Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick butted heads Friday with the National Rifle Association, saying the group is wrong in opposing background checks on stranger-to-stranger gun sales.

The lack of scrutiny for such sales apparently enabled the shooter in last weekend's rampage in West Texas to obtain the assault weapon he used to kill seven people and injure more than two dozen others. The shooter had failed a background check previously in attempting to purchase a firearm.

"We don't have all the details yet, but it appears the Midland (and Odessa) shooter may have purchased his gun from a total stranger," Patrick told Fox News. "We want to protect families selling to family and friends without background checks, but about 10% to 15% of all guns bought in this country are bought stranger-to-stranger."

Patrick, a Republican, has presided over the Texas Senate since 2015 as the Legislature has broadly expanded gun rights.

In a separate interview Friday with The Dallas Morning News, Patrick said he's "willing to take an arrow" by defying the NRA in seeking a change in Texas law to close the stranger-to-stranger loophole.

"When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don't understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they're selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who's getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues," Patrick told the Dallas paper.

"Look, I'm a solid NRA guy," Patrick said, "but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger-to-stranger sale makes no sense to me and ... most folks."

As he predicted, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action took aim at what it called Patrick's "political gambit."

"With due respect, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s `proposals' would resurrect the same broken, Bloomberg-funded failures that were attempted under the Obama administration," the NRA said in the statement, referring to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who worked with then-President Barack Obama on efforts to limit gun access. "Like most political gambits, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s `solution' precedes his possession of the facts, including this critical concession by the Obama administration: Criminalizing private firearm transfers would require a massive, governmental gun registration scheme.

"Instead of trampling the freedom of law-abiding Americans, the government should focus upon actual solutions: fixing our broken mental health system, prosecuting known criminals and enforcing the existing gun laws that require follow-up whenever a prohibited person tries to buy a firearm. In the meantime, the NRA remains at the forefront of legitimate efforts to combat crime in our country. We encourage Lt. Gov. Patrick to join us in support of the same."

Trial balloon?

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project with its University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll that has tracked public opinion on gun issues for years, said that in terms of broader public opinion, Patrick is actually treading into safer and not more dangerous political terrain.

"In February 2016, 70% of Republicans supported background checks on all gun purchases," Henson said.

"I would put this in the trajectory of Republican incumbents responding to a more competitive political environment, which leads them to have to think about being more broadly responsible to public concerns," said Henson.

Henson said that Patrick's comments Friday might be a trial balloon to see just how ferocious a response it draws from the NRA and other gun rights interests, with an eye to the possibility that Gov. Greg Abbott might agree to call a special legislative session, which many Democrats have called for, to respond to two mass shootings in West Texas last month.

In that context, the remarks by Patrick are significant. They also might have national import because Patrick is President Donald Trump's top political ally in the state. Patrick chaired Trump's campaign in Texas in 2016 and is the honorary co-chairman of Trump's reelection campaign in Texas. He also is close to Donald Trump Jr., the hunter in the Trump family.

GOP opposition

Despite the limited scope of Patrick's remedy, the hardest-line gun rights advocates in the House said he was wrong to go there.

"Dan Patrick is going to take more than a political arrow on this issue," retiring state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, told the American-Statesman. "It will cost him his political career and put the Republican Party in danger of losing the state."

When Abbott tweeted Thursday, "The Texas House & Senate are getting to work on laws to keep communities safe from gun violence," Stickland tweeted in reply, "It’s not your job to keep Texans safe. You took an oath to keep them free. Start leading folks to liberty. Stop pandering to progressives."

It’s not your job to keep Texans safe. You took an oath to keep them free. Start leading folks to liberty. Stop pandering to progressives.#txlegehttps://t.co/tFTZdCfaU7

— Jonathan Stickland (@RepStickland)September 5, 2019

Stickland said the comments by the governor and lieutenant governor are a betrayal of the Texas Republican Party's commitment to the Second Amendment

State Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, tweeted Friday afternoon: "All elected officials put their hand on the Bible and swore to protect and defend both the Texas and US Constitutions. Advocating for gun control violates that oath of office, period!"

All elected officials put their hand on the Bible and swore to protect and defend both the Texas and US Constitutions. Advocating for gun control violates that oath of office, period!

— MayesMiddleton (@mayes_middleton)September 6, 2019

And state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, tweeted Friday: "Surveillance of Texan-to-Texan private firearms transfers is a failed idea. It doesn’t work in Chicago, and it won’t make us safer here. It will infringe our rights to self-defense."

Surveillance of Texan-to-Texan private firearms transfers is a failed idea. It doesn’t work in Chicago, and it won’t make us safer here. It will infringe our rights to self-defense.#txlege

— Matt Schaefer (@RepMattSchaefer)September 6, 2019