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Gun safety advocates warn national groups: Stay out of Texas

Law enforcement officials work at the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing and wounding many. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.
Law enforcement officials work at the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing and wounding many. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. AP

In the wake of the deadliest shooting in the state’s history, Texas gun control advocates said Monday they don’t want national groups marching into the state demanding stricter gun control measures.

After a San Antonio shooting left 26 members of a church congregation dead Sunday, the Austin-based Texas Gun Sense, which promotes gun control, said it’s looking for measures it can introduce with the support of Republicans in Austin, who control every level of power in the state.

In a nod to the sensitivity of the issue in the Lone Star State, the group wants Texans to lead their own response to Sunday’s shooting — rather than well-heeled national groups that have given the party a strong identity as eager gun control advocates. Those groups were quick to weigh in on the shooting Sunday, criticizing what they called lenient gun laws.

“It is time for every single American to get off the sidelines and demand our lawmakers reject the NRA, which has far too much influence over our gun laws,” said Shannon Watts, founder of the national gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “It doesn’t have to be this way — gun violence is preventable.”

But, said Ed Scruggs, an Austin resident and board member of the nonprofit Texas Gun Sense, “The gun issue is different in Texas, it has a meaning in the fabric of the social society here.

“Instead of relying on communication from outside of the state, we feel it’s important for our lawmakers to hear from people in our community,” said Scruggs.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control group, declined to comment on whether it would consider that request. The group included statements in its press release on the San Antonio shooting from volunteers in its Texas chapter, who called for increased gun control.

Scruggs said his group, led by a board of directors who all live in Texas, meets with Republicans in Austin to gauge interest in gun safety measures that could be introduced with bipartisan support.

“We’ve been approaching this with the mindset of, ‘Let’s talk about gun issues Texan to Texan,’” he said. “That’s gotten us into the door of some legislative offices we might not have been able to get into.”

The group is focused on legislative solutions for gun violence prevention and public safety, increased background checks, increased mental health care and suicide prevention.

So far, Texas Republicans have not shown a willingness to budge.

Texas’ GOP Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday defended the state’s gun laws, saying the current policy should have kept the shooter from purchasing a gun.

"I can tell you that before he made this purchase, he tried to get a gun permit in the state of Texas and was denied that permit. And so under the current system of federal law, he should have prevented from being able to make this purchase," Abbott said on “CBS This Morning” Monday.

Republicans control every house of government in Texas, and every statewide office.

Gun advocacy groups attribute that, in part, to national Democrats’ focus on gun control.

“People at the top of the Democratic Party, out of the state, have been drawing a line in the sand,” said Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association.

A Democratic-controlled Texas legislature passed the state’s concealed-handgun law in 1995. That law allowed Texans to begin carrying firearms hidden from view on their body.

Today the Texas State Rifle Association, which scores state lawmakers with the National Rifle Association, said it now counts just one A-plus Democrat in the legislature, state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City.

Democrats say that with Republicans in control of both Austin and Washington, efforts to prevent tragedies like the one in San Antonio fall solidly into Republicans’ hands.

“If Republicans cannot talk honestly and address gun violence in this country, then we will never be able to bring lasting change to our nation’s heartbreaking history,” Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, said Monday.

Veasey represents an urban district, is a gun owner, and co-chairs the Congressional Sportsmen Caucus in Congress. He’s been an outspoken proponent of gun control measures, and last month said he wouldn’t support a package of gun bills to help hunters because it included language to make it easier to obtain silencers.

Scruggs said that in the wake of the San Antonio shooting, his groups participated in dozens of interviews with international press that was shocked at the leniency of the state’s gun laws.

“I had a conversation with a reporter from Brazil today about Texas’ gun laws,” said Scruggs. “He said, ‘It sounds like a wild west movie.’ That’s a lot of the reaction we get.”

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

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