(Adds comments, details from Reporters Without Borders)
By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas May 26 Texas Governor Greg Abbott
joked about shooting journalists while visiting a gun range on
Friday to sign a bill lowering the cost of a handgun license,
drawing criticism from gun-safety and free-press 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
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 sharp rebukes from Reporters Without
Borders, headquartered in Paris, and the Washington-based Brady
Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Both said the incident was
especially troubling as it came amid increasingly hostile
rhetoric directed against the news media by Republican President
Donald Trump and his supporters.
"This joke was dangerous and out of line. Because it's never
just a joke to some," Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
said in a statement. "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 two groups 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.
"Politicians must condemn this dangerous rhetoric against
reporters as it can quickly escalate to physical violence like
we saw in Montana," Reporters Without Borders said in a Tweet.
The group's latest annual World Press Freedom Index of 180
countries ranks the United States at No. 43, one rung below the
tiny West African nation of Burkino Faso.
"We're really seeing just how much America deserves that
ranking right now," said Margaux Ewen, the organization's U.S.
Abbott's office did not respond to requests by Reuters for
The bill he signed will cut fees for a 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
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los
Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Shumaker and Michael