June 17, 2022 10:00am

Power Poll members want big changes in gun policy, say it's unlikely they'll see it

Following the massacre at a Uvalde elementary school, Austin's leaders overwhelmingly support major policy changes like red flag laws and raising the age to buy a firearm

Photo of Andrea Zelinski
Austin, TX Correspondent
 

Austin’s Power Poll members support of raising the age to legally buy firearms to 21 from 18 and want a so-called “red flag” law allowing the courts to temporarily ban someone deemed a threat to themself or others from possessing or buying a gun.

In related findings, Power Poll members overwhelmingly oppose arming school teachers and are split as to whether they expect any meaningful policies will become law as a result of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of Austin’s Power Poll members believe they won’t have to go back to working in the office, or if so it will be on a hybrid schedule.

Here are questions we asked in the June Power Poll:

This survey was sent to 581 Power Poll members in the Austin area, where 113 members responded for a response rate of 19.45%. The Power Poll is not a scientific poll, but a snapshot of what’s on the minds of those who wield influence and power in Austin. That includes public officials, CEOs, small business owners, community activists, restaurant owners and others. The Power Poll is decidedly non-partisan.

Power Poll questions leaders in about 30 cities across the United States. Power Poll members share their thoughts and opinions about important issues in their communities, giving the public a peek into what the people who run their cities are truly thinking. Power Poll aims to take similar surveys in the top 300 cities in the U.S.

CONTEXT:

On Tuesday, May 24, an 18-year-old high schooler killed 19 school children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Exactly what happened that day is still being pieced together as officials share changing versions of the events following the massacre.

What is known is the shooter, Salvador Ramos, was a loner who legally bought two assault rifles for his 18th birthday. After entering Robb Elementary, it took police more than an hour to enter the classroom where Ramos was. Meanwhile, students inside repeatedly called 911 for help.

This shooting is the third most deadly school shooting in U.S. history, behind the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 students and faculty and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 first-graders and six adults. The massacre at Sandy Hook spurred Texas to create a school marshal program allowing certain school personnel, such as teachers, to carry a weapon at schools and be trained to respond to an active shooter situation until police arrived.

The shooting in Uvalde was the eighth mass shooting in Texas in 13 years, the most recent being the 2019 shootings in Midland and Odessa and an El Paso Walmart, at Santa Fe High School in 2018, and the Sutherland Springs Church in 2017.

The appetite to enact new laws in reaction to the Uvalde shooting has led to a tentative bipartisan agreement on a gun deal announced Sunday, June 12. While it lacks some of the gun restrictions desired by Democrats, such as lowering the age to buy a firearm and banning assault weapons, it would be the most sweeping policy to pass Congress in years of stalemate.

The agreement announced in mid-June includes enhanced background checks that give authorities more time to check the juvenile and mental health records of gun buyers who are less than 21 years old. Another provision would make it harder for those accused of domestic abuse in dating relationships to obtain guns. The proposal would also offer incentives to states that adopt red flag laws that allow a court to ban someone flagged as a threat to themselves or others from possessing or buying firearms. The agreement has yet to pass either chamber of Congress and is considered a fragile undertaking.

Governor Greg Abbott briefly proposed a red flag law following the 2018 Santa Fe shooting, but he abandoned it months later after Lt. Governor Dan Patrick signaled such a proposal would not be entertained in the Senate. In 2021, the Legislature eased gun restrictions and allowed gun owners to carry handguns without a license.

Since the shooting in Uvalde last month, the governor has directed the Texas School Safety Center to perform random safety audits of school buildings, the Legislature to convene hearings to explore legislative options, and said he wants active shooter training for school districts and a new position created within the Texas Education Agency focused on school safety.

With no Texas legislative session in sight until after the November 2022 gubernatorial election, it’s unclear what direction the Legislature will head. Meanwhile, a recent poll by Quinnipiac found Abbott’s commanding 15-point lead slipping against former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is campaigning for stronger gun regulations. The poll found Abbott ahead by 5 percentage points.

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