AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson, along with others throughout the community, are speaking out after Nelson recently signed a letter, along with 12 other mayors throughout the state of Texas, calling on state officials to continue conversations surrounding gun reform after the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
In late May, 19 students and two adults were killed in a classroom at the elementary school in Uvalde by a gunman using an AR-style rifle. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the gunman was eventually killed by law enforcement officials.
According to previous reports, the letter, from the Texas Big City Mayors Coalition, a bipartisan organization of which Nelson is a part, called on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session and add gun reform-related measures to the session’s agenda. The items that the coalition listed in the letter includes:
- 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.
After Nelson signed the letter, Amarillo City Councilmember Cole Stanley responded with his own statement, saying that the letter’s views do not represent his own views on the subject, as well as what he claims are the views of the majority of the community.
“I have an obligation to stand for freedom and uphold the constitution as an elected representative,” the statement reads. “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.”
How did officials most recently respond to the letter?
By signing the letter, Nelson said she wanted to help communicate to the Governor’s Office, as well as the Texas Legislature, that some changes should be made in regard to gun reform.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Two of the priorities of the letter that stood out to Nelson were the measure of increasing the age to purchase assault weapons as well as an increase in mental health resources. Nelson said the Texas Panhandle especially needs help on the mental health resources front.
“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,” Nelson said. “…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.”
However, with it being a bipartisan group of leaders throughout the state, it took time to build a consensus, Nelson said.
“There were lines in that letter that were specifically mine,” Nelson said. “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.”
Out of the five priorities listed in the letter, the one that Nelson wrestled with the most was the addition of the priority to “Pass red flag laws to identify threats before shootings.” According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, red flag laws let individuals, most likely a family member or police officer, petition a court to have firearms taken away from someone they consider to be a potential threat. This is currently a law in places like Washington D.C., New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Indiana.
“I think the ones that are most difficult for me are the red flag laws,” Nelson said. “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.”
The addition of red flag laws within the document was Stanley’s main concern, stressing that some of the other items in the document, including background checks and increases to school safety, are common sense and logical.
Stanley said that the implementation of red flag laws goes against not only the second amendment but the fourth and the fifth amendment as well. He said those laws would take away personal rights and would cause more harm to the community.
“(Red flag laws) would destroy our ability to have due process,” he said. “In the society that we live in right now, in cancel culture on social media, you would essentially take your constitutional rights and you would put them in the same realm as cancel culture. You would allow anybody in your community to put out an accusation and essentially hit that red button and cause you all sorts of issues.”
Since the letter came out, Stanley said he has received many texts, emails and calls from constituents who stated their concerns. Over the years, he also said that he has had other conversations with citizens stressing the importance of the right to own a firearm, something he believes is integral to remaining free.
“I am an elected representative of the people of this community and so as an elected representative, it’s my job to know, foundationally, what the truths are that we hold near,” Stanley said. “I 100% believe that any type of red flag law that would try to be instituted would try and go against the major majority of people that live in this community… I haven’t had one (text, call or email) that said, ‘we need this.’ Not one. For years, we have had attempts to reduce or shave away the second amendment. The constitution is not meant to limit our citizens’ rights, it’s meant to limit our government’s rights over the citizens.”
As a gun owner, Nelson said that she believes that the second amendment is an important issue, stressing that the second amendment protects freedom. However, Nelson said families are asking her to make sure what happened at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde does not happen in Amarillo.
“The primary voice that I speak with every day is as a Mom. Most moms want to know, most parents want to know, and most grandparents want to know that our kids are safe when they go to school. I think this is more of a human issue than of a red issue or a blue issue. 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,” Nelson said. “…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?”
This, Nelson said, is why the help of the state government is needed to reach a consensus and make changes.
“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. “…We are going to continue working on this at the city-by-city level, but I think it’s important for us for ask our state leaders to have a conversation about what we are going to change to make our cities and our schools safer.”
Nelson said the city is working with a mental health think tank regularly to help put together a list of needs and costs. This is so that when the state asks Amarillo officials what they need in regard to mental health, they have a list and can show them what the needs are.
Nelson also praised the work the Amarillo Police Department is doing to help prevent gun-related deaths throughout the city. She said the department continues to work on this issue after more than 20 murders occurred in the city in 2021 and more have occurred this year so far.
But Nelson hopes the conversation continues throughout the city and throughout the state.
“This issue is in our city, as it is in every city across the nation,” Nelson said. “I think it’s important for leaders to have a conversation. Everyone will have an opinion about what needs to be a part of the solution, but we need to guard our dialogue and we need to make sure we are having that conversation in a productive tone and in a way that listens as much as it demands our views to be a part of it.”
Stanley said he believes this conversation began once he responded to Nelson’s letter. But he stressed that he believes the conversation should be centered on how to protect children and schools throughout the community.
“I believe that a conversation is always productive, looking at public safety and how we continue to protect our public to the best of our ability. I don’t ever believe putting our constitutional rights, or the bill of rights, up for a vote is something that’s appropriate,” Stanley said. “The second amendment is not something that we need to have a conversation over. It is there. It is foundational and it’s the truth. It’s something that we founded and built our country on and what we have to defend. Freedom will not defend herself. It’s our role and obligation to stand up for her.”