HOUSTON – The Democratic 2020 candidates will be discussing a number of issues during the third presidential debate on Thursday. But one topic, in particular, is at the fore among Texas' Dem voters in a state that witnessed two mass shootings last month.
“I have no problem with handguns or maybe even rifles. But all these semiautomatic weapons, I think are causing us more harm than good,” said Jametta Black, a Texas voter and veteran.
“There are guns all over. They need to be controlled more,” said Sarah Rousso, another Texas voter.
The two shootings, in El Paso on Aug. 3 and Odessa on Aug. 31, left nearly 30 people dead. It put the gun debate in Texas -- a state considered a gun rights bastion -- center stage. It will likely be a hot topic during Thursday's debate in Houston.
Some Democratic candidates have called on Texas lawmakers to take action ahead of the debates. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro criticized Republican lawmakers after several laws easing restrictions on gun owners took effect in the beginning of the month.
“Greg Abbott and the rest of them have been total failures when it comes to preventing mass shootings in Texas,” said Castro.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed eight executive orders to try to head off potential mass shooters by focusing on reporting suspicious activity.
"Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings," Abbott said. "One of those objectives is to marshal law enforcement resources to stop violent criminals before they commit mass murders.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested closing a loophole in background checks.
“There is no need for a stranger to sell another gun to a stranger. That’s irresponsible, and the NRA needs to get behind that. That’s where Republican voters are. That’s where many Republican legislators are, and I believe that can pass Congress,” Patrick said.
But Abbott has not budged on state Democrats’ calls for a special legislative session to address gun violence. The Legislature does not convene again until 2021.
“Governor Abbott should call a special session right now. And he can do that with the stroke of a pen. Unless he's willing to do that, he's just talking, saying what he thinks he has to say as a politician. So that he doesn't get beaten up in 2022,” Castro said.
Former El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke also addressed Abbott’s executive orders, tweeting, “Not one of these mentions guns.”
Gun reform will likely remain a top issue in Texas as Democrats approach it as a key battleground state in 2020. Beyond the Democratic primary, the subject could also influence next year's general election, in which the Dems will aim to unseat President Trump.
“As the suburbs change in Texas, it’s going to change the issue dynamics,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “If Republicans continue to be as stringent on gun issues as they have been, it’s going to a problem for them to win those swing voters to make sure Texas stays red.”