Lawmakers in Texas, a bastion of gun lovers, have quietly circumvented the powerful National Rifle Association by adding language to a massive spending bill that would fund a $1 million public safety campaign on, of all things, gun safety.
Those who watch the political scene in Texas say the lawmakers’ vote set up a political test rarely seen in the Lone Star State for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who must decide whether to veto the spending or to ignore NRA opposition and approve the program.
The $1 million campaign for safe home gun storage was a small item in the two-year, $250 billion state budget approved late Sunday night by the Republican-controlled Legislature. A bill to write the program into state law was opposed by the NRA and Texas gun-rights activists.
While the bill to write the program into state law died without a vote, the money for the program was approved by the House and later supported by Senate budget negotiators by mid-May.
Abbott’s quandary stems from the fact that he has said he would support promoting gun safety.
But his record is that of a man who has also bowed to pressure from the NRA and gun-rights advocates on issues such as stiffer penalties for negligent gun storage as well as “red flag” law to keep guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
Creating a new safe storage campaign in Texas would be widely considered as a rare defeat for the NRA, which has long flexed its muscle in a state with more than 1.3 million handgun license holders.
The NRA and its state affiliate, the Texas State Rifle Association, have worked to defeat new restrictions on gun ownership, including after two recent high-profile mass shootings. The first was at a church in Sutherland Springs in November 2017 that killed more than two dozen people, including a pregnant woman. The second was a shooting spree at Santa Fe High School near Houston that killed 10 people and wounded 13 others in May of last year.
The initial proposal for a safe gun storage public service campaign came after the Santa Fe High School shooting, largely prompted by police reports that the then-17-year-old shooter took his father’s weapons from their home.
But advocates for the safe-storage campaign said it’s needed beyond efforts to stop mass shootings.
Nationwide, nearly 1,700 children under the age of 18 died from accidental gun deaths from 2001 to 2017, while more than 33,000 were injured, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Too, a University of Texas study of pediatric shooting injuries and deaths over a 15-year period in Houston found that, in most cases, there was no adult supervision at the time and most families had received no training on safe gun storage at home.
Despite approval of funding for the campaign, bills filed by Democrats in the Texas Legislature to have the Texas state police agency create a safe storage campaign never made it to votes in the House or Senate. The NRA lobbied against them, arguing that gun rights groups and gun manufacturers have similar campaigns that are widely distributed to gun stores and shooting ranges.
Figures suggest those programs are not as effective as they should be.
In one public hearing on the Texas proposal, an NRA Lobbyist went so far as to warn lawmakers that a campaign designed by the Texas state police “could easily be corrupted by anti-gun rhetoric.”
That, in our view, is an unreasonable fear and a truly frivolous argument. Hopefully, Abbott will see it that way, too.