A state senator from New Braunfels has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for an opinion on how Texas cities can regulate stores selling guns and ammunition and cites Galveston as a worrisome example.
In her Feb 4. request to Paxton, state Sen. Donna Campbell questioned the legality of Galveston’s regulations and claimed they treat gun buyers “more harshly than the state treats registered sex offenders.”
She asked Paxton whether the city’s zoning regulations violate state and federal laws and whether council members who pass zoning regulations to limit gun stores could be sued.
Campbell’s request was in response to zoning regulations proposed in San Antonio last summer, said Jon Oliver, her chief of staff, in an email to The Daily News. Campbell’s Senate district includes part of San Antonio.
One of the regulations would bar gun stores and gun shows from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or church. Another would limit gun stores to high-density commercial areas.
Those regulations are still under consideration.
“The city of San Antonio put together a work group to study several possible ordinances that would affect the Second Amendment rights of San Antonio citizens,” Oliver said. “Because Senator Campbell believes state law preempts the implementation of these ordinances, she reached out to the Office of the Attorney General for an opinion.
“Texans deserve to have their Second Amendment rights protected and local officials deserve clarity when it comes to what kinds of local ordinances they can pass.”
The letter uses Galveston as an example of regulations that San Antonio is trying to implement, and of those that might run afoul of the law.
The letter points to two pieces of Galveston’s Land Development Regulations that “seem likely to impinge upon the individual freedoms of Texas citizens,” according to the letter.
One of the rules prohibits gun shops from operating within 200 feet of schools, parks or places of worship. The other places a noise limitation on gun shops, requiring that new stores cause no more noise than existed before the store opened.
That noise regulation “appears to prohibit the development of gun ranges,” the letter states. Another part of the regulations states “outdoor shooting ranges are prohibited,” although Campbell’s letter does not cite that part of the code.
Campbell cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down bans on handguns and gun ranges in Chicago as a reason to question Galveston’s laws.
Only select people can ask the attorney general for a formal legal opinion. Campbell used her authority as the chair of the Senate’s Veteran Affairs and Border Security Committee.
A Galveston spokeswoman said Friday the city was aware of Campbell’s request for an opinion and was monitoring the issue. The city is not aware of any complaints about its zoning regulations regarding guns, spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The city rewrote its entire zoning code in 2015. Under the new rules, guns shops are allowed only in commercial and industrial zones in the city, including areas that are zoned for resorts and recreational uses.
Change comes slowly, especially when it involves coordinating between federal and the dozens of entities in the path of the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou watersheds.
Going on two years after Hurricane Harvey stalled over Galveston County dropping more than 50 inches of rain in some parts and flooding more than 20,000 homes, cities are starting to make changes.
League City voters May 4 will decide whether to approve $145 million in traffic and drainage projects as part of a bond referendum, the city’s first attempt to do so since 1992. Friendswood officials are considering calling for their own election to make drainage improvements.
But, through it all, local leaders have been consistent on one thing — lasting drainage and flooding mitigation must come via regional coordination. But what does that look like? And when might those solutions be forthcoming?
Some 18 months since Hurricane Harvey brought its catastrophic rains, local officials say they are working toward those answers.
The League City Council recently empowered City Manager John Baumgartner to represent the city in working toward regional drainage solutions.
While it’s still early in that process, it’s going well so far, Baumgartner said.
“My task, as I see it, is to get to the point where we can evaluate all the options, look for potential solutions and move forward toward project consensus,” Baumgartner said.
In June, several months before Baumgartner was tasked with creating consensus, the council also moved to appoint members Hank Dugie and Larry Millican to the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou watershed steering committees.
Unlike Harris County, which relies on its local flood control district to monitor and do work in 22 watersheds, authority over watersheds in Galveston County falls to several different entities, including the steering committees and the Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District.
In the past, that division and the fact that more than 26 different entities fall in the watershed of Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou was an impediment, but perhaps not any longer, Dugie said.
