county law enforcement, U.S. Marshals, and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.

The investigators said that in the absence of a strong incident commander, another officer could have — and should have — stepped up to the task.

“These local officials were not the only ones expected to supply the leadership needed during this tragedy,” the report said. “Hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police — quickly arrived on the scene.”

The other responders “could have helped to address the unfolding chaos.”

The three committee members — Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman — said they sought to create a comprehensive account the Legislature can use to craft policies aimed at preventing future massacres. The trio also sought to present an accurate narrative to the public, in contrast to several conflicting and retracted accounts provided by other officials, including the governor and state police, in the seven weeks since the tragedy that have undermined residents’ trust in the ongoing investigations.

They dedicated the document to the 21 people killed in the shooting, and first unveiled their findings during a private meeting with Uvalde residents on Sunday.

“The Committee issues this interim report now, believing the victims, their families, and the entire Uvalde community have already waited too long for answers and transparency,” the report reads.

The report is not yet public, or at least it wasn’t when I drafted this post on Sunday. The chain-of-command failure seems like one for which there ought to be an objective solution, which could be mandated by state law or recommended via a state or federal agency. I mean, we all know there are going to be more of these mass shootings, so the least we can do – the very least we the public can reasonably expect – is that law enforcement agencies have their act together and know who’s in charge when this happens. It makes sense to me that the locals start out in charge, but there ought to be some mechanism and process for either handing that off to another agency or having it taken by them if the situation warrants. I’m no expert and don’t know what the best answer may be, but any idiot can see that what went down in Uvalde was absolutely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen again.

The report also looked at the shooter, the ways he was failed as a child by those around him, and the warning signs he was giving off before the murders.

A year before the Uvalde school massacre, the gunman had already earned the nickname “school shooter” — a running joke among those he played online games with. He had also started wearing all black and making over-the-top threats, especially toward women, who he terrorized with graphic descriptions of violence and rape.

[…]

Salvador Ramos — who the committee is only referring to as “the attacker” so as to deny him the notoriety and fame he desired — also shot and wounded his grandmother, Celia Gonzales, before storming the school.

He was born in Fargo, North Dakota but moved to Uvalde as a child with his sister and mother, who struggled with a long history of drug use. A former girlfriend interviewed by the FBI said she believed the shooter had been sexually assaulted at an early age by one of the mother’s boyfriends but that she didn’t believe him.

Relatives described him as someone shy and quiet who was reluctant to interact with others because he had a speech impediment. When he started school, his pre-K teacher described him as a “wonderful student,” always ready to learn and with a positive attitude.

Then, something changed. He started falling behind in school but never received special education services, despite being identified as “at-risk” and having someone request speech therapy for him, according to the report, citing school records.

Family and friends told the committee he was bullied throughout the fourth grade over his stutter, short haircut and clothing. He often wore the same clothing day after day. One time, a girl tied his shoelaces together causing him to fall on his face, a cousin said.

Beginning in 2018, he was recording more than 100 absences a year, along with failing grades. But the report authors said it was unclear whether a school resource officer ever visited his home. By 2021, when he was 17 years old, he had only completed ninth grade, the report’s authors wrote.

When students started to return to school following the pandemic, he dropped out. Instead of trying to fit in, as he had done in the past, he grew more isolated and retreated to the online world. Uvalde High School officials involuntarily withdrew him on October 28, citing “poor academic performance and lack of attendance.”

[…]

Online, the report authors said, he started to show an interest in gore and violent sex, sometimes sharing videos and images of suicides and beheadings. He became enraged and threatened others, especially female players, when he lost games.

Privately, he wrote about his challenges connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, saying he was “not human.” His search history, the authors of the report wrote, suggest he was wondering whether he was a sociopath. His internet searches led to him receiving an email about obtaining psychological treatment for the condition.

Attacking women became a pattern. He was also fired from his job at a Whataburger after a month for threatening a female coworker. And later he was let go of his job at Wendy’s.

Despite losing his jobs, living at home allowed him to save money. By the end of 2021, when clues of his plans first surfaced, he ordered rifle slings, a red dot sight and shin guards, as well as a body armor carrier he wore the day of the Robb Elementary massacre. But because he was still 17 at the time, he wasn’t legally allowed to buy the weapons and at least two people he asked refused.

He started becoming fascinated with school shootings and increasingly seeking notoriety and fame on social media, the report said.

[…]

He confided in an older cousin who was also staying with their grandmother that he didn’t want to live anymore. But the cousin told authorities she thought she’d gotten through to him after a lengthy “heart-to-heart.”

Instead, Ramos began to buy more firearm accessories beginning in February, including 60 30-round magazines. As soon as he turned 18, on May 16, he started buying guns and ammunition. In the end he bought two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds. In total, he spent more than $6,000, the committee found.

He had no criminal history nor had he ever been arrested. There was nothing in his background that kept him from owning the weapons. And while multiple gun sales within a short period of time are reported to the ATF, the committee report authors point out that the law only requires purchase of handguns to be reported to the local sheriff.

“Here, the information about the attacker’s gun purchases remained in federal hands,” they wrote.

Online, the shooter started to reference a timeline, foreshadowing his plans.

