In the aftermath of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, state officials appear to be leaning on existing laws to help prevent future attacks.
Governor Greg Abbott (R.) sent a letter on Tuesday to the Texas District & Country Attorneys Association urging them to utilize the state’s new “lie-and-try” law to prosecute criminals who attempt to buy guns. The law makes it a state felony to falsify information on a gun purchase background check form.
“Texas is committed to keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people who cannot lawfully possess them,” the letter reads. “The tragic shooting in Uvalde compels us to redouble those efforts. Government officials have a duty to make Texans safer by enforcing the laws that are already on the books. Recent legislation has added a new tool to the Texas prosecutor’s toolbox, and all district and county attorneys should put it to good use.”
The letter highlights the divergent approaches jurisdictions have chosen to take in order to address mass shootings. Amidst the public outcry following the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, heavily Democratic states have made a push to pass new gun control bills. In contrast, red states have tended to eschew calls for additional gun restrictions and have instead focused on security measures and on ways to make existing laws work more effectively.
Senate Bill 162, also known as the “lie-and-try” law, was introduced and signed by Governor Abbott in May of 2021. The bill makes it a crime in Texas if a person “knowingly makes a materially false or misleading statement when providing information for the purposes of complying with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”
Falsifying information on a federal background check form in order to obtain a firearm is already a federal offense, although punishment for violations can be inconsistent. According to Department of Justice documents obtained by The Washington Post, federal prosecutors received nearly 500 referrals for individuals lying on background check forms in 2019, but charges were brought forward in fewer than 300 of those instances.
The Governor highlighted that fact in his call for Texas prosecutors to help federal law enforcement carry the load.
“Ideally, the federal government would prosecute these lie-and-try offenses, but that rarely happens,” he wrote in his letter. “Aggressive enforcement of Texas’s new lie-and-try law can help pick up the slack and deter felons, drug addicts, people facing mental health challenges, and certain dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms when they are prohibited by law from doing so.”
In a press release announcing the letter, the Governor also highlighted steps he has taken thus far to work with state agencies to help improve school safety. These include directing the Texas School Safety Center and Texas Education Agency to conduct school security reviews as well as accelerating the availability of a statewide reporting system for suspicious activity known as iWatchTexas.
The Governor’s refusal to push for new gun laws as a response to the Uvalde shooting has drawn criticism from many Democrats in the state, including his challenger for the Governor’s mansion this November, Beto O’Rourke.
O’Rourke crashed a press conference with Abbott in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and accused him of being culpable in the attack because he said the governor failed to prioritize gun-control measures. He has since reiterated his position on confiscating AR-15s owned by Texans as his preferred response to mass shootings.
The most recent polling for the race, released Monday, shows Abbott with a 19-point lead over O’Rourke among Texas voters.