Santa Fe school shooting renews debate over gun control

By Phil Archer - Reporter

HOUSTON - The debate over gun control has ramped up once again in Texas following the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School. But in a state in which more than 1 million people are licensed to carry a gun, where the National Rifle Association held its annual meeting in Dallas two weeks ago and where Republican lawmakers dominate state politics, some observers believe significant changes in gun law are unlikely.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any change because Democrats and Republicans are seeing this from very different perspectives,” Mark Jones, a professor at Rice University, said.

He said Democrats see the Santa Fe tragedy as a call for gun control. Since the shooting, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner have repeatedly called for new gun control legislation, which could include universal background checks for gun buyers, bans on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines and money for metal detectors in schools.

“We need to take whatever steps we need to take to make sure our schools are as safe as our airports and government buildings,” Turner said Monday.

Republicans see the issue primarily as being about the need for better mental health monitoring and treatment and a call to fortify school buildings. Over the weekend, on talk shows and in press conferences, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick voiced support for those measures as well as a renewed call to arm teachers.

"If a person has a gun, the best way to stop that person is another person with a gun,” Patrick said on "ABC News This Week." “We have too many people who can get onto our school campuses with guns not deterred and not detected.”

The Republican position closely matches solutions urged by the National Rifle Association.

“From a Republican perspective, you’re not going to lose the Republican primary by being too pro-Second Amendment,” Jones said. “You can lose by being insufficiently pro-gun.”

With Republicans controlling the Legislature and gun ownership deeply imbedded in Texas culture, Jones doesn’t expect significant changes to state gun laws.

It’s a sharp contrast to the voter reaction in Florida following the Parkland high school shootings on Feb. 14.

Florida lawmakers defied the NRA and passed a gun control package after lobbying by student survivors of the attack.

In that case, the debate focused on student suspect Nikolas Cruz’s ability to purchase an assault weapon with high-capacity magazines in spite of having a long history, known to police, of mental instability, behavioral problems and threats to shoot up a school.

In the Santa Fe High School shooting, restrictions on bump stocks, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and more strident background checks would not have affected suspect Dimitrios Pagourtzis' ability to obtain weapons. According to police, he came to school Friday morning with a shotgun and pistol that had been legally purchased by his father.

And there has been no groundswell of support for gun law reform from students, with some Santa Fe students openly rejecting gun control as a method of preventing further incidents.

Gov. Greg Abbott will convene roundtable discussions Tuesday at the state Capitol in Austin, which will include state officeholders and police and school administrators who will discuss school safety and security.

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