Emphasis mine. To me, the single biggest failure is that this guy was able to buy all this stuff, without which there could have been no massacre. Why should any minor be able to buy the paraphernalia he bought, and why should anyone at any age be able to buy AR-15s with thousands of rounds of ammunition? I’m not making a constitutional argument here, I’m making a moral one. I say we’d be living in a healthier and safer society right now if no one outside the military had access to such weaponry.

I don’t expect such a statement to be in a report like this, but the much milder suggestion that maybe limiting the sale of most guns and gun accessories to people over the age of 21 is an idea worth exploring would have been appropriate. The longer we refuse to take any kind of proactive steps to reduce mass shootings, the more extreme and extensive the reactive steps we will be forced to take to try to mitigate them. We can fixate all we want on the laxness of door-locking at Robb Elementary, or we can try to make it harder for people to stockpile weapons in sufficient quantities as to intimidate police departments.

Anyway. A brief summary of the highlights from the report is here. The House committee can write a report and make recommendations, but only the Governor can call a special session to pass laws that those recommendations suggest. Don’t expect much of a response from Greg Abbott et al.

UPDATE: Here’s one response: A Uvalde police lieutenant who led the department the day it was part of the fiercely criticized response to the worst school shooting in Texas history has been placed on administrative leave, according to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. We’ll see if DPS or any other agency sees similar fallout.

Are we going to get law enforcement video from Uvalde or not?

Still waiting.

A bureaucratic spat over whether to release video from inside Robb Elementary School during the May 24 mass shooting grew increasingly complex on Monday after a key Texas state legislator suggested that there was now finally an agreement between law enforcement and local officials to disclose a portion of the footage — only for one of the parties to the supposed agreement to quickly rebuff that claim.

At a hearing in the state capitol in Austin, Rep. Dustin Burrows, the chairman of a special Texas House panel investigating the Robb shooting, announced Monday morning that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the mayor of Uvalde had reached a deal to disclose surveillance video showing officers gathered in the hallway outside of the classroom containing the 21-year-old gunman.

But within hours of Burrows’ comment, the Texas Department of Public Safety gave ABC News a July 8 letter it sent to the chairman informing him that the law enforcement agency could not unilaterally grant his request for the tapes, citing instruction from the Uvalde-area district attorney, Christina Busbee.

“[Busbee] has objected to releasing the video and has instructed us not to do so,” according to the letter, which was signed by DPS Deputy Director Freeman Martin. “As the individual with authority to consider whether any criminal prosecution should result from the events in Uvalde, we are guided by her professional judgment regarding the potential impact of releasing the video.”

After Monday’s hearing concluded, Burrows clarified his earlier comments, telling ABC News, “We’re still working on getting the video released, but no agreements.” Busbee did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

[…]

On Sunday, families of the victims gathered in Uvalde’s town square to voice their frustrations with state and local leaders over their handling of the shooting and subsequent investigations. The event was called The Unheard Voices March & Rally, as a reflection of the sentiment shared by many residents of the small West Texas town.

The public back-and-forth over whether and what investigative evidence to publicly share from inside the school has become a source of conflict between some family members of the victims and officials who claimed to represent their interests. Busbee has said that releasing footage could hinder her ongoing probe into whether the shooting warrants any criminal charges.

Over the weekend, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin accused Busbee of misleading family members about McLaughlin’s support for releasing certain footage showing the police response during the rampage.

On Friday, McLaughlin affirmed his support for the release of “all videos,” including “the entire 77-minute hallway video … up the moment of the breach.” But less than 24 hours later, he issued a follow-up statement clarifying that he only sought the release of video showing the police response — not any children or any images from the classroom.

In the course of his about-face, McLaughlin claimed that Busbee had been “advising” families of the victims that he supported releasing videos showing deceased children, and accused her of “not telling the truth.”

McLaughlin later told ABC News that video from the hallway inside of Robb would “contradict misconceptions that Uvalde police were the only ones inside with weapons,” and releasing the tape would “provide transparency to everyone.”

See here for the previous update. On the one hand, I don’t care who’s to blame for what didn’t happen in Uvalde. The much bigger problem is the one in which violent 18-year-olds – or anyone really, but let’s focus on what should be the easier bit of this to address – can easily buy guns that can kill a lot of people in a short period of time. That’s not going to be affected by the release of these videos. On the other hand, and at a very basic level, we deserve to know the truth. This was a massive failure, what should be the last time anyone would believe the “good guy with a gun” canard. I don’t want to add to the pain of any Uvalde family members, but I can’t see how what we’re doing now is any better for them. Release the tapes already.

We’re number one in the worst way

Bad and getting worse.

When a disturbed teenager in Uvalde sought a high-powered rifle that could fire numerous rounds, he didn’t have far to go. Texas has more licensed gun dealers and manufacturers than any other state, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal gun licensing data.

Texas is home to slightly more than 6,000 gun sellers, according to May 2022 licensing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That’s more than twice as many as any other state.

Texas also led the U.S. in estimated minimum gun sales from 2017 to 2020, according to a new ATF report, and was first in most major categories of licensed gun sales.

