In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales says his office on Monday will begin destroying weapons seized in connection with successfully prosecuted criminal cases.
He’s also instructing law enforcement to prosecute people who possess a device that turns a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon.
“In every case where we handle a case involving a weapon and we have a successful prosecution, we will move to destroy every weapon,” said Gonzales. “Even in those cases where the defendant [or their] lawyer may not agree to the destruction, we’re going to file a motion to destroy that weapon.”
Gonzales’ plan was announced at a press conference Friday at the Bexar County Courthouse with other elected officials, many of whom want to see gun control but acknowledged that there’s little they can accomplish from their office without Republican support. The district attorney spoke alongside Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Commissioners Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) and Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), Sheriff Javier Salazar and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), as well as gun control advocates.
Gonzales, a two-term Democrat, said he had emailed his prosecutors Thursday about the new policies. He instructed them to begin enforcing them Monday.
He is up for reelection this year and faces a challenge from Republican Marc LaHood. Gonzales had already become a top target for Republicans this November after he bucked Republican state leaders on possible abortion prosecutions and immigration enforcement.
“It is my hope that by doing this… we can make a difference and help reduce the proliferation of the guns that we see in our society today,” said Gonzales.
In an interview after the press conference, Gonzales said he was prepared for criticism from gun rights proponents, but that he believed he wasn’t infringing the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“I’m going to get some some criticism from gun lobbies, from the far right, from gun owners,” said Gonzales. But, he added, “if you’re not possessing a gun in connection with a crime, you don’t have anything to worry about.”
Gonzales said many types of cases, including DWIs and assaults, are filed in connection with a gun that may be seized at the same time. In the past, prosecutors had the discretion to seek forfeiture of those weapons, and they were stored in a property room. Now they will seek to destroy all firearms seized in unlawful weapon possession cases and cases in which a firearm was used to commit a crime.
“What we’re doing is being more aggressive and just moving to destroy them at the end of a criminal case, so that they are eliminated,” he said.
Gonzales also wants to prosecute more cases involving possession of illegal “auto sears,” a conversion device that transforms a semiautomatic gun into an automatic weapon.
“I am here to tell law enforcement that we are willing, able and eager to take those kinds of cases and prosecute someone who is in possession of just that switch,” said Gonzales.
Rodriguez said the Commissioners Court plans to allocate $100,000 for gun locks to be given free of charge to gun owners and to set up distribution centers for them in the coming weeks. Commissioners also plan to fund up to $1 million dollars for an education and outreach program on gun safety.
Rodriguez, a former state legislator, said the prospects for accomplishing any meaningful gun control at the state level was dismal, despite Democrats’ calls for a special session. He called the current Republican-led Legislature’s response to the Uvalde shooting “a joke.”
Castro pointed to a number of gun control proposals that have already been put forward by the Democrat-controlled U.S. House, but that would still need help from the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority but 60 votes are needed to pass most legislation.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is part of a group tasked with seeing whether any compromises can be reached in the wake of mass shootings in the past three weeks in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde and Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which a total of 37 people died.
“There isn’t a confusion among the American people about what they want, it’s a question of whether politicians in Washington, in Austin, in local government are going to listen to their constituents,” said Castro.