“We’ve been talking about regional solutions for more than 20 years in this area, but nothing has really come to fruition on a large scale,” Dugie said. “The goal this time is to change the way we do business — come up with a project list, have an estimated impact and cost.”
Several local politicians, including Santa Fe Mayor Jason Tabor, have taken an interest and joined the local steering committees, which shows some difference already, Dugie said.
It seems the local committees have been re-energized with new faces who are working to form new alliances with the county’s consolidated drainage district and the Harris County Flood Control District, among others, said Peggy Zahler, a League City resident who serves as an alternate on the Clear Creek Watershed Steering Committee.
The goal now, in Baumgartner’s opinion, is to take that renewed interest and translate it into something local entities can use, he said.
“There are a hundred great ideas out there right now,” Baumgartner said. “Whether it’s a diversion canal, removing silt from the floodway, clearing banks, adding detention, looking at how cities handle new development — none of the ideas are inexpensive.”
A comprehensive study of all of the possible ideas, examining cost and benefits, would go a long way toward determining which projects would be best to pursue, Baumgartner said.
“Ultimately, we’d want to make a material difference in the flood level,” Baumgartner said. “At least 3 feet is my goal.”
But such a study could be expensive, more than $1 million at least and perhaps between $5 million or $7 million at most, Baumgartner said.
Commissioning a study would be the first in a long-term plan toward regional drainage solutions, Baumgartner said. Ultimately, any final list of projects would have to go through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before they would happen.
Corps officials have been attending local steering committee meetings and are engaging with county and local communities, said Edward Rivera, spokesman for the corps.
“The main requirement for local projects that affect a watershed is that the entity ensure they file for the proper permits in order to receive approval to begin their project,” Rivera said.
Local entities are looking at a five- to 10-year plan to complete the projects, Baumgartner said.
But the important first steps are happening now, Dugie said.
“The people in place now all care deeply about making something happen and working as fast as we can,” Dugie said. “But it’s never fast enough.”
While resident objection to the noise and other nuisances has the future of a summer fireworks series in question, some seawall business operators say the displays bring customers in on Sunday nights.
The displays last five minutes on 14 Sunday nights from June to August. The Galveston Park Board of Trustees began the firework displays in 2017 to encourage weekend visitors to stay an extra night.
But complaints about noise, including that it scares pets, smoke and paper debris from residents of the island’s southeast neighborhoods have put into question a contract that would extend the Sunday fireworks another year.
This decision wouldn’t affect the city’s popular July 4 display, which is a separate event.
The Sunday fireworks really do drive more business to seawall bars and restaurants, Javier Velez, general manager of The Spot, said.
If people are already out, then fireworks will encourage them to stay out longer or come into The Spot, 3204 Seawall Blvd., Velez said.
“It just brings a fun event to the island,” Velez said. “I’d say that there’s a measurable impact,” Velez said.
The fireworks are launched from the 37th Street groin, a rock slab structure extending into the Gulf, to meet fire marshal standards, park board officials said.
The summer is already busy, but having fireworks to attract people to the seawall drives business even more, said Evelyn Eisenhour at Float Pool & Patio Bar, 2828 Seawall Blvd.
“The fireworks definitely help because it just gives people a reason to come down,” Eisenhour said.
She’s lived in Galveston for more than 10 years and, as a pet owner herself, understands resident concerns with noise, but fireworks are positive for the island, she said.
Short-term rentals in the area benefit as well, Greg Krueger said.
He has owned a vacation rental for about 15 years on Ave. S and 41st Street and last rented out the property this fall, he said.
“I don’t see it as a hinderance to any neighbors since its only for a real short burst of time,” Krueger said.
People did stay an extra Sunday night during the past two years when the firework displays occurred, he said.
“From a business standpoint, I think that’s what Galveston needs,” Krueger said.
For hotels, the effect of fireworks on rooms booked is more nebulous, said Steve Cunningham, a Wyndham Hotel Group hotel complex general manager.