On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers, pushing Texas past California for the most mass shootings in the nation — a total of 31. The FBI defines mass shootings as incidents in which at least four people are murdered with a gun.

Texas also has had more people killed in mass shootings than any other state, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety stretching back to 2009, and the second-highest number of people killed in a single mass shooting, behind Nevada.

Researchers and gun safety advocates aren’t surprised by mass shootings in Texas, where guns are plentiful and accessible largely due to lax and permissive laws.

It’s easier for teenagers in Texas to buy an AR-15 than it is a handgun, or even a beer. The high-powered AR-15 rifle, similar to the Army’s M-16, is the weapon of choice for many mass murderers bent on achieving the highest body count possible.

“At times, common sense measures seem to be within reach and then are not fulfilled,” said Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a public safety nonprofit.

Golden said her group has been fighting for gun safety laws in Texas for years but that it’s become even more challenging and “more divisive here.” Mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns is one of the proposals that went nowhere in the Texas Legislature, she said.

[…]

But Texas is not the worst state for gun safety, according to at least one advocacy group.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s annual scorecard rated Texas the 15th worst state for gun safety laws. Arkansas was rated the worst in the nation.

Ari Freilich, state policy director for the Center, said his organization gave Texas an F, its lowest grade, in the scorecard issued last year. Texas, he said, has above-average rates of gun homicide. And the problem is getting worse, he added. Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred in Texas while Greg Abbott was governor, he said.

Freilich said gun homicide rates rose 66% while Abbott was governor and that since he took office in 2015, more than 570 Texas children have been killed with guns — more than any other state during that period.

This story was from before the passage of the modest bipartisan gun control bill, so adjust your perspective accordingly. I don’t have anything useful of my own to say, but this Trib story has some good information.

“The idea that gun laws won’t have an impact in reducing mass shootings and school shooting violence is a myth,” said Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University who studies gun violence.

Simply requiring guns to be stored safely, for example, or outlawing high-capacity magazines wouldn’t eliminate mass shootings, he said, but “the idea is to reduce the gun violence.”

Texans and other Americans support many of the proposals, according to recent polling. What gets in the way, various experts said, is politics.

[…]

Studies and experts from various fields say less controversial steps short of an assault weapons ban would have an impact on all gun violence. Those include raising the age for legal purchase of a long arm from 18 to 21, as is typically the case for handguns, or banning large-capacity magazines, a move studies have shown can at least limit fatalities in mass shootings.

Experts also point to successes with red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others, and safe storage laws that require firearms to be locked when stored. They have also urged implementing universal background checks.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has long studied mass killings, said the policy changes are the right things to do, but not only for mass shootings.

“If we reduce mass shootings by 10%, we can reduce homicides by 20%,” he said.

[…]

Klarevas at Columbia University said the law enforcement response in Uvalde this month knocks down the argument that good guys with guns are the solution to shootings. He hopes lawmakers and policymakers can find compromise by shifting their framework for debate.

“What we really want isn’t good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns,” Klarevas said. “What we really want is bad guys without guns. That’s a better strategy.”

[…]

“A challenge we face here is that everybody is looking for one answer, one thing. That doesn’t exist,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at State University of New York at Oswego. “We’re dealing with very complex phenomena that go in spider webs in so many different directions but all weaved together.”

Jimmy Perdue, president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said last week he agrees with the argument that those with ill intent will find a way to get guns. He argued that mental illness and a societal devaluation of the sanctity of life are causes of mass shootings. Still, he said, access does matter.

He said “the time has come” for the state to make it harder for some people to get firearms, especially with a continuing rise in gun violence in Texas and throughout the country.

“There are certainly measures that could be put into place that limit access, whether that be raising the age or some sort of background checks or waiting periods,” Perdue said. “No one thing is going to prevent it from happening, but I tend to come down on the side of if we can put some measures in place that can prevent one or two, it’s better than nothing.”

Okay, there is something useful I can say here, and it’s a thing I believe I have mentioned before. Building on what those last two people said, which the story then goes into further, the best approach to reducing gun violence is the same as the approach to cybersecurity. There is no one big thing that prevents cyber incidents, but there are a bunch of overlapping and sometimes redundant smaller things that you can do that in the aggregate do a lot to reduce your risk, and also do a lot to minimize the damage when something does get through. You can never fully protect yourself, but you can greatly improve your overall safety. No one security measure can guard against everything – to even think along those lines is self-defeating – but each thing plays a part and adds to the big picture.

Public health, which gun violence is a part of, is the same basic idea as well. I can’t guarantee that you won’t get COVID, but vaccinations plus boosters plus improved ventilation plus masking where appropriate plus testing will make it less likely you’ll get sick and more likely you’ll avoid the hospital if you do get sick. It’s not perfect and there are some tradeoffs and your risk profile might be different than mine, but it sure is better than what we were facing two years ago. Better outcomes are possible, if we want them. The rest is up to us.

A few words about the state of the Governor’s race

There are many factors.

A school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead. The end of a nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion.

A history-making spring in Texas is laying the groundwork for a contentious final four months in the race to lead the state, where Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott remains the favorite but is confronting his toughest Democratic opponent yet in Beto O’Rourke.

