On Thursday night, Gov. Greg Abbott hosted town hall-style meeting in Tyler, taking questions from an audience on subjects ranging from property taxes, border security spending and a scandal involving House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
But the first question Abbott faced was about the mass shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people. The governor was asked what he will do to keep Texans safe.
“We need to call this what it is and approach it for what it is,” Abbott said. “Root out racist domestic terrorism, whether it be in El Paso or any other part of the state of Texas, and make sure this never happens again.”
Abbott said earlier this week that he plans to put together a domestic terrorism task force comprising federal, state and local members of law enforcement, and elected officials. He also plans to assemble roundtables of experts and stakeholders, mirroring his response after the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School.
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto is the director of civic engagement at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. She says Abbott’s decision to engage with Texans directly on the issues raised by the El Paso shooting was important, especially since he rarely does so.
“Gov. Abbott isn’t one of these elected officials that gets in with the electorate, that has a very close, warm connection. He’s a little bit more distant,” DeFrancesco Soto says. “So the fact that he put himself out there in a town hall … I think speaks volumes.”
DeFrancesco Soto also credits Abbott for using “the R-word: racism,” she says.
Abbott’s plan to create a task force, and to host roundtables on mass shooting-related issues, should include more voices, DeFrancesco Soto says. Abbott’s task force will include representatives of law enforcement and Republican elected officials. But none of its members are experts in domestic terrorism or white supremacy, she says.
DeFrancesco Soto also wonders what results will come from the task force and roundtables if gun control measures aren’t considered.
“What else are we gonna do? No red flags, no gun control, more mental health? Probably, but we already saw that with the Santa Fe shooting,” she says.
DeFrancesco Soto says Abbott spoke of being open to red-flag laws after the Santa Fe school shooting. But she says Abbott, and fellow Republicans who control the legislature, are unlikely to support background checks.
“I think if there’s any opening here,” she says, “it’s with the red-flag laws.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.