From left: John Harwood moderates a panel with El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley.
From left: John Harwood moderates a panel with El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo doubled down Friday on his support of stricter background checks but stopped short of supporting other gun control measures like "red flag" laws and an assault weapons ban. And — unlike his fellow El Pasoan Beto O'Rourke — he said outright that he did not support any kind of mandatory buyback program.

The Republican and former state legislator spoke at a Texas Tribune Festival panel alongside Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat. The cities saw deadly mass shootings on the same weekend last month.

Days after the shootings, Margo and Whaley were among a bipartisan group of more than 200 U.S. mayors who called on the U.S. Senate to return from recess to pass background check legislation — a request Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined.

On Friday, they agreed that background checks are a necessary first step before exploring other types of gun control measures, including red flag laws, though Whaley expressed more pointed support for other policies.

"I always want to avoid a knee-jerk response without looking at what are the potential ramifications," Margo said, adding that "the easiest place to start is the background check."

Twenty-two people were killed and more than two dozen were wounded in the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso. The gunman was arrested and charged with capital murder.

Also at Friday's discussion, Margo appeared open to exploring red flag laws but also expressed concern about them being abused, saying, "You’ve got to make darn sure you’ve got the protections in there and also that it couldn’t be used as a leverage point for someone to get at someone else."

As for an assault weapons ban, he said, "I don’t know that we really need that type of weapon," but also that "you can be just as powerful with a 9 mm." He also noted that there is disagreement over the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, and that needs to be cleared up before anything else can be done.

Meanwhile, Whaley said she shuddered to think what would have happened if six police officers hadn't stopped the gunman in the Aug. 4 Dayton shooting before he entered a crowded bar. By the time he was shot, she said, he had gotten only halfway through a 100-round magazine, killing nine people and wounding more than 20 others on a busy street. Limits on high-capacity magazines is one proposal that's been floating amid the country's mass shooting crisis.

She also expressed hope that Congress would consider some kind of assault weapons ban.

But Whaley and Margot also appeared to agree that an all-out ban on guns wouldn't necessarily fix the problem. Margo noted it's almost impossible to get a gun legally in Mexico, "yet you’ve got the drug cartels running rampant, you still have the high murder rates." Whaley noted that many of the shootings in Chicago — which is also governed by strict gun laws — are carried out with firearms purchased in surrounding states with more relaxed standards.

During Friday's panel, Margo said he hadn't gotten any pushback from U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — both Texas Republicans — over his support for stricter background checks and noted that even ultraconservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has come out in support of background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales. Margo said he hadn't specifically discussed the issue with Gov. Greg Abbott.

Margo also supported Abbott's decision not to call a special session to address the mass shootings that have occurred in the state, saying that the state needs to gather more data before it can craft effective policies.

And despite his long-running spat with President Donald Trump, Margo praised his fellow Republican for his response to the shooting. In addition to clashes over border issues, it was reported that Trump called Margo a "RINO" — the acronym for Republican in name only — during a private meeting after the shooting. Trump also said that El Paso was one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. (The opposite is true.)

During the panel, Margo said he made sure to correct the misinformation but also that "he covered all his bases."

Whaley, meanwhile, said she spent 2 1/2 hours with Trump after the Dayton shooting and didn't see him hug anyone in the hospital — as was widely reported — or say anything substantive.

"I was actually most amazed that a person could be around for three hours and not have a meaningful conversation," she said. "That was my biggest takeaway from that period."

Acacia Coronado contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Walmart has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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