While O’Rourke works to harness the anti-incumbent energy spurred by the seismic events of the past few months, Abbott is banking on a general election centered on stronger issues for him: the economy and the border. But even as the national environment looks bleak for Democrats, O’Rourke has been able to keep the race competitive in Texas — and Abbott’s campaign is not taking any chances.

“People are energized right now, but you know, our job is going to be to keep them that way up until Election Day on Nov. 8,” said Kim Gilby, chair of the Democratic Party in Williamson County, a battleground county north of Austin that in 2018 went for both O’Rourke for U.S. Senate and Abbott for governor. “We can’t just lose sight — there’s so much at stake right now.”

Gilby added she was not worried about O’Rourke’s ability to keep people engaged, calling him the “Energizer bunny” of the campaign trail.

Abbott still carries most of the advantages in the race — money, for one, and a midterm election that is expected to favor Republicans across the country. The governor’s allies argue that voters are more worried about the skyrocketing inflation and illegal immigration — and that O’Rourke cannot separate himself from President Joe Biden, who is very unpopular in Texas.

“First and foremost, those [social] issues won’t overcome the reality of Biden’s economy and when you ask Texans what are their biggest issues, their answers are inflation, the economy and the border,” said Dennis Bonnen, the former Texas House speaker, adding he doesn’t think attitudes in Texas about abortion and guns are enough to move the needle. “Those are issues that have been around forever. The lines have been drawn … and I don’t see significant movement either way.”

Abbott himself has downplayed the political impact of Roe v. Wade getting overturned, arguing that his gubernatorial race in 2014 against then-state Sen. Wendy Davis was a “referendum on the issue of abortion” and he won resoundingly.

To O’Rourke and his supporters, though, this spring has been game-changing. His campaign said it has had 52,000 volunteer shift sign-ups in the five weeks since the Uvalde shooting, a 300% increase over the five weeks prior. After the Roe v. Wade ruling, which came on a Friday, the campaign set out to knock on 30,000 doors over the following weekend and hit 30,279 through 87 separate block walks statewide.

“For us to do that four months away from when this election is decided just shows you how energized the people of Texas are,” O’Rourke said on a Facebook Live afterward.

Beto mentions the latest Quinnipiac poll to bolster his case for optimism. This story came out before both the CBS/YouGov poll, which as noted was done at least partly before the Dobbs decision was released, and the UT/Texas Politics Project poll, which was done fully before Dobbs. We’ll surely get more polling data soon enough, and we’ll see fundraising reports soon. Those are the main objective things one can point to, the rest is mostly vibes. As Scott Braddock put it on the Tuesday CityCast Houston podcast, Abbott is the favorite but Beto has a chance. He’ll need a lot to go right – this story talks about those things, as well as the things that likely won’t go so well for him – and he’ll need to deliver a message that resonates. He’s been delivering a strong critique of Abbott, and he’s absolutely been drawing crowds and generating excitement. He’s just doing it from a non-advantageous starting point. Check back after we get some more of the objective stuff and we’ll see how the vibes are.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 39

One more pre-Dobbs result to consider.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke narrowed to 6 points last month, according to a poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s a smaller gap than when Republican George W. Bush ousted Democrat Ann Richards in 1994 with a 7.6-point win.

Abbott’s unfavorability ratings are also the highest they’ve ever been at 44%, according to the poll, which was conducted after the deadliest school shooting in state history and almost entirely before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said the mass shooting in Uvalde and scrutiny over how it was handled could have contributed to Abbott’s increased unfavorability, but it’s hard to say how much exactly.

The political poll did not include specific questions related to the shooting in Uvalde, but it did ask participants to rate Abbott’s performance on handling gun violence. About 36% of participants said they approve of how the governor has handled this issue, while 45% said they disapprove.

The mass shooting in Uvalde and the overturning of Roe v. Wade have laid the groundwork for a contentious final four months in the race to lead the state. While O’Rourke works to harness the anti-incumbent energy spurred by the seismic events of the past few months, Abbott is banking on a general election centered on stronger issues for him: the economy and the border.

Mounting expectations over how the Supreme Court would rule on abortion access could be another factor that contributed to Abbott’s weakened ratings, Henson said. Although the poll ended the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned, it included questions about abortion access that show how voters feel regarding the issue. About 36% of participants said they approve of how Abbott has handled policies related to abortion access, and 46% said they disapprove.

Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned and Texas is poised to completely outlaw abortion access, it will likely be a pivotal topic in the upcoming months, Henson said.

“If we look back at the half dozen times we’ve asked the standard abortion questions since 2014, no more than a quarter of Republicans have ever said that by law abortion should never be permitted,” he said.

A fuller writeup, plus links to all the poll’s data, is here. I don’t appear to have blogged about previous UT/TPP polls, though I have discussed their previous polling about abortion, but their April poll had Abbott up 48-37, and their February poll had him up 47-37. This poll was conducted from June 16-24, so just before the Dobbs ruling came down, and was on a sample of 1200 registered voters. That CBS/YouGov poll I mentioned yesterday was partially before the Dobbs ruling and partially after, though with no discussion of what effect if any was observed as a result.

