AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday rejected calls from Democrats for immediate votes on new gun safety measures in Texas following a violent August that began and ended with mass shootings that left 29 people dead and injured dozens more.
The Texas Legislature doesn't meet again until 2021. That means any new Texas laws in response to two gunmen — both armed with assault-style rifles — opening fire at a Walmart in El Paso and an hour-long rampage in West Texas are at least two years away, unless the governor takes the rare step of ordering an emergency legislative session.
But Abbott, an avid gun-rights supporter, has shown no appetite for doing so. Following the Labor Day weekend attack in Odessa that killed seven people, Abbott said "words must be followed by meaningful action" to prevent more mass shootings in Texas. But Democrats say the governor isn't working fast enough and that his recent roundtable meetings on gun violence are insufficient.
"There's only one person that stands in the way of us having this dialogue and these communications in a meaningful way and maybe, just maybe, create laws that will protect Texans, and that's the governor," Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said.
Hours after Democrats demanded a special session on gun violence Wednesday, Abbott tweeted that he would announce executive actions and legislative proposals in the coming days but did not offer details. He added: "Legislators can be part of the process or part of the problem."
Although Abbott did not explicitly rule out calling a special session, his office criticized the haste to begin taking votes.
"Governor Abbott made clear in Odessa that all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer. But that doesn't include a helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the gunman in last weekend's rampage in the Permian Basin that killed seven people obtained his AR-style rifle through a private sale, allowing him to evade a federal background check that blocked him from getting a gun in 2014 due to a "mental health issue. The official spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Officers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles (16 kilometers) and lasted more than an hour, injuring around two dozen people in addition to the dead. He spread terror across the two biggest cities in the Permian Basin while firing indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has said Ator had tried purchasing a firearm in January 2014 but was denied. Since the El Paso shooting on Aug. 3 that killed 22 people, Abbott has raised concerns about private firearms sales but has not endorsed or offered any specific proposals.
In 2018, fewer than 100,000 people failed a background check. Of those, the vast majority were for having been convicted of a crime that made them ineligible. Far fewer, just over 6,000, were rejected for a mental health issue.
Texas laws allows a person to deny a handgun license based on a person's mental health history, but that restriction only applies to the license to carry a handgun, not buying one.
The shooting on Labor Day weekend came just four weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. It brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database.
Associated Press journalists Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jim Vertuno in Austin and Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that seven people were killed in the West Texas shooting, not five.