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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggests improving voluntary background checks for person-to-person gun sales

By Cassandra Pollock, Texas Tribune

On the heels of two deadly mass shootings last month, Gov.  Greg Abbott proposed a series of ideas to the Texas Legislature on Thursday aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not possess them —  though he stopped short of joining another top Republican's push for mandatory background checks for person-to-person firearm sales.

Abbott’s Texas Safety Action Report, released Thursday, elaborates on the eight executive orders the governor issued earlier this month, his office said. One of Abbott’s more notable recommendations to the Legislature includes a suggestion to “consider ways to make it easy, affordable, and beneficial for a private seller of firearms to voluntarily use background checks when selling firearms to strangers.”

That suggestion differs slightly from what Lt. Gov.  Dan Patrick, the Republican head of the Senate, has suggested in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in El Paso and another in Odessa and Midland. Person-to-person sales of firearms do not require background checks in Texas, but after those two shootings, Patrick openly supported the idea of changing that.

“We must act with resolve in response to the despicable acts of violence in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, which follow on the heels of other mass-casualty events in Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, and places outside of Texas. Every Texan has a role to play,” Abbott wrote in the report. “Together, we will ensure a safe and secure future for our state, while also upholding the constitutional rights of all Texans.”

Thursday's recommendations, Abbott wrote in the report, came after he met with roughly 50 state lawmakers, community leaders, law enforcement officials and others to discuss how to prevent future massacres.

After the mass shooting in El Paso at the beginning of August, Abbott formed the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission to begin exploring strategies for how to combat extremists and enhance law enforcement's capability to prevent such tragedies. The El Paso gunman's anti-Hispanic rampage at a Walmart led to the deaths of 22 people and injuries for dozens more.

Another recommendation in Abbott's report says the Legislature "should consider prohibiting straw purchases of firearms under state law." Straw purchases, which are already illegal under federal law, occur when a person purchases an item, such as a firearm, on behalf of someone else who is unable to buy it.

"A primary goal is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," the report says.

At the beginning of September, Abbott issued eight executive orders that focused largely on strengthening law enforcement's ability to respond to — and prevent — future shootings. The report states that those executive orders were "just the first step that the executive branch will take to improve public safety" and suggested other steps that state agencies may take in the future. Those recommendations include strengthening the Domestic Violence High Risk Teams across Texas and speeding up the implementation of the Department of Public Safety's safe firearm storage campaign, which just received a $1 million infusion from the Legislature to do just that.

The report also includes additional strategies, such as suggesting the Legislature work with the Texas Education Agency on developing "strategies to improve parental engagement in schools" and urging state lawmakers to "consider amending state law to ensure schools are notified when former students are arrested."