AUSTIN, Texas, May 26 (Reuters) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott joked about threatening to shoot reporters while visiting a gun range on Friday to sign a bill lowering the cost of a handgun license, drawing criticism from gun-safety advocates who called his remarks "dangerous."
Abbott signed the bill at an indoor gun range in Austin, the state capital, then demonstrated his own shooting skills at an upstairs firing gallery before holding up his bullet-pocked target and quipping, "I'm gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters."
A photo of the moment, published by the Texas Tribune, showed the grinning first-term Republican governor pointing to the center of the paper target, where three rounds had pierced the bull's eye circle.
His comment drew a sharp rebuke from the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which noted the incident comes amid increasingly heated rhetoric from Republican President Donald Trump and supporters vilifying the news media.
"This joke was dangerous and out of line. Because it's never just a joke to some," the statement said. "Words matter. In a state and country where dangerous people can still so easily buy guns without a background check, leaders of every political stripe should be careful not to green light violence on their behalf."
The gun safety group also cited the misdemeanor assault charge filed on Wednesday against Republican Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana, accused of body-slamming a reporter who asked him about healthcare on the eve of his election.
The Brady Campaign, named for the late former White House press secretary James Brady, has focused on seeking expanded background checks required for individuals purchasing firearms. Brady was gravely wounded by a 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life.
Abbott's office did not respond to repeated requests by Reuters for comment on his remarks.
The bill he signed will cut state fees for the first-time license to carry a handgun from $140 to $40, and lower the renewal fee from $70 to $40, starting in September. It also waives the fees for peace officers and members of the military.
"No law-abiding Texan should be priced out of the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights," Abbott said in signing the measure.
Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker