AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The focus of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s meetings on school safety and mass shootings is shifting to those who have been closest to the recent violence, including students, surviving victims and even one person who grabbed a gun and fought back.
Abbott called for the meetings after last week’s attack at Santa Fe High School. Following two days of hearing from education officials, law enforcement, mental health experts and gun control and gun rights groups, Thursday’s meeting will include more than 30 people who can provide personal accounts of the attack in Santa Fe, and last November’s shooting at a rural church in Sutherland Springs.
Most of those attending are students, families and staff from the Santa Fe shooting. Also invited are two survivors of the church shooting, the church pastor, and Stephen Willeford, who lives across the street from the church and has been hailed as a hero for grabbing a rifle and shooting back at the attacker.
Abbott and Texas are being closely watched for how the state reacts to the violence of recent mass shootings.
The governor is a staunch supporter of gun rights. He has worked to relax the state’s gun possession laws in recent years and few expect proposals for any major new restrictions to emerge from this week’s meetings.
Texas’ reaction to the Santa Fe shooting so far has been in sharp contrast to the response after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. Three weeks after that massacre, Florida politicians passed a gun-control package after a lobbying campaign led by student survivors of the attack.
In Texas, the Republican leadership has called for arming more teachers, “hardening” campuses with more security, and limiting access to and from schools. Abbott has resisted calls from a handful of state lawmakers to call the Legislature into special session to address gun violence and school safety.
Callie Wylie, a 16-year-old Santa Fe High student, and her father are among those meeting with Abbott on Thursday. On Monday, she was standing at a memorial for the victims when she told The Associated Press that the violence is not a “gun problem.”
“Something needs to happen,” Wylie said. “But I don’t think at this time people need to be pushing politics on us and telling us, ‘Oh, this is gun control.'”
But Rhonda Hart, a military veteran whose daughter Kimberly Vaughan was killed at Santa Fe, said Texas should make it much harder to buy and own guns. She is not among those listed for the meeting with Abbott.
“You should have to wait a week, have counseling, and walk through lines of protesters who tell you you’re a murderer” to buy a gun, Hart said Wednesday.
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