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Guns... or Not?

Gun-Control Backers Voice Optimism

Advocates heartened by one bill's progress;
firearm groups oppose others

By Jeff Mosier
The Dallas Morning News
February 6, 2001


Texas is a tough place for gun-control advocates, but a group gathered at an East Dallas church Sunday said that lax state laws are under fire in Austin.

Nina Butts, a lobbyist for Texans Against Gun Violence, said the state Legislature was traditionally a hostile place for gun-control supporters but that seemed to be changing slightly.

"It's been as receptive as I've ever seen it," said Ms. Butts, who has been a lobbyist in Austin since 1993. "There's an increased awareness that we can tighten the laws and save lives."

More than 60 gun-control supporters met with several state legislators and the state's top gun-control lobbyist to discuss their successes in the current legislative session and what is still to come.

The speakers said it was a good sign that a Senate bill passed Thursday would ban firearm possession by people who are under restraining orders or who have been convicted of domestic assaults within the last five years. The bill now goes to the House for approval.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who sponsored that bill, was scheduled to appear but was unable to arrive in time, organizers said. Reps. Dale Tillery, Helen Giddings and Harryette Ehrhardt, all Dallas Democrats, and Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, attended the legislative update workshop at East Dallas Christian Church on Peak Street. It was sponsored by the Dallas Peace Center and the Million Mom March Foundation.

Mr. Tillery said he had been pessimistic about the chances for gun-control legislation before the session started this year.

"When I was invited to this forum, I didn't know what I could discuss except what we couldn't get done," he said.

Now, he said, the success of Mr. West's bill has given many people hope.

Bob Cooper, a member of the Dallas Peace Center, said he was optimistic that some of the state gun-control bills could pass. There were about a dozen listed as priorities by Texans Against Gun Violence, including proposals to require background checks at gun shows and require the use of trigger locks.

In a phone interview from Austin, Alice Tripp, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, said she had not taken a stance on the bill sponsored by Mr. West, although she successfully recommended a change from a lifetime to a five-year ban on firearm possession for people convicted of domestic violence.

However, she said her organization, which has doubled in size to about 40,000 members in the last couple of years, was opposing the gun show background checks and mandatory trigger locks.

"I think that the climate for gun control is even less receptive than it has been," she said. "We wholeheartedly support punishing criminals, but most of these bills would not do that."

Ms. Tripp said gun-control advocates could get their wishes if the existing laws were enforced.

Gun-control supporters say they have heard that argument and will still push ahead with proposals that they hope could prevent some gun violence.

"This is a complex issue, and we don't pretend to have a solution," Mr. Cooper said. "But these bills will help."

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