PHARR, Texas – Cameron County’s call for an emergency special session to deal with gun violence should be replicated by other governmental bodies across the Rio Grande Valley. 

This is the view of members of the Valley’s legislative delegation.

“Many of our cities have held prayer vigils for the families who lost their children in the Uvalde tragedy. But the families want more than prayer vigils. They want action,” said state Rep. Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez of Weslaco. 

“We have had so many of these tragedies over the years and it is always thoughts and prayers. But we need action. The Valley delegation can respond in the legislature but only if Governor Abbott calls a special session. He is the only one who can do it. He can do it today.”

In the light of the Uvalde school massacre, Cameron County Commissioners Court last Tuesday passed a resolution urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special session to address gun safety.

The resolution, offered by Commissioner David Garza, was based on a letter penned by the Senate Democratic Caucus. The caucus includes the Valley’s three state senators, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Juan Hinojosa, and Judith Zaffirini, along with the senator who represents Uvalde, Rolando Gutierrez.

The letter includes the following recommendations on gun safety legislation:

  • * Raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21;
  • * Require universal background checks for all firearm sales;
  • * Implement “red flag” laws to allow the temporary removal of firearms from those who are an imminent danger to themselves or others
  • * Require a “cooling off” period for the purchase of a firearm; and
  • * Regulate civilian ownership of high capacity magazines.

Rep. Martinez praised Cameron County Commissioners Court for being proactive. 

“The governor can call a special session at any time, especially with something as important as this, protecting our children, our schools and our teachers. So, this is something that he should be doing. He has done it on voter suppression, he has done it on social issues. He can surely do it on this. That way we can protect the children of Texas,” Martinez said.

Martinez added: “I would love to see what Cameron County has done replicated across the Valley. Every county, every city coming out and urging a special session to protect our children. We need to make our voices heard.”

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz of Mission agreed. He said that when Valley cities and counties pass resolutions in favor of a topic or set of issues it gives its legislative delegation more authority to demand change in Austin. 

“If we have our local cities and counties pass resolutions in favor of a special session, so much the better. We need everybody working together to make it happen,” Muñoz said. 

Muñoz said there is no time to waste.

“Everybody is counting the days. We know the children have returned for summer school but we know that the month of August is really close as well in terms of people wanting action before they go back to school,” Muñoz said.

The Mission Democrat said he is not impressed with Governor Abbott’s decision to set up a committee to look into the Uvalde massacre. 

“We can have all the committees we want but at the end of the day if the legislature is not in session passing bills or giving more resources to our schools, what good are these committees? Fact gathering is important but we already have the information to act on.”

Muñoz added: “Unfortunately, there has not been much done recently (to address gun violence) other than, in my opinion, some promises to do this and that.”

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen said there are a number of common sense measures the legislature can do to lessen the chances of another Uvalde. 

“There is no doubt we have certain issues that are causing mass shootings throughout the United States, not just here in Texas. For example, if we raise the age for purchasing an assault weapon from 18 to 21, Uvalde would not have happened,” Hinojosa said.

“We also need to provide a cooling off period. If you have to wait ten days to buy an assault weapon the tragedy in Uvalde would not have happened. We need to do red flags to make sure we identify people who have mental health challenges and if they have any weapons that they not hurt themselves or not hurt the public. Also, a complete criminal background check is needed. We need to know if you have a criminal record, a criminal history, whether you are violent. If so, you should not be sold a gun.”

Asked if Valley cities and counties should follow Cameron County’s lead, Hinojosa answered affirmatively.

“For me it takes teamwork. The public needs to speak up. The public needs to push. We in the Senate have already made a request to the governor that the governor call a special session. He is the only one who has the authority to call a special session. Otherwise we have to wait until January to address many of these issues. Some of the issues can be addressed by executive order, such as public school safety and police training, but the reality is that guns are the big issue that we need to address. For me, we cannot wait until January for the simple reason that school starts again in late August or early September. We will have the same challenges in trying to minimize and prevent mass murders and protecting our children.”

In the light of the Uvalde massacre, Hinojosa has been named to a Senate committee that is looking into school safety. However, it was put to him that dozens upon dozens of bills dealing with gun violence were never heard in committee last session. Therefore, what is the point of this new special committee?

Hinojosa responded: “That is where the public comes in. Who are you going to vote for? Vote for the people who are responsive to the community needs. Vote for the people who will protect our children. Vote for the people who will protect our families. People need to speak up. People need to push.”

Hinojosa pointed out that not only were gun safety bills not heard last session, the legislature went in the other direction made it easier to get a gun. 

“We do not do any criminal background checks, we do not do any training, you do not need to have a license to carry a concealed weapon, to me we went backwards,” Hinojosa said.

“So, yes, we need to address these issues. But, I am hopeful. I am positive and optimistic that we will make some incremental changes, to gain some momentum, to focus on all these mass shootings that are taking place.”

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