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Texas lawmakers have removed gun restrictions in recent years

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How much can lawmakers do about gun violence in this country? Congress is talking, though it's not clear what they may do. State legislatures may well be able to act. Texas lawmakers in recent years have loosened many gun restrictions in the name of protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms. One Texas Republican lawmaker watching the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, is Representative Travis Clardy, who joins us from Nacogdoches, Texas. Representative Clardy, welcome back, sir.

TRAVIS CLARDY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you feel it is necessary for your Legislature to act?

CLARDY: Yes, I think it's necessary for a lot of actions to be taken on this. You know...

INSKEEP: Such as?

CLARDY: Well, you know, the story broke this week - I was in trial in Beaumont. We're coming back to the hotel. And it's a gut punch, and I'm tired of receiving it. You walk in, a good mood, ready to get ready for the next day, and here goes the scroll about the story. We've seen it too long, and we keep doing the same things. The definition of insanity is doing the same things, expecting different results. And we do need to act. But this is a multifaceted problem, and it's going to take results. You know, I don't have absolute confidence and - certainly not at the federal level, but even on the state level. The legislative, you solve problems that are, fundamentally, to me, problems of the heart. But there are things we can do. And we have done some things that are important in the last couple of sessions in Texas dealing with these issues. But we've got to quit retreating back to the red, blue - the red camp, the blue camp and the siege walls go up. And...

INSKEEP: Well, if I might, let's dig into this a little bit since time is short.

CLARDY: OK.

INSKEEP: Let's address the Constitution. There are differing opinions on what it means, the Second Amendment means. But there's a Supreme Court ruling on this by Antonin Scalia, conservative justice in 2010. It says individuals have a right to bear arms, but also says the government can regulate guns so long as they're doing it in a not arbitrary and capricious manner. Do you agree the Constitution does allow reasonable gun regulations?

CLARDY: The reasonableness is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, I'm an absolute supporter of the Second Amendment. This isn't some amendment that's derived from some unspoken penumbra within the constitutional interpretation of the court. It is there - we call it No. 2, the Second Amendment. That said, we do need to look at some reasonable restrictions. But the problem we have, Steve, is every time this happens, as predictable as its happened, unfortunately, over and over again, is the reaction that the answer is gun control. And I absolutely do not believe that gun control solves any problems. And this is talked in the practical, real world. Stopping sales or putting a ban on this sort of gun or weapon or magazine or confiscation or registration is an absolute nonstarter. But more than that, it won't work. The number of guns and ownership in private hands is an astounding, astounding figure. We have a porous Southern border, have had since the entirety of the war on drugs. Men, material, drugs and guns can flow into this country in any number of ways. So I don't think that's going to solve the problem.

INSKEEP: Well, I think you raise an interesting point. There's more than 400 million guns in this country. So it is hard to imagine how you would absolutely...

CLARDY: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Keep the guns out of the hands of the wrong person at the wrong time. But it is possible to come up with things. Cory Turner, our education reporter, has been talking with school safety researchers. And I'm just telling you what the researchers have found after looking at mass shootings. Many of them support tightening age limits for gun ownership, raising it from 18 to 21. And they point out - they say the teenage brain is too impulsive. And they point out the gunmen in Uvalde and Parkland and Santa Fe and Newtown and Columbine were all under 21. What do you think about that proposal?

CLARDY: I think we need to be unafraid of taking these issues and having the discussion. Look - I'm not - that does not offend my sensibilities. I also can go back and look at what's happened in Buffalo. I can go back to the man that drove his car through a parade and killed a bunch of people. There's been - there have been plenty of people who have acted with bad intent, whether - you know, mental health is certainly component of this. But...

INSKEEP: But what about the 18-to-21 proposal? Is that something that sounds like it could be constitutional and practical to you, raising the age limit?

CLARDY: I think that it's something that we should look at. But we also say it's fine to put weapons in the hands of an 18-year-old young man and young woman in the service of this country.

INSKEEP: True, but they're trained.

CLARDY: We say you're old enough to vote, but you're not old enough to have your constitutional right. And I agree. But, you know, so was Lee Harvey Oswald, Steve. He was well trained. So that's not a panacea. I'm not saying no, that's not on the table...

INSKEEP: Oh, sure, no one thing is going to solve this.

CLARDY: ...No one can talk about it.

INSKEEP: I would agree with you there. But go on.

CLARDY: I was just meeting in Nacogdoches at a legislative summit with the Texas School Safety Commission down in San Marcos. And at that time - this has been several years ago - we were talking about hardening the schools' defenses. I hate to approach the academic environment as we have to deal with it as designing a prison unit with those sort of security measures. We expanded the use of school marshals. We've looked at ways that we can better equip schools to defend themselves. I don't like that reality, but that's the world that we live in. But how do we address the underlying issue? And I do - as we've said, I think this is a matter of the heart. I do believe that we live in a fallen world. I do believe that there is evil. But there are also people that are troubled, that have mental health issues that need to be addressed. All this...

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that, if I can, in the moment we have left.

CLARDY: Yeah, yeah.

INSKEEP: I'm so sorry to cut you off. Researcher Mark Follman is on the program this morning. He's tracked many mass shootings. He finds a lot of people who maybe you wouldn't strictly diagnose as mentally ill, but they're troubled in some way, there are warning signs, and you can intervene. Is the state of Texas prepared to intervene more aggressively, which might mean getting in people's faces and denying them weapons in certain cases?

CLARDY: Great question. And yes, we have been doing this. We have looked into - there's this - also this equal fear of Big Brother and the statism and the monitoring of social media and algorithms that're watching activity. You know, you remember the movie "Minority Report."

INSKEEP: Sure.

CLARDY: We don't have Precogs. But it was a cautionary tale for when we live in the world of Big Brother and the - you know, the idea of 1984 being not around the corner but here and now. And so there's these issues of intrusion into private lives of citizens that are law abiding and want to do the right thing. But, Steve, we cannot - we've got to come up and get out of the box. I'm not interested in walking Pavlov's dog every time this happens and start hearing about gun control, gun restrictions, gun legislation. That, I believe, is not the solution.

INSKEEP: If you say it's a matter of the heart, I feel you are telling me, ultimately, this isn't something that you would legislate about at all.

CLARDY: I think we can legislate certain things. But, you know, fundamentally - I'll take this back, and you can point a lot of things a lot of ways. There's been a breakdown of the family laws, of laws of - you know, we seem to have more troubled children now than we have ever before. Troubled kids become troubled adults, and then we have bad results and wonder what happened. And, you know, you can't - there are things that we cannot legislate. I wish that we could. But we - there are things we can do. But doing nothing and throwing the same old cliches across the siege walls of the red castle and the blue castle will get us nowhere. I am sick and tired of this cohort (ph).

INSKEEP: Representative Travis Clardy, it is always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for joining us so early in East Texas. And good to hear from you.

CLARDY: All right. Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.