Schwertner: Patience is key to solving violence problem

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Following the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that killed 10, Texas State Sen. Charles Schwertner made mental health legislation a focus.

While he saw progress on the issue in the last session, he knows the problem has not been solved.

“As a dad – someone with school-aged children – as a surgeon that has taken care of gunshot wounds, and as a person, these are tragedies and certainly something I’d call a cancer in our society that seems to be growing,” Schwertner said.

For Schwertner, R-Georgetown, the issue at the root of the mass violence seen all over the country – and recently in a pair of incidents that claimed 30 lives and injured 49 others in El Paso and Odessa – is mental health.

“I think it certainly is a mental health issue when you look at the demographics of those that perpetrate that mass violence,” he said. “Most of them are in the ages of 17 to 26 or 27 and there is something in our society that triggers them to reach for a gun and take it to the school with the full intention of murdering their fellow classmates. I can’t describe that any other way than a break of their mental being.”

The legislation passed is intended to help identify those at risk of a mental breakdown and create better communication on the issue.

“Over the last number of sessions we have worked diligently on trying to support mental health care, in particular this last session, there was a concerted effort to address mental health in schools,” Schwertner said. “There’s a consortium that was formed across the state that will help identify those at risk of a mental health break or violent outburst and try to get them properly evaluated and taken care of before they actually do violence. Those individuals often times are well recognized by their fellow classmates and teachers, but no one actually acts upon it because they don’t know what to do. We were trying to improve that this last session because of what happened in Santa Fe.”

The growing trend in mass shootings does warrant action, but Schwertner was hesitant to call for changes to gun laws that might impact Second Amendment rights.

“We had the UT shooting many decades ago and you hear about these things that seem to be more prevalent and I do applaud the Governor and Lt. Governor for setting up committees and looking at this issue and seeing whether or not other steps should be taken,” Schwertner said. “At the same time, I swore an oath to protect our Constitutional rights and liberties and our Second Amendment is important to protect. We need to balance the concerns of those who want to see government take strong action and the oath we took to protect our Constitutional rights and liberties.”

With so many opinions, gathering all of the information and weighing the impact of any new legislation is at the top of Schwertner’s list.

“There are a lot of differing views on guns in our society and America, and the founding liberties and freedoms and rights as enshrined by our Constitution and those that feel like gun violence is so prevalent that we need to take more action as a government, both nationally and as a state,” he said. “It does take time to formulate good policy and that’s what Speaker Bonnen did on the House side and then the Lt. Governor by forming these committees that will have hearings both at the Capitol as well as I believe in El Paso and the Metroplex. I think they’ll get a pretty good feel for where people are and people’s viewpoints will be expressed through our offices, and I think that’s the better way of handling something versus a rush to action that might be premature and detrimental to our Constitution.”

The Texas House and Senate committees are currently meeting to lay the groundwork for any future legislative options on the issue, and Schwertner said he supports a methodical, cautious approach to any change.

“We’ll have to see the results of the committee hearings and whether or not they have kind of a consensus of a pathway forward based on the testimony they’re hearing and that will probably not happen, from my perspective, until the next session,” he said. “It takes a while to germinate good policy and being reactive can actually be detrimental to the process.”

Social issues also play a role for Schwertner.

“Society has a lot of problems and our complexity of social media, violence that is acceptable both in movies and video games and other things is something to talk about as well,” he said. “The breakdown in family and the father role that might not be present for a lot of these individuals in my understanding, all those are contributing factors.”

The Independent attempted on a number of occasions to contact State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, for comment on this issue. Citing a lack of time, his office declined an interview.

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