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Swamp Things: Texas Governor Abbott’s Debt to the Gun Lobby
By Frank Smyth, November 8, 2017, The Progressive

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See the original article here: http://progressive.org/dispatches/swamp-things-texas-governor-abbott%E2%80%99s-debt-to-the-gun-lobby/

Texas Governor Greg Abbott made no mention of guns at his press conference in Sutherland Springs about five hours after a man opened fire during a Sunday morning church service there, killing twenty-six people and wounding twenty. Instead, he spoke of the family members killed or injured, and asked for God’s comfort and guidance for the survivors and loved ones.

Later, after the shooter’s military conviction for domestic violence came to light, Abbott told CNN that David Kelley’s request for a permit to carry a concealed handgun had been rejected in Texas, and that, because of his prior record of domestic abuse, he should not have been allowed to buy rifles.

But ever since he ran for his first Texas legislative seat more than twenty years ago, Abbott has been a steady advocate for expanding Texans’ access to guns. He has earned a 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association, and is proud of it.

“I supported #gun rights BEFORE the campaign began & have an A rating by @NRA,” Abbott tweeted during his last race. “I’ll keep Texas free.

What Abbott has not mentioned is that he owes part of his rise in Texas politics to the gun lobby.

Back in 2002, twelve years before the NRA publicly endorsed him for governor, the gun lobby used a law enforcement front group to quietly help elect Abbott as Texas attorney general. Back then, Democrats still held a majority in the Texas state house and in the Texas delegation to Congress. It was a time when the gun lobby was learning how to reach out to other right-leaning groups, forging alliances that predated both the Tea Party and the Trump campaign. It was the beginning of a redistricting or “gerrymandering” process that has since helped bring the Republican party in Texas and other states to unprecedented political power.

Abbott faced a tight race for attorney general against Austin’s popular mayor Kirk Watson. Shortly before the election, television ads appeared, attacking Watson for allegedly being soft on crime, and favoring Abbott, who was then a Texas Supreme Court justice, for supporting “the swift and aggressive prosecution of sexual predators and child pornographers.”

The ads were signed by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. Mayor Watson said he had never before heard of this group. As I later reported in The Texas Observer in 2004, it was established in 1991 with a grant from the National Rifle Association, and opened offices just eleven miles away from NRA headquarters in Virginia. The Law Enforcement Alliance had a budget of $5 million in 2001. The Alliance’s attack ads often favored the same candidates as Texans for a Republican Majority, a group founded by then-Texas state house representative and later-U.S. House Leader Tom Delay.

Justice Abbott won the 2002 election by fifteen points—the same year that Texas Republicans gained control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction. Attorney General Abbott later approved a Republican-led redistricting plan that soon helped give Texas Republicans a majority in the Senate as well. House Leader Delay was later tried and convicted of violating election laws, though this was overturned on appeal. But politicians like Attorney General Abbott continued to rise and he was elected Texas governor in 2014.


No one should doubt that the Law Enforcement Alliance was a front, one with a small office just off the Washington Beltway, rooted in the so-called “swamp.” Today its website still boasts color photos and topics like “2nd Amendment” and “Support Your Local Police.” But most of the text is just gibberish oddly in Latin, with the same lines and paragraphs repasted throughout the site.

The Alliance’s executive director for 23 years was James J. Fotis, now president of the National Center for Police Defense. Mr. Fotis recently wrote an op-ed for FoxNews.com in support of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, initially failing to disclose that his new charity had paid for Arpaio’s legal defense.

Until it become inert, the Alliance quietly influenced elections around the nation. The group succeeded in helping defeat twelve state-level candidates in fourteen years, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. It choose tight races, running attack ads often accusing candidates of being soft on crime. The candidates it targeted were in states including Kansas, Nevada, Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan and Arkansas.

These are classic gun lobby tactics. Last month, in response to the Las Vegas country music shooting, legal scholar David Kopel, the highest paid employee of the Independence Institute, penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. He noted, correctly, that mass shootings are not as common as Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, had just claimed, but did not disclose that his Institute has received more than $2 million since 2004 from NRA foundations.

After the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, Mr. Kopel and another legal scholar who has received NRA grants, David T. Hardy, testified in Congress about gun violence without disclosing their NRA funding.

No wonder no one is talking about gun reform—even as mass shootings go on devastating communities. Instead, bolstered by the Trump Administration and Republican control of both the House and Senate, the NRA has publicly gone on the offensive for the first time in decades, seeking either a Supreme Court ruling or new federal legislation that would allow a permit to carry a concealed handgun issued in any one state like Texas valid across the country.

Governor Abbott recently signed one bill dropping the fee for a concealed carry permit in Texas to among the lowest in the country, joking about shooting reporters at the same time. After Hurricane Harvey, he promptly announced that concealed carry permits lost or damaged in the storm would be replaced at no charge. Governor Abbott is hardly the only elected official to benefit from the gun lobby, but his story reveals how they hide in the swamp.

Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has covered the NRA for more than twenty years, writing for The Village Voice, The Washington Post, The Texas Observer, MSNBC.com and The Progressive. He won a Society of Professional Journalists national investigative award for his Mother Jones story, “Unmasking NRA’s Inner Circle,” after the Sandy Hook massacre.

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