The political divide over gun reform blocking change

Gun Rights

It’s become an all-too familiar scene – a mass shooting in America. Followed by the doomed cries of #DoSomething that fizzles out after a few days, leading many to wonder can gun reform really happen?

The outraged demands for action continue to be derailed in Congress. Disappointed gun-control advocates and frustrated citizens, point their fingers at the influence of the National Rifle Association or any number of gun-toting, second-amendment touting congressional Republicans. Those are both legitimate factors, but the stalemate over gun-control legislation ultimately rests on a much deeper problem: the political divide in American politics.

Here we go again

After the recent Uvalde school shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead, Texas Democrats are once again demanding that state leaders enact gun control measures to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. It’s a hard sell to a Republican-dominated legislature.

“The heinous shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo have laid bare the crisis we’re facing here in America—again,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We can’t allow these preventable mass murders to keep happening, and we can’t allow this to be the new normal. The overwhelming majority of Americans want action on commonsense gun safety, and they want it now. That’s why we’re calling on senators to come together and pass proven and popular measures that will save lives and get guns out of the hands of would-be school shooters.”

 

Thoughts and prayers’ are not enough. We need evidence-based, common sense gun safety laws.

Texas Democrats in a letter to Greg Abbott

Texas Senate Democrats recently sent a letter to the governor demanding a special session to pass gun control legislation. The question moving forward is whether Democrats, outnumbered in the Texas Legislature for two decades, will be able to put enough pressure on lawmakers to move on a previously intractable issue in gun-friendly Texas and that Republicans, who support looser gun laws, will fight tooth and nail. Democratic State Rep. Jarvis Johnson says despite being outnumber, they will fight on.

“I am calling on Governor Abbott to reconvene the legislature for a special  session to pass real gun reforms; like requiring universal background checks, repealing open carry, raising the age to purchase long guns back to 21 years old, among other measures,” said Johnson (D-139). “Enough is enough. How many more of our children have to die before leadership will recognize gun violence cannot be dispelled by thoughts and prayers?”

Attendees at the May 27, 2022 NRA protest at Discovery Green. Photo by

Democrat proposals

Texas Democrats have so far laid out a broad range of proposals in response to the shooting. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke confronted state leaders during a news conference, telling his Republican opponent, Gov. Greg Abbott, he was “doing nothing” and saying the mass shooting was “totally predictable.” The party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, Mike Collier, has blamed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for loosening gun laws in the state instead of tightening them after previous mass shootings. Texas Senate Democrats have since sent a letter to the governor demanding a special session to pass gun control legislation.

O’Rourke is inching back toward the call to ban assault rifles that he became known for after the El Paso mass shooting in 2019 during his presidential run. At the time, he called for a mandatory assault rifle buy-back program. He backed away from that after pushback, but has returned to his belief that it’s “insane that we allow an 18-year-old to go in and buy an AR-15.”

Attendees at May 27, 2022 NRA protest at Discovery Green. Photo by Jimmie Aggison.

The letter from Texas Senate Democrats laid out five specific gun control proposals it urged the Legislature to pass