Mayor Nelson responds to criticism after joining other mayors calling for more gun control

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson has responded to criticism concerning her decision to join several other Texas mayors in calling for more gun control legislation in the state.

“The status quo that we have is not working. I was very compelled to sign the letter because it’s a bipartisan group of leaders who want to see change happen.

"Are all 13 of us going to agree on the type of change or the type of solution that needs to be crafted? No. But I think we can model that building consensus and moving forward to change the status quo is what has to happen," Nelson said. 

Mayor Nelson and 12 other mayors representing Texas’ biggest cities asked Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session and usher in legislation that would address guns and mental health.

“We live in a mental health resource desert here. We need a state mental hospital here. We need psychiatrists, especially pediatric psychiatrists. We need access points for kids to get social services and wrap-around support for mental health services.

“For me, the most important draw in signing that letter was to give us a platform for our Panhandle voice to be heard and to ask for help in more mental health resources," Nelson said. 

The letter to Governor Abbott cites five specific policies the mayors want addressed, including requiring a universal background check for gun purchases; increasing the age limit to 21 to buy semi-automatic rifles; passing red-flag laws; increasing mental-health support funding; and increasing training for school resource officers.

Those reforms, the mayors wrote, “would have prevented the shooters in El Paso and Uvalde from obtaining their weapons.” The Uvalde gunman legally bought his semi-automatic rifle shortly after his 18th birthday, and the mother of the El Paso shooter had called police with concerns about him owning a rifle before the 2019 Walmart massacre.

“Families are asking us how many more shootings must happen before we act,” the letter said. “The communities of Uvalde, El Paso, Santa Fe, and Sutherland Springs deserve better. In response to mass shootings — Florida passed red flag laws, and we can do the same here in Texas.”

Mayor Nelson noted there are lines in the letter specifically added by her.

“In other words, when it first came to me, I couldn’t sign it. It was too liberal. I was able to come to the table and to negotiate back and forth.

“I think the ones that are most difficult for me are the red flag laws. I think it’s very challenging to actually implement that. 

"So, while I’m very open to having the conversation and watching and being a part of that, as our state legislatures wrestle with that. I’m curious about that. I think that to me is really the most difficult one to get behind," Nelson said. 

Amarillo city councilmember Cole Stanley said "the Mayor does not speak for me nor does she represent my views on this subject."

"This open letter for gun control does not accurately represent the majority of our community’s views on our Second Amendment rights and our right to security. Thirteen mayors’ opinions do not supersede the Bill of Rights guaranteed in our Constitutional Republic. Out of the five recommendations in Mayor Nelson’s letter, only two have any merit in affecting public safety, those being additional mental health funding and armed school security.

"The worst of these proposals come in the form of red flag laws and our right to keep and bear arms. Red flag laws are a direct attack on our rights to defend ourselves and our families which are specifically protected by the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Our right to due process would be violated and replaced by guilty until proven innocent and a direct assault on our Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights we hold dear as a free country and people.

"I have an obligation to stand for freedom and uphold the constitution as an elected representative. Our God-given rights shall not be infringed upon by impotent policies that restrict law-abiding citizens’ freedoms and do nothing to protect the most innocent people in our society," Stanley said.

Mayoral positions in Texas are nominally non-partisan, but most officials are affiliated with one of the two main political parties. The group includes Democratic-affiliated mayors like Steve Adler of Austin, Eric Johnson of Dallas, Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, and Sylvester Turner of Houston, but it also includes Republican-affiliated figures too.

Mattie Parker — the mayor of the most populous GOP-controlled city in the nation, Fort Worth — headlines those crossing the proverbial aisle to support stricter gun laws.

The other center-right officials are Nelson, Jim Ross of Arlington, John Muns of Plano, Ron Jenson of Grand Prairie, and Joe Zimmerman of Sugar Land.

"Yes, I know there are a lot of talking points from the red camp and the blue camp but I’m trying to be in the how can we move this forward and how can we build consensus.

“That’s where I am as a leader, and as a mom. I want to have a reasonable conversation on what we can build consensus on. Are there things we can change about the law that will make schools safer, that will make cities safer, and still protect a lawful gun owner’s right to carry arms? 

“Consensus building is what leaders do and you have to find a way to have the conversations for them to be productive, to find the areas where we think we have in common, like this group of mayors did,” Nelson said. 

How effective these policy proposals would have been at preventing either shooter from getting ahold of their firearms is very much up for debate. But they are among the slate of items being considered at the federal level and by some at the state level.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), among those guiding the discussions in the U.S. Senate, was booed at the Texas GOP convention last week over gun policy. Additionally, the convention passed pro-gun platform planks, including a proposed elimination of all gun-free zones, and approved a resolution condemning Cornyn and the other Republicans involved in the federal negotiations.

Cornyn announced on Tuesday night that a deal had been brokered for the federal legislation, which increases background check requirements for purchasers under 21 years of age and provides $750 million in funds for states to implement their own red flag laws.

Below is the full text of the letter from Texas Big City Mayors:

Texas’ Big City Mayors, a bipartisan coalition of mayors from our state’s most populous cities, are calling upon our state leadership to take immediate action to prevent the next mass shooting in Texas.

We represent a continuum of political ideology and have come together because we know most Texans have a strong desire for common sense reform to protect our children.  As mayors, we believe the legislature and executive leaders can come together to find the right solutions for Texas.

We are specifically calling upon Governor Abbott to call a Special Session and add the following to the call:

Require universal background checks for gun purchases.

Increase the age to purchase assault weapons in Texas to 21.

Pass Red Flag laws to identify threats before shootings.

Significant increase in mental health support funding.

Train and properly resource school safety officers

These reforms, supported by most Texans, would have prevented the shooters in El Paso and Uvalde from obtaining their weapons.

All our communities have supported our local law enforcement during these difficult times of civil unrest and pandemic-related violence. Pursuing gun policies that ease access to firearms makes the jobs of our first responders even more difficult.

Families are asking us how many more shootings must happen before we act. The communities of Uvalde, El Paso, Santa Fe, and Sutherland Springs deserve better. In response to mass shootings—Florida passed red flag laws, and we can do the same here in Texas.

In the immediacy after the shooting, state leaders specifically spoke about mental health disparities. We agree with the need to address this long-neglected area. Texas is ranked 50th in the nation for mental health care access by Mental Health America. We should do all we can to lift our state up from the bottom of this list.

There have been welcome and strategic proposals presented by other state leaders regarding mental health programs, specifically for students in school. We agree that significant investments in behavioral health, several magnitudes greater than what has been mentioned, are both needed and urgent.

Addressing gaps in mental health care access would require the state legislature to massively expand existing programs. This would mean more funding for school counselors, social workers, and support staff for public schools as well as enhancing accessibility at our mental health authorities. The lack of statewide access for mental health services has caused our first responders, especially our police, to all too often to be the only response to a person in crisis.

We can better support our first responders by funding mental health programs that allow for patient access and care instead of leaving law enforcement to handle these complex situations.

The problem that we face as a state, and that local law enforcement faces every day, is the ease with which dangerous individuals can obtain and access these weapons.

Protecting the 2nd Amendment means passing responsible policies that a wide majority of law-abiding gun owners support.

We cannot stand idly by while more of our fellow Texans, often our children and law enforcement officers, are laid to rest as the result of another preventable shooting.

Action is the only thing that will save more lives. 

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