When Gov. Greg Abbott comes under fire, metaphorically speaking, after yet another mass shooting in Texas, he turns to his fellow top officeholders, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and now, House Speaker Dade Phelan, and requests the appointment of special legislative committees.

It’s one way to appear to be taking action and another way to ignore calls for a special session and vigorous open debate. Abbott made his latest call for committees in a June 1 letter to Patrick and Phelan, asking legislators to examine school safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearms safety.

“All options are on the table,” a defensive Abbott declared last Friday at a press conference, although his prior statements in Uvalde and a videotaped address to the National Rifle Association convention in Houston made it clear that passing more restrictive gun laws does not meet his definition of an option.

That will be welcome news to the next gunman, whoever he is, wherever he lives. Once memories fade and the committees disband, Texas will still be a state where just about anyone 18 and older with bad intentions can legally buy an assault-style weapon and unlimited ammunition without much scrutiny.

Someone who fits that description will do exactly that.

Here is a prediction: None of the 10 recommended changes to Texas gun laws that I listed in a Thursday column, changes supported by Everytown for Gun Safety, many Democratic legislators, mayors, county judges, police chiefs — and according to one recent poll — a majority of Texans, will be adopted into law.

Abbott, Patrick and Phelan might support changes that make it harder for the next angry, alienated young man to carry out mass murder, but they won’t do anything to stop that person from being able to arm himself for war against school children, churchgoers, shoppers and others going about their daily lives.

Isn’t it every Texan’s God-given right to own and carry guns?

Abbott called for special committees after the school shooting in Santa Fe, southeast of Houston, in 2018 that left 10 dead, and again after the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in August 2019 that left 23 and eight people dead, respectively.

The work of the first committee following the Santa Fe shooting led to zero reforms in state laws governing gun sales. The second committee disbanded during the pandemic without making any recommendations. Legislators, however, reconvened in 2021 and passed a law that Abbott enthusiastically signed, making it legal for most Texans 21 and over to carry a handgun without a permit or any training.

The legislative answer to mass shootings then was to get more people out there with guns. You know the, um, logic: Guns aren’t bad. It’s bad people with guns that kill people. We just need more good people with guns.

Uvalde, a small South Texas city of less than 16,000 people, is home to hundreds of Border Patrol officers, other federal agents, local and school police and sheriff’s deputies. If trained, well-armed professionals were unable to stop Salvador Ramos, how are civilians packing their own handguns going to make a significant difference in such situations?

How many more good people with guns do we need exactly?

Let’s be clear about one thing: Never has the word “special” been so misused. There is nothing special about the Senate committee whose members were appointed by Patrick. The committee’s carefully selected Republican leadership and Republican majority make the outcome clear even before the committee meets. In fact, to avoid an embarrassing minority report, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, the San Antonio Democrat who represents Uvalde, was purposely excluded from the committee.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio who represents Uvalde in District 19, cries Thursday while discussing the victims of the mass school shooting that happened at Robb Elementary School last week.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio who represents Uvalde in District 19, cries while discussing the victims of the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Gutierrez, who has pressed Abbott for real gun reform in the state, told the Texas Tribune his exclusion was “a slap in the face to the people of Uvalde.”

Phelan took a different approach in appointing a three-person committee that includes a Republican and Democrat legislator as well as former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who unsuccessfully challenged Attorney General Ken Paxton in the March Republican primary. Other standing committees in the House were tasked to share the workload.

We can expect the same outcome. Lots of recommendations, few real reforms, a strong defense of the state’s weak gun laws.

What would make more sense? How about a different kind of committee? If Abbott really cared about addressing the state’s episodic mass shootings, he would appoint a bipartisan blue ribbon citizens committee with experts in all the relevant fields, and he, along with Patrick and Phelan, would guarantee members that their recommendations would be enacted into law.

Some readers will scoff at the proposal as impractical and politically naive. Give it a little time. After the next mass shooting in Texas that follows the one in Uvalde, the idea might sound like something Abbott should have done.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.