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Independent probe of Uvalde shooting is the right call, Texas state Rep. White says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are joined now by James White. He serves in the Texas State House of Representatives and is also chairman of the State House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. Mr. White, thank you so much for your time this morning.

JAMES WHITE: Thank you so much for having me on.

MARTIN: Is it the right call to bring the Department of Justice into this investigation?

WHITE: Absolutely. It is always right and in order to bring in independent investigatory bodies when there's so much that the people that are being affected want to know. So I welcome this investigation, its findings. And it will help us move forward in coming up with ways to make sure these situations do not occur again.

MARTIN: The shooter was 18 years old. He couldn't buy beer or cigarettes. In the state of Texas, though, he could legally purchase an AR-15-style rifle, a second rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Is that OK with you?

WHITE: I would say this - right now, it is constitutional for him to do that. I am not OK with anyone using firearms to endanger Texans. So we'll look at this. But for more than a hundred years, Texans 18 and over have been authorized or permitted to purchase long arms. But, you know, we will look at this because also what I'm finding out is that most of these - when we have most of these mass shootings, especially when they're on campuses, it's actually youth that are under age of 18 that bring these weapons on campus and that are, actually, maybe students at the campus. So we'll be data-driven. And we'll look at this. And we'll make the right pivots.

MARTIN: After the El Paso mass shooting in 2019, I mean, lawmakers in your state said the same thing - we're going to look at this, we're going to make changes. The legislator talked and talked and then nothing happened. In fact, last year, the state legislature voted to loosen restrictions on firearms. Has the shooting in Uvalde made you reconsider your support for those changes, because you did support those bills?

WHITE: Yes. Well, if I could put some context to that - one of the measures that we did pass was the lie and try. So the idea is that when you're filling out that form in lieu of the federal background check and you purposely lie in order to mislead someone that's doing that background check on the federal end, we did make that a federal offense - I mean, excuse me, a state offensive. It was already a federal offense, but we also made it a state offense. And we elevated it to the felony range. When it...

MARTIN: That was one out of several different proposals that were put forth to the legislature. You also made it OK to carry a revolver without a permit.

WHITE: OK. And that was for Texans 21 and older, OK? In respect to your question again - after the school shootings in Santa Fe, we did pass several school safety measures in response to that. So anything that we considered last session and we passed last session as it relates to constitutional firearms rights did not specifically apply to the tragic event in Uvalde.

MARTIN: You're the chairman of the House Committee on Public Safety. Should the rights of gun owners in your state outweigh the rights of children to go to school without getting killed by someone using those weapons?

WHITE: I would say no because here's the deal, using weapons in an unlawful way to take a life - also, in Texas, we do not permit guns on school campuses. In fact, within a 300-foot buffer around school campuses, when you commit a crime with that weapon in possession, it's actually enhanced. So we do not legally, lawfully permit, unless you're law enforcement, these weapons on our campuses. And, no, I am not OK with people abusing constitutional rights and killing children.

MARTIN: You would not support, then, a measure to allow or encourage teachers to carry weapons then?

WHITE: Well, we have that measure in Texas. Those teachers - and, really, it could be a teacher, it could be administrators, it could be staff that's employed at the school. They go through training. They go through a mental background check. So there are heightened protections and provisions for that. So I do support the discretion of local school boards making those decisions.

MARTIN: Even though the presence of more guns in the Uvalde shooting didn't make a difference?

WHITE: Well, what do you mean the presence of more guns in the Uvalde - in what respect?

MARTIN: There were police who were armed who were inside the building. And still, 19 children died.

WHITE: OK. Well, this is - to your point there on the police that were in the building while the children passed away, that's part of the federal investigation, to look at why those officers were in the building and they were not given the go-ahead order to take the shooter out. That will be investigated. But what I'm hearing from Texans around the state is that they would like to see more law enforcement on the campuses protecting these students and teachers.

MARTIN: But close to a majority of Texans also say that they'd like to see stricter gun safety laws. We'd love to have you on to talk more about this. James White serves in the Texas House of Representatives and is chairman of the State House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. He joined us on Skype. Thank you so much for your time.

WHITE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAV GUSTAV'S "HYACINTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.