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Texas Dems release letter calling for special session after Uvalde shooting

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (C) gives updates on social services available to victims' families following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday. File Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (C) gives updates on social services available to victims' families following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday. File Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE

May 28 (UPI) -- Texas Senate Democrats demanded in a letter Saturday that Gov. Greg Abbott call a special session in wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus demanded that Abbott call the emergency special session to consider gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of the mass school shooting, the Texas Tribune reported.

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All 13 Senate Democrats also demanded lawmakers pass legislation raising the minimum age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21 years old.

The caucus also called for universal background checks for firearm sales, "red flag" laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people when they are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a "cooling-off period" for the purchase of a firearm, and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.

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"Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state," the letter reads. "In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa."

The letter added: "After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now."

The caucus wrote that Texans need "evidence-based, common-sense gun safety laws."

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"Without a doubt, if at least some of the measures noted above had been passed since 2018, then many lives could have been saved," the letter reads.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, had said that the letter would be delivered to Abbott on Saturday after interrupting his press conference on Friday.

"My colleagues are asking for a special session," Gutierrez said. "You're getting a letter tomorrow. We've asked for gun control changes. I'm asking you now to bring us back in three weeks."

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Abbott had talked about state resources available to families of victims and others in need at the press conference.

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He was dismissive of the idea of raising the age of gun ownership, saying that 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun since Texas became a state, and other gun regulations, saying that existing background checks did not prevent Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings.

Hours after the shooting on Tuesday, Gutierrez told the Texas Tribune that the state needed more gun regulations, especially against the AR-15, the assault-style rifle that the shooter used, which he called a "weapon of mass destruction."

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A day after the mass shooting, Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke, who is running against Abbott in the November election, interrupted another of Abbott's press conferences.

"This is on you," O'Rourke said, pointing at Abbott, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time.

The GOP controls both chambers of the Texas legislature, and calls for the special legislative session have come mostly from Democrats but on Friday, two moderate Republicans, Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Lyle Larson, joined the call for lawmakers to "do something" the Houston Chronicle reported on Saturday.

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Later on Friday, some other Republicans, such as Reps. Steve Allison and Jeff Leach, also asked for a special session, the Houston daily newspaper added.

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"Texas Lawmakers have work to do," Leach said in a tweet on Friday, which the Houston Chronicle re-posted.

"Conversations to engage in. Deliberations & debates to have. Important decisions to make. And the best way to do our jobs openly, publicly & transparently is in a #txlege special session. Texans expect & deserve this & the time demands it."

At a press conference Friday, Abbott said "all options are on the table," to address the gun violence, but he suggested laws would be more tailored to mental health, than gun control.

"You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state," he said. "That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We're not going to be here and do nothing about it."

Senate Democrats told Abbott in the letter "you and other state leaders continue to underfund severely," the mental health care system, then blame it for gun violence.

After the 2018 Santa Fe School shooting, Abbott released recommendations to address school safety, including a "red flag," law, but the proposal faced pushback from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and gun rights activists.

Abbott signed school safety bills in 2019, expanding mental health resources, expanding the number of staff who could have firearms on school grounds, and "hardening" school campuses to make them more secure.

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Critics say the effort to "harden" schools has fallen short due to lack of funding.

By the end of the 2019 legislative session, Abbott told reporters that the "red flag" law wasn't necessary in Texas "right now," according to the Texas Tribune.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said on Friday that police made the "wrong decision" not to immediately breach the classroom where the gunman barricaded himself and killed 21 people. The gunman, Salvador Ramos, 18, was killed by police.

On Friday, Abbott said he was "misled" when he praised the response of law enforcement during a new conference.

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