The poll also notes that Sen. John Cornyn’s approval ratings took a hit after the passage of that modest gun control bill. I’m not terribly interested in that, but knock yourself out if you are. Two points to note from the crosstabs on this poll: One is that Abbott leads Beto among independents by a 32-22 margin, which I note mostly in response to my making a big deal out of the seemingly weird indie numbers from the CBS/YouGov poll. This poll also has a question about which party you’ll vote for in Congressional and Legislative races, and while Republicans lead 46-41 in both, this compares to their 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) lead in April. In other words, a bit of slippage for the GOP and a bit of gain for Dems at the top and in these races. We’ll see if that’s a trend or just a blip when we get the August numbers.

Uvalde updates

Too much news, so time for a news dump.

Uvalde shooting victims aren’t getting compensated from state fund as intended, officials say.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said Monday that families of the Uvalde shooting victims are experiencing delays in getting compensation benefits from the state and that the compensation has been insufficient.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, and McLaughlin are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to remove Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee from overseeing victims’ services and to bring in the Texas Division of Emergency Management instead.

Gutierrez and McLaughlin penned a letter to the governor saying that one Uvalde family was at risk of having the power cut off in their home while their daughter was in the hospital. Other families have been offered compensation of two weeks’ pay, which Gutierrez and McLaughlin called “meager.”

“These families cannot begin to heal unless they are given time to grieve free from financial worry. There is no worse pain imaginable than losing a child. This pain is made all the more severe because of the way these children were killed and injured,” Gutierrez wrote in a statement. “In short, the State of Texas ought to use every available resource in law to make these families whole.”

Local and state officials opened the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center in June to provide long-term support services to Uvalde residents after a gunman killed 19 children and two educators at Robb Elementary on May 24. Resources offered at the center include crisis counseling, behavioral health care and child care services for survivors and first responders.

The governor’s public safety office made an initial $5 million investment to establish the center. It’s unclear how much the state has allocated for victims’ compensation benefits. In announcing the center’s opening, Abbott said the local district attorney would take the initial lead on services, coordinating efforts between local support organizations and state agencies.

[…]

McLaughlin and Gutierrez wrote in their letter that the district’s office is neither equipped nor staffed to provide adequate services.

I guess the reason to funnel these funds through the local DA is because DAs in general handle other victim compensation funds? I’m just guessing, please feel free to enlighten me otherwise. All I can say, speaking as a resident of Houston who lived through Hurricane Harvey, is that the recent track record of running relief funds intended for local recipients through a disconnected outside agency hasn’t been great.

Uvalde Mayor Urges Abbott To Look Into Police ‘Cover-Up’ Of Failed Response To Shooting.

Don McLaughlin, the mayor of Uvalde, Texas, is calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to address what McLaughlin called a “cover-up” by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) amid scrutiny over law enforcement’s failure to respond to the Robb Elementary School shooting.

McLaughlin told CNN Tuesday that he was writing to Abbott to share his concerns about the DPS’ investigation into the failed response to the massacre, during which more than a dozen children were killed inside two classrooms as multiple armed officers stood outside the hallway and the school building for more than an hour.

“I’m not confident, 100 percent, in DPS because I think it’s a cover-up,” McLaughlin said.

The mayor pointed specifically at DPS Director Steven McCraw, who repeatedly offered conflicting timelines for the attack, fueling already boiling criticism of law enforcement’s lack of transparency in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“McGraw’s covering up for maybe his agencies,” McLaughlin claimed.

The Uvalde leader explained that his growing distrust of the DPS’ investigation is what led him to ask the Justice Department to open its own investigation, which is currently underway.

“I lost confidence because the narrative changed from DPS so many times, and when we asked questions, we weren’t getting answers,” he said.

See here and here for some background. Just a reminder that polling has consistently shown majority disapproval of how Greg Abbott has handled the tragedy in Uvalde, and that DPS is 100% Abbott’s agency, run by one of his top minions.

Speaking of that report: Uvalde officer asked permission to shoot gunman outside school but got no answer, report finds.

An Uvalde police officer asked for a supervisor’s permission to shoot the gunman who would soon kill 21 people at Robb Elementary School in May before he entered the building, but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late, according to a report released Wednesday evaluating the law enforcement response to the shooting.

The request from the Uvalde officer, who was outside the school, about a minute before the gunman entered Robb Elementary had not been previously reported. The officer was reported to have been afraid of possibly shooting children while attempting to take out the gunman, according to the report released Wednesday by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center in San Marcos.

The report provides a host of new details about the May 24 shooting, including several missed opportunities to engage or stop the gunman before he entered the school.

The lack of response to the officer’s request to shoot the suspect outside the school was the most significant new detail that the report revealed.

“A reasonable officer would conclude in this case, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that use of deadly force was warranted,” according to the report. The report referred to the Texas Penal Code, which states an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder.

The report said one of the first responding officers — a Uvalde school district police officer — drove through the school’s parking lot “at a high rate of speed” and didn’t spot the gunman, who was still in the parking lot. The report said the officer might have seen the suspect if he had driven more slowly or parked his car at the edge of the school property and approached on foot.

