El Paso mass shooting forces Texas leaders to face gun culture, racism toward Latinos


AUSTIN, Texas — Over the next week, a state steeped in gun culture with a Latino population that is on track to be its largest ethnic group will begin to grapple with the domestic terror attack in El Paso that left 22 dead and 25 more injured.

On Thursday, the first of two roundtables organized by Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott in response to the El Paso attack was held in Austin. A second is scheduled Aug. 29 in El Paso. Opening and closing remarks are open to the media but the roundtable discussions are closed to the press.

The state and its leaders are contending with the fallout from the massacre perpetrated by a gunman who told police he drove some 650 miles to kill “Mexicans.” The state’s own policies and some leaders’ rhetoric regarding Latinos will be up for examination and demands will be made for it to end.

This is the second time Abbott has organized roundtables of state leaders, law enforcement and gun groups after a mass shooting.

The last set of roundtables was held after a mass shooting at the Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018. Eight students and two teachers died and 13 others were injured. Abbott opened the first roundtable in Austin drawing a distinction between the two mass shootings and defending actions the state took after the Santa Fe shooting, which he said were taken “rapidly and robustly.”

“Unique issues” around El Paso shooting

“In roundtables we had in the aftermath of Santa Fe, we took what we thought were big steps to address the challenges of violence in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “Obviously in the aftermath of that, there was a different type of gun violence. There are unique issues about what happened in El Paso that need to be addressed in addition to the type of violence we saw in the aftermath of Santa Fe.”

Abbott held up copies of the more than 20 bills he signed, saying they were responses to the Santa Fe shooting. He had in front of him a large stack of papers that he said was the “big one” — the budget that included money for schools to be better prepared and safer.

He also reminded attendees that action could be taken through executive power.

While there is hope that the enormity of the El Paso shooting will propel greater change, there are some who do not share the governor’s perspective on the robustness of the state’s response after the Santa Fe shootings.

“We believe part of the healing process for our community is having things change and not having the lives be lost in vain,’’ Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, vice chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, told NBC News on Wednesday ahead of the meeting.

Some lawmakers assert that the state instead should be holding a special legislative session, but there is little confidence among those asking that the request will be granted. The Texas Legislature, which already met this year, won’t meet again until 2021.

“I think Texans are weary of roundtables that don’t lead to legislative action,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said. “After Santa Fe, there was a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. The governor convened listening sessions and roundtables, they were certainly valuable but there was very little legislation on gun safety.”

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