Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and NRA feud over gun background checks

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has advocated for requiring background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has advocated for requiring background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune.

Two usual political allies — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the National Rifle Association — traded rhetorical blows Friday after Patrick continued to advocate for requiring background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales.

Calling his support for the background checks a “political gambit,” the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement that Patrick’s “‘proposals’ would resurrect the same broken, Bloomberg-funded failures that were attempted under the Obama administration.”

“The NRA remains at the forefront of legitimate efforts to combat crime in our country,” the group wrote. “We encourage Lt. Gov. Patrick to join us in support of the same.”

The statement referenced former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the most prominent gun control advocates in the country.

In Texas, person-to-person sales of firearms do not require background checks, but after two mass shootings in Texas in less than a month — one in El Paso and one in Midland-Odessa — the lieutenant governor has openly supported closing the supposed loophole. President Donald Trump has also endorsed the idea.

The man who fatally shot seven people in West Texas, Seth Aaron Ator, was federally barred from possessing a firearm, ABC News reported. It was later reported that he purchased his weapon in a private person-to-person sale, allowing him to avoid a background check.

In an interview with Fox News last weekend, Patrick said the NRA “needs to get behind” Trump on background checks for stranger-to-stranger gun sales. And in an extensive interview with The Dallas Morning News on Friday, Patrick called it “common sense” to tighten background check laws because in many instances, buyers in stranger-to-stranger sales aren’t required to be vetted through a federal database before they purchase firearms.

“That gap of stranger to stranger we have to close, in my view,” Patrick told the News. “Look, I’m a solid NRA guy … but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger to stranger sale makes no sense to me and … most folks.”

Over the past few days, both Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen have appointed lawmakers in their chambers to committees on mass violence prevention and community safety. Both Republicans directed their committees to examine ways to keep firearms out of the hands of felons — and others who would not pass a federal background check — while protecting Second Amendment rights.

But Patrick and Bonnen have not called for a special legislative session so lawmakers can write new laws about gun safety before their next regular session in 2021. Only Gov. Greg Abbott can call a special session. House Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed him for weeks to do so. On Friday, Republican former House Speaker Joe Straus echoed those calls.

“Having a citizen Legislature that meets for 140 days every 2 years generally works very well,” Straus said on Twitter. “But gun violence is a crisis that cannot wait 16 months for legislative action. Texas needs a special session.”

Abbott this week issued eight executive orders in response to the shootings. Many were largely focused on strengthening law enforcement’s ability to respond to and prevent future shootings, mainly through improving reporting channels and closing “information gaps.” He is expected to release “legislative considerations” next week, but has so far signaled no interest in calling a special session soon. His office this week likened such a move to a “helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines.”

In addition to being the only person who can call a special session, the governor also unilaterally determines the topics about which laws can be passed during such a gathering. Abbott called a special session in 2017 and tasked lawmakers with tackling 20 topics, including addressing which bathrooms transgender Texans can use. Legislators did not pass any new laws about that topic or others that Abbott had placed on their agenda.