Editorial Roundup:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. January 15, 2020

Governor, thanks for honoring church hero Jack Wilson. Now, let’s talk red-flag law.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been at the forefront of hailing Jack Wilson, bestowing the state’s highest civilian honor possible on the hero of the White Settlement church shooting this week.

In the weeks since the shooting, Abbott and other Republican leaders have also reminded us, correctly, that Wilson’s courage shows us how law-abiding, well-trained gun owners can help protect others from the evil of a potential mass shooter.

But we shouldn’t let that obscure the other work that must be done to prevent such shootings, particularly one of the few points most people can agree about in the heated gun debate: how to keep weapons away from troubled people with criminal histories, like the West Freeway Church of Christ killer. Abbott and others should use their influence to make sure one major step — a state red-flag law — gets serious consideration.

The idea got a fresh look after the mass killing in El Paso last year, and some gun-rights activists quickly rallied against it. They raise some valid points about how such a law, which would allow a judge to order that police seize a dangerous person’s weapons, could be abused.

But it’s important that Texas has a full debate. More than a dozen states have such laws, and their experience could help determine the best way to craft a Texas law that balances gun rights and imminent threats. No law would be perfect, but that’s never stopped Texas legislators before.

The governor has signaled he’s open to such debate. But he’ll have to ensure it’s a priority so that the gun issue doesn’t get reduced to predictable tropes on both the left (a ban on “assault weapons”) or the right (“constitutional carry”).

Federal officials still haven’t revealed how the West Freeway shooter acquired the shotgun he used. But we know enough about his run-ins with the law to know he was the type of person we want to ensure can’t get his hands on a firearm.

He faced felony assault and arson charges in the past, but in both cases, the crimes were prosecuted as misdemeanors. A former wife sought a protective order and raised concerns about his mental health. These are the kind of incidents a well-crafted red-flag law could catch.

Such a law would need to be crafted carefully. One interesting debate is who should be empowered to seek an order that could lead to gun seizure. And the steps for people to get their weapons back should be clearly defined.

This is far from the only thing that should be done. As we’ve advocated before, the databases used to process gun purchases need constant improvement. And prosecutors must be careful about the cases they plead down to misdemeanors. Eliminating plea deals in all assault cases is not realistic, but we’ve seen enough mass shooters with, say, domestic violence in their pasts to know what warning signs are there. And of course, our system of trying to help the mentally ill needs sweeping improvement.

The governor has raised the idea of red-flag laws before, after the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pushed back, and the idea went nowhere in the Legislature last year. But Abbott has the clout to ensure that the idea at least gets a full airing when lawmakers meet again in 2021.

By focusing on how to deal with obviously troubled individuals, Texas could chart a way forward for addressing mass gun violence that doesn’t get bogged down in the same old, tired gun debate.

For Abbott, it would be a solid bookend to the poignant ceremony for Jack Wilson this week.

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El Paso Times. January 15, 2020

Here’s why Gov. Greg Abbott shouldn’t have said no to refugee resettlement in Texas

Here are a few things to know about Gov. Greg Abbott's decision not to participate in the government's refugee resettlement program:

• It has nothing to do with border security. These refugees are here legally, welcomed to the United States after having been investigated thoroughly by this country and by international agencies. Our government recognizes that their lives would be at risk if they were to be returned to their countries of origin. Some are from countries south of our southern border, but most aren't. They're here fleeing religious, ethnic and/or economic persecution, just like native-born Americans' ancestors.

• They don't strain Texas' resources. To the contrary, Abbott, in effect, turned down federal assistance for these people if they come to our state, which they actually are free to do if they would rather be here, without aid, than in another state participating in the program that is willing to host them. Refugees actually tend to be much greater assets than liabilities to the communities where they settle and rebuild their lives. Studies consistently show they're good for the economy. What they give us is disproportionate to what they take.Abbott's decision runs so contrary to his own religious faith that the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops rebuked him for it. "As Catholics," the bishops said in a letter, "an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien." They reminded Abbott that Jesus and his parents were refugees.

• The decision contradicts the actual meaning of "Texas." The state's name was derived from the Caddo word for friends.

• Abbott was the first and, as of this writing, only governor to opt out of the program. The reason Abbott had to declare yea or nay whether Texas would participate in refugee resettlement is that President Donald Trump, by executive order, required governors to opt in or out by Jan. 21. Thus far, 40 states have opted in, including 18 led by Republican governors.

A federal judge in Maryland decided Wednesday to block the Trump policy temporarily. While we await the outcome of this lawsuit by immigrant advocacy groups, let's just say that there are no good reasons for Abbott to have done what he did. There is only a bad reason, and that's to exploit and vilify refugees as a pander to the worst xenophobic impulses of anti-immigrant supporters of Trump and himself.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explaining his decision, Abbott wrote: "Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system." You could argue that this statement is correct. But to say it in the context of the refugee program suggests that somehow the refugees are to blame and that refusing to participate in the program is a step toward a solution, when in fact neither one is true.

Abbott also noted that Texas took in "roughly 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States" during the past decade. He didn't bother to point out that Texas has more than 9% of the nation's population and that, therefore, Texas' participation is roughly proportionate to its size.

BOTTOM LINE:

Abbott betrayed the spirit of Texas, the United States and his Catholic faith. He compounded those transgressions by making devious statements in his letter to Pompeo, taking the refugee program out of its true context and portraying it, instead, in the false context of this country's immigration policy failures.

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Amarillo Globe-News. January 15, 2020

More important than ever to ‘see something, say something’

In a day and time of the unexpected becoming all too routine, the Amarillo Independent School District has been right to remind just how important it can be to take action when something appears to be amiss. The old maxim has never been more true: a little caution will go a long way.

The stakes are too high anymore for someone to use the excuse of not wanting to get involved or one party refraining from “telling” on another when they see or hear something that qualifies as suspicious behavior.

This became clear last week when four students were detained by the Amarillo Police Department near Caprock High School, according to our story. For some time now, AISD officials have stressed the concept, “If you see something, say something,” meant to remind its campus constituencies of vigilance and proactivity.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched the “see something, say something” campaign almost a decade ago. For the AISD, the words represent much more than catchy sloganeering. The district’s expectation is everyone should be prepared and aware at all times.

“Everyone in the school, including our staff, students and administrators, has an important role in school safety both during the school day and, as was the case today, after school,” according to a statement from the district in the aftermath of the incident.

To recap, the four students were seen firing a handgun in a field south of 34th Avenue near the Caprock athletic complex. Extracurricular activities taking place meant the school went on lockdown. The incident was seen by a staff member who contacted the Caprock principal. No injuries were reported.

“If they see something out of place or something unusual or suspicious, (we tell them) to tell someone,” Paul Bourquin, the district’s director of safety and emergency preparedness, said in our story. “We talk about this quite a bit during trainings.”

Bourquin praised students for their willingness to take matters seriously and use the Crimestoppers app, which allows anonymous reporting. Sometimes, as Bourquin pointed out, there is nothing to the report. Regardless, the important fact is students, teachers and staff are concerned enough to let someone know – whether they witness it personally or come across something troubling on a social media platform.

“We get a lot of information from students and staff on those kinds of things,” Bourquin said. “A lot of times, there is nothing to it, but if they think it’s suspicious and it warrants someone looking at it, they are pretty good about telling someone.”

Many times, we hear stories about warning signs prior to a tragedy. The answer, as the AISD incident demonstrates, is to ensure an educated and aware community that picks up on such signs and then communicates with proper authorities. As has now become all too apparent, there is no such thing as being too careful.

We applaud the AISD’s unwavering commitment to campus security and its quick actions to ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff. Likewise, we join with those in the district in reminding all of the shared responsibility inherent in the words: “If you see something, say something.”

Because one call really could make a profound difference.

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