The report also found flaws in how the school maintains security of the building. The report noted that propping doors open is a common practice in the school, a practice that “can create a situation that results in danger to students.” The exterior door the gunman used to enter the school had been propped open by a teacher, who then closed it before the gunman entered — but it didn’t lock properly.

The teacher did not check to see if the door was locked, the report said. The teacher also did not appear to have the proper equipment to lock the door even if she had checked. The report also notes that even if the door had locked properly, the suspect still could have gained access to the building by shooting out the glass in the door.

An audio analysis outlined in the report shows 100 rounds were fired in the first three minutes after the gunman entered rooms 111 and 112 — from 11:33 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

The report highlighted other issues with the law enforcement response before the gunman — an 18-year-old Uvalde man — entered rooms 111 and 112 for the last time.

The gunman was seen by security cameras entering room 111, then leaving the room, then re-entering the room before officers arrived. The report determined that the lock on room 111 “was never engaged” because the lock required a key to be inserted from the hallway side of the door.

I was not able to find a copy of the report online, so these excerpts are the best we have for now. I can’t imagine what the parents and loved ones of the Uvalde victims are thinking and feeling right now. They were failed in so many ways. The very least we can do for them is give them the truth.

Congressional Dems ask Paxton to release Uvalde info

He won’t, because he sucks, but you gotta ask.

Best mugshot ever

Nine Democratic members of the U.S. House from Texas on Tuesday called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to order the release of government records related to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde that local officials are attempting to withhold.

In a letter, the group said that authorizing the release of records would help the families of victims heal by revealing the full truth about what happened at Robb Elementary School that day. They also said disclosure was important because officials have repeatedly changed their story about law enforcement’s response to the shooting.

“A first step in restoring trust in law enforcement and healing requires transparency from state and local officials,” the letter states. “You have a choice: shine a light on what went wrong to help Uvalde heal or be part of the cover up.”

It is signed by U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio; Colin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Veronica Escobar of El Paso; Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Al Green of Houston; and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde County, declined to join, Castro’s office said.

The city of Uvalde has declined to fulfill any records request from The Texas Tribune since the shooting, even those unrelated to the incident. In Texas, public agencies seeking to block the release of records must forward requests to the attorney general, citing specific exemptions under the Texas Public Information Act.

[…]

The members of Congress who signed the letter also said public officials should not hide behind what is known as the “dead suspect loophole,” an exemption to releasing public records meant to protect individuals who are never convicted of a crime. However, this exemption can also be applied to suspects who have died and thus won’t face prosecution, as is the case with the shooter in Uvalde.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said last month it would be “absolutely unconscionable” for officials to use the loophole to withhold records related to the shooting.

See here, here, and here for some background. That sure was a show of courage from Rep. Gonzales, wasn’t it? As for Paxton, he does six unconscionable things before breakfast, so I would not hold out much hope for him to do something non-hideous here. But as I said, you have to at least put him on the spot about it.

The empty “mental health” promise

What’s going on in Uvalde these days.

Days after the May 24 shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promised an “abundance of mental health services” to help “anyone in the community who needs it … the totality of anyone who lives in this community.” He said the services would be free. “We just want you to ask for them,” he said, before giving out the 24/7 hotline number — 888-690-0799.

That’s a tall order for a community in an area with a shortage of mental health resources, in a state that ranks last for overall access to mental health care, according to a 2022 State of Mental Health in America report.

Mental health organizations are assembling a collection of services to assist those who seek help in Uvalde. But there have been hiccups and hitches along the way.

There is worry that what’s being offered is not coming together as fast or efficiently as it could be, and that it’s being assembled without keeping in mind the community it serves: Many residents are lower income, and some may have difficulties with transportation, or are mainly Hispanic. Many are not accustomed to seeking out therapy, or are distrustful of who is providing it.

Quintanilla-Taylor didn’t believe many would use the mental health services and had doubts about their long term availability.

“It’s not going be prevalent. … I don’t trust the resources, and that’s coming from an educated person,” said Quintanilla-Taylor, who’s pursuing a doctorate in philosophy and specializing in organizational leadership at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

[…]

Uvalde County Commissioners, the countywide government body, voted Thursday to purchase a building to create the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center to serve as a hub for long-term services, such as crisis counseling and behavioral health care for survivors.

Abbott set aside $5 million in funding for the center, which has been operating at the county fairgrounds.

Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez, whose vast district includes Uvalde, said the community needs continuity of care and rather than create a new building the state could invest in the existing local community health clinic, in operation for 40 years and already serving 11,000 uninsured Uvalde residents.

“These are people who have behavioral health on the ground. They actually have the one psychiatrist in Uvalde right here,” Gutierrez said Friday referring to the clinic. “We needed to have the budget so that we can bring in therapists, which we would have been able to do with that money. Instead, they’re starting from whole cloth this promised center you’re going to have the district attorney run?”

Gutierrez, who has shifted a district office from Eagle Pass to Uvalde, said he met with 11 families whose children survived the shootings and were either wounded or sent to the hospital.

“What the families have been telling me is they don’t want to see one therapist one week, a different one the following and another one yet maybe the next week,” he said. “So, they are having trouble with appointments, with continuity and that’s very, very important, especially when we are talking about young children.”

Gutierrez said he sent a letter to Abbott asking for $2 million for the existing free community clinic to provide crisis care but has not heard back.

I’ve discussed this before, and this is another illustration of the problem. We can count on hearing two things whenever there’s a mass shooting in Texas. One is the usual blather about guns and why restricting access to guns isn’t the answer. The other is a rush to talk about mental health, both as a means of explaining the shooter’s actions and now more regularly as an alternate mitigation for gun violence that doesn’t restrict access to guns. It was a big component of the Cornyn bill, and may have been a key to its passage since there’s no question that more mental health services and funding for those services are badly needed. I’m happy to see that happen, it’s just that we all know this is only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

From the state perspective, any and all talk of mental health and services for mental health that comes from our state leaders is guaranteed to be little more than hot air. We have the longstanding issue of healthcare in general being out of reach for too many people because of lack of insurance, and the continued resistance to expanding Medicaid, which would be the single biggest step forward in that regard. We have the also longstanding issue of healthcare in rural areas, from hospitals closing for lack of funds to scarcity of doctors in rural areas, a problem that was supposed to have been solved by the passage of the tort “reform” constitutional amendment nearly 20 years ago. More recently there was Abbott’s redirection of over $200 million in funds from the Department of Health and Human Services to his never-ending border boondoggle. At every opportunity, the Republican leadership has made it clear that they don’t care about funding healthcare in general, and mental health services in particular. But they are willing to use the promise of mental health services as a distraction when the next crisis hits. That’s where we are now, and where we will be again if nothing changes.

Biden signs modest gun control bill

It’s now the law. We’ll see for how long.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan measure to address gun violence, less than 24 hours after the bill was approved by the U.S. House and a month and a day after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Today, we say more than enough. We say more than enough,” Biden said at the White House. “At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”

The measure was negotiated by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. That shooting had come less than two weeks after a massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people dead.

In a statement announcing the signing, the White House thanked Cornyn and a small bipartisan group of other senators involved in its drafting.

The law is widely viewed as a series of modest changes to current gun regulations, falling far short of proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden to raise the age to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and expand universal background checks. The most noteworthy provision of the law would close what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

Current federal statutes prohibit firearm purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child. To close the loophole, the new law will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse.

Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The law will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.

See here for the background. Please note that first sentence in the last paragraph above, because I’ve been speculating about legal challenges to this new law ever since it became apparent that it was about to become law. I was called out in the comments of that earlier post for my assertion that “SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal”. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, but it’s absolutely the case that state gun control measures of all kinds around the country are now going to be challenged in federal court. Where do you think this Supreme Court will draw a line and say okay, no, that’s a reasonable and constitutional restriction and may stand? It’s not at all clear to me that they believe there is one. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – and even happier if we finally get around to reforming this completely radicalized and out of control SCOTUS – but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on it. In the meantime, let’s see when – and yeah, I mean “when” and not “if” – the first suit is filed against this law.

PS – I know I make a lot of podcast recommendations as supplemental material for my posts, so here’s another for you: This week’s Amicus podcast talks for about 30 minutes about the Bruen decision, with the actual legal expert doing the talking sounding a lot more sanguine about certain types of state gun laws surviving future review; he also specifically thinks this federal law will survive. I’m the opposite of an expert, but I am deeply cynical and have zero faith in the consistency or fidelity of this court. You make the call which of us will be more accurate about the future.

A big part of the Cornyn gun bill will do nothing in Texas

Just a reminder.

The bipartisan gun bill that is on a fast track through Congress and backed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn includes new state grants to incentivize red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed dangerous.

That means it’ll be up to states as to whether they want to take advantage of one of the key provisions of the landmark gun legislation. But despite last month’s Uvalde school shooting being the inspiration for the bill, Texas is unlikely to get on board.

Red flag laws likely remain a nonstarter among Republican leaders in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott already faced a conservative backlash after he asked the Legislature to consider them four years ago.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate and wields tremendous sway over what legislation is considered, indicated Wednesday he still opposes such an effort.

“After the Santa Fe shooting, we had the same move to do this and we did not support it,” he said in a radio interview. “I did not support [that], the Senate did not support that.”

Patrick said that if he were in the U.S. Senate, he would have been among the 36 Republicans — including Texas’ junior senator Ted Cruz — who sided against the bipartisan gun bill in an initial vote Tuesday. Patrick added that he was “very, very concerned about that and where that goes.”

See here for some background, in which the subject of red states and red flag laws was thoroughly discussed. I don’t really have anything to add to that, so go listen to this week’s episode of the Josh Marshall podcast, in which they discuss the politics of this bill and what might happen next. Our job here remains to elect leaders that will not be obstacles to sensible and meaningful gun reform.

One more thing:

Red flag laws are nonetheless popular with Texas voters. A poll released Tuesday found that 75% of the state’s voters support laws that “give family members or law enforcement a way to ask a judge to issue an order temporarily removing guns from someone who poses a violent threat to themselves or others.” The survey was conducted by Third Way, a centrist think tank, and GS Strategy Group, a GOP polling firm.

The poll doesn’t break any of their issues questions down by party (or any other subgroup, like gender or race or age), so it’s not very useful. That said, in addition to the number cited above, the poll had 89% support for “Requiring a background check before every gun purchase, including at gun shows and for online sales”, 80% support for “Increasing the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 years old”, 80% support for “Allowing law enforcement to access sealed juvenile records to ensure that young adults with a history of violent criminal behavior are restricted from purchasing firearms”, and 68% support for ” Funding research around the effectiveness of gun safety policies”. You’re not going to get those kind of numbers without a fair amount of Republican support. Getting them to vote for candidates that also support those positions, that’s a different matter. As we well know. The Chron has more.

Cornyn-Murphy gun bill gets final passage

What great timing, huh?

Exactly one month after a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers in a Uvalde elementary school, the most significant new gun laws in decades were headed to President Joe Biden’s desk on Friday after the U.S. House cleared a bipartisan package of reforms requiring greater scrutiny of young buyers, closing the so-called boyfriend loophole and more.

The gun laws, authored by a group of senators including John Cornyn of Texas, easily passed the Democratic-controlled House on a 234-193 vote, just hours after 15 Senate Republicans joined every Democrat in approving the bill in the Senate late Thursday night. Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

“When I met with families from Uvalde, they asked me how it was possible for the man who murdered their loved ones to get a dangerous weapon so easily,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said in a statement. “Today, Congress has voted to pass historic gun safety reforms that will save lives and keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who present a clear danger to their communities. We need to make more progress on gun safety, but today’s vote is an important step forward.”

It is the first tightening of federal gun laws since 1994. It bolsters background checks on buyers under 21 years old and restricts access to firearms for dating partners convicted of domestic abuse. The bill creates stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and “straw” purchasing, in which someone buys a firearm for someone prohibited from owning one.

The legislation also provides funding for mental health programs, school security and for states to enact red flag laws or other intervention methods meant to stop shootings before they happen.

Just 14 Republicans voted for the bill in the House, where GOP leaders had urged members to oppose the legislation. Only one Texan was among them: U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde. The rest opposed the legislation.

See here for the background. It would be nice to feel good about this, even as watered down as this bill is, but with SCOTUS on a rampage, it’s hard to feel good about anything. The fact that this got initial passage in the Senate on the same day that SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal was the kind of irony none of us needed. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before a federal lawsuit is filed to invalidate even this modest effort, and who would take a bet on those plaintiffs losing? But here we are anyway. If we can ever find our way to fixing the courts, we can improve on this and do a lot more besides. One step at a time. The Trib has more.

We’re still not going to get a special session for gun safety legislation

But I still appreciate the effort. Someone has to do it.

With Texas schools restarting classes in less than two months, Texas Senate Democrats renewed calls Monday for Gov. Greg Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin this summer to enact legislation that might prevent another mass shooting like the one at a Uvalde elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers last month.

The senators said if lawmakers reconvene for a special session, they would support proposals like raising the age to legally own an assault weapon from 18 to 21, creating red flag laws for gun purchases, instituting a 72-hour “cooling off” period and regulating the private sale of firearms.

But first there has to be a debate, and a vote, to let Texans know where their elected officials stand on how to respond to the Uvalde shooting, said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and was unsuccessful in passing his red flag legislation last session.

“The people are urging us to take action, but first we have to let them know we’re listening to them,” he said. “We’ve heard the public, we want to represent them, but we have to have a session to do that.”

The Senators have been calling for a special session for many weeks following the Uvalde massacre. They are now joined by multiple Mayors.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is part of a bipartisan group of 13 Texas mayors who sent a letter demanding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott call a special legislative session to address gun violence in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting.

Abbott, a Republican up for reelection in the fall, has asked state lawmakers to organize committees to look into school safety following the massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. However, he’s balked at calling a special session and has avoided discussion of new firearms laws — something that would anger the powerful gun lobby.

The letter calls on Abbott to enact reforms the mayors say are backed by the majority of Texans and could prevent future mass shootings.

“We represent a continuum of political ideology and have come together because we know most Texans have a strong desire for common sense reform to protect our children,” they said. “As mayors, we believe the legislature and executive leaders can come together to find the right solutions for Texas.”

The letter also asks Abbott to place the following reforms on the legislative agenda.

  • Requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
  • Increasing the age to purchase assault weapons in Texas to 21.
  • Passing “red flag” laws to identify threats before shootings.
  • Boosting mental health support funding.
  • Training and properly equipping school safety officers.

Texas isn’t among the 19 U.S. states to enact “red flag” laws, which prevent people at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing firearms.

In addition to Nirenberg, the letter is signed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, among others.

As always, I appreciate the effort. And also as always, I fully expect Greg Abbott to cover his ears and start singing “Baby Shark” or whatever it is he does to self-soothe these days, because it ain’t gonna happen. You probably didn’t pay much attention to the fascistic shitshow known as the Texas Republican Convention from last week, but Greg Abbott did. That’s who he’s listening to (and deathly afraid of), not a bunch of Democrats and mayors. The Chron and the Dallas Observer have more.