Abbott headlined the Texas GOP Convention in San Antonio at the end of a week in which school police chiefs, gun-control activists and an alliance of U.S. education groups pushed back on parts of his wide-ranging safety recommendations after the Santa Fe High School shooting.
The plan calls for arming more teachers, mental health spending and “hardening” campuses with extra police or metal detectors. Also mentioned are potential “red flag” laws that keep guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others, which is a non-starter for some gun-rights groups and firebrand conservatives in the Texas Legislature.
Abbott, who is heavy favorite to win a second term in November, didn’t touch on his plan during his speech to Republican delegates in what is largest state party convention in the U.S. But he relayed what he said was a message from a tiny Texas community where a church gunman killed more than two dozen people in November.
“The people of Sutherland Springs, they looked me in the eye and they insisted, they said, “Governor, do not let them use this to take away our guns,” Abbott said.
Nearly a month after the May 18 attack that was the deadliest high school shooting in Texas history, Abbott’s plan is treading a familiar path of others like it in the wake of mass shootings: slow-moving debates, criticism from gun-control activists and uncertainty over whether new proposed safeguards or spending will pan out.
The plan contained no major restrictions on firearms. But “red flag” laws and changes to gun storage laws have worried some gun-rights groups and a small caucus of hardline Republicans in the Texas House who met with Abbott last week.
“We shared specific and in-depth concerns regarding changes to gun-storage laws and other measures affecting gun ownership,” the Texas Freedom Caucus said after the meeting.
That was a softer tone than comments last month by freedom caucus member Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who tweeted, “The idea of regulating and enforcing the storage of firearms is a nightmare. I will fight it forever.”
“The governor said, ‘Hey, this isn’t a finished document. This is a conversation starter,'” said Republican state Rep. Matt Krause, who attended the meeting with Abbott.
The Texas GOP convention comes days after Texas Legislature — which has expanded gun laws under Abbott — held its first hearings since the Santa Fe shooting and heard from school police chiefs that installing metal detectors would be ineffective. An alliance of top U.S. education groups that pushed Congress to triple the size of an education block grant also expressed alarm about those dollars being eligible to “harden” campuses.
Texas expects to get an additional $62 million under the grant, and Abbott said the priority for the money should be school safety. But Education Department Elizabeth Hill said a school district can generally not spend all the money under the program for that sole purpose.
Rhonda Hart, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was among the students who died in the Santa Fe shooting, said she called Abbott’s office this week after seeing Texas lawmakers appearing to embrace suggestions to arm more teachers. Hart, who has been outspoken on the need for more gun control, said she also told President Donald Trump that she did not support arming teachers when they met last month.
Hart said she agreed with Abbott’s focus on mental health. But she suggested time is wasting.
“The kids are out of school now,” Hart said. “So stop talking and get some metal detectors installed where there are no kids.”