Gov. Abbott should call a special session to address gun violence

Put yourself in the shoes of Rosie Granados. Talking on the phone to her sister, Mary, a postal service worker, she suddenly heard her scream and cry, punctuated by gunshots. Hanging up the phone, she rushed to the scene, only to find that she was too late — Mary was one of seven victims killed in the Odessa massacre, with dozens wounded, including a 17-month-old baby whose lip and jaw were torn apart by a bullet. Imagine the emotions - shock, anger, sorrow, grief, and fear. Rosie’s life has changed forever, in a gruesome, unexpected way. “It’s the worst pain somebody can go through” she said later.

Gov. Greg Abbott should call a special legislative session for Texas lawmakers to pass universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and establish a statewide “red flag” law. 

Every day, at least eight Texans die firearm-related deaths. Gun violence is a public health emergency. As medical providers, we care for patients and families during their most vulnerable moments. We are gravely concerned about the impact gun violence has on our patients. And we know that society must use data and research to guide evidence-based policies that objectively reduce risk. 

For example, we know that having access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by homicide and suicide. Yet, for too long, our elected representatives have been listening to myths peddled by the NRA. On September 1st, 10 bills heralded by the NRA became law, liberalizing access to guns in our communities and places of worship despite data suggesting this approach is flawed.

Federal law requires background checks for firearms purchased through retail sellers. However, millions of guns are sold or transferred annually through private dealers, online sales or at gun shows without background checks, allowing those with violent histories access to lethal weapons. According to law enforcement sources, the Odessa shooter appears to have purchased his automatic rifle privately, thereby forgoing a background check. This is an infamous loophole in the law. Most Texas gun owners — 92% — support universal background checks for all gun sales, a fact that should motivate Texas legislators to act swiftly. We are encouraged by and thank Lt. Gov. Patrick for his recent public support.

As many as 8 out of 10 shooters give off warning signs that they are considering suicide; the same is true of 4 in 10 mass shooters. Extreme risk protection orders, or “red flag” laws, allow loved ones and law enforcement officers to ask judges to temporarily suspend a person's access to guns when there are clear signs that the individual poses a threat to himself or others, ensuring a swift hearing and due process. Research at Duke University shows that Connecticut’s law saved one life for every 11 orders that were issued. Seventeen states have similar laws — including Florida, which passed its law in response to the atrocity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Texas does not.  

We applaud Gov. Abbott for his effort to understand the situation by meeting with families and community leaders and by creating the Domestic Terrorism Task Force. However, we need substantive action that protects patients.

We are tired of patching up bullet holes that our society refuses to prevent. Over 700,000 physicians from the nation’s leading professional societies are calling for policy solutions that reduce firearm injuries and death. 

Regardless of whether Congress acts, state legislators need to protect Texans. Waiting for the next legislative session in January 2021 is unacceptable and a failure to uphold the state’s responsibility to the people. If the status quo remains unchanged, an estimated 4,000 Texans will die from firearm violence by January 2021, costing the state over $21 billion dollars

To be clear, this legislation is not a threat to Second Amendment rights. It is about holding our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as worthy of protection too. We know that unchecked gun violence threatens these rights, and there are important, evidence-based steps with broad public support that we can take to reduce the risk. More guns, particularly in the hands of those posing a risk to themselves or others, do not make us safer. We’re asking the governor to join us in protecting the lives of our fellow Texans. 

Hussain Lalani

Hussain Lalani, physician


Justin Lowenthal

Board member, Doctors for America