He manages Hotel Galvez and Spa, 2024 Seawall Blvd., among others.
“I know for a fact that it helps me but I can’t measure it,” Cunningham said.
Instead of causing a direct effect, the fireworks contribute to a portfolio of tourist attractions that keep people on the island longer, Cunningham said.
“There’s a lot of little things in Galveston that are not the reason people come here but it keeps them here,” Cunningham said.
But the benefits to business aren’t worth the annoyance for some residents, those opposed to the events argue.
Since January, more people in the neighborhoods near the seawall have expressed concern about the firework displays, resident Wayne Holt said.
“The initial interest was definitely the impact on neighborhoods with the sound,” Holt said.
Now, residents are also concerned about the potential environmental impacts of debris from displays.
The 14 fireworks displays have cost the park board more than $60,000 each year, according to park board records.
In January, the park board trustees decided to postpone a decision on renewing the contract to a meeting scheduled for later this month. Trustees also want to explore alternative entertainment that could draw in visitors.
A study by behavioral researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, to be published in the journal Behavioral Science in April, concludes that having a mental illness doesn’t make a person more likely to commit gun violence.
A better indicator of gun violence is ready access to firearms, according to the study.
Yu Lu, a postdoctoral research fellow, was lead author of the study, conducted with guidance by her mentor and co-author, Dr. Jeff Temple, a clinical psychologist and professor at the medical branch.
The study looked at the association between gun violence and mental health in a group of 663 young adults, all part of a study that has been going on for several years.
“We recruited 1,042 adolescents from seven high schools in the Houston area and have been following up with them every year looking at risk behaviors,” Lu said. Lu specializes in risk behaviors in adolescents and young adults including violent behavior, substance abuse and mental health issues.
When the longitudinal study subjects reached age 20 or 21, questions about firearms and behavior involving firearms were added to the questionnaire. Attrition from the core group resulted in a final study group of 663.
“We examined a range of mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety, depression and many others and we found that access to guns, not mental health, was the strongest indicator of threatening behavior with a firearm,” Lu said.
Lu was motivated to conduct the study by concerns she shared with other clinicians and academics over a tendency by media to connect or suggest mental health problems when talking about incidents of gun violence, she said.
“There’s a lot of public perception about the link between gun violence and mental health, leading a lot of people to think mental health is the cause of gun violence,” Lu said. “As scientists, we are concerned about the stigmatizing of people with mental health issues and a perception that is not backed up by scientific evidence.”
Trying to provide scientific evidence that either proved or disproved the link between mental health issues and gun violence, the study showed that people who had access to guns, compared to those with no such access, were over 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun, even after controlling for a number of demographic and mental health variables.
At the same time, most mental health symptoms were found to be unrelated to gun violence.
The study looked at gun violence across a broad spectrum, not specifically singling out school shootings, victims of which account for a small percentage of the 30,000 to 40,000 Americans who die from firearms each year. In addition to those deaths, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Americans are injured by firearms annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many studies have been done on smaller cross-sections, looking at violence among individuals with severe mental illnesses or looking at the rate of mental illness among individuals arrested for violent crimes. But a wider longitudinal study among an ethnically diverse sample of young adults representing the general population, some with mental health issues and some not, found no link between mental health and gun violence.
Misguided policies that might lead to restricting the rights of people with mental illness without meaningfully reducing gun violence can prevent people from seeking needed mental health treatment for fear of stigma, Lu said.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we should not stigmatize people who have mental health issues,” she said. “We should not assume people with mental health issues are dangers. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence.”
The other side of the coin, showing that access to guns is a strong predictor of gun violence has strong policy implications.
“Increasing access to guns, and the suggestion that this is the best way to protect people from gun violence, is not a solution,” Lu said. “Our finding is consistent with other studies showing that districts with higher gun ownership rates also have higher gun homicide rates.”
“Individuals with more gun access are more likely to perpetuate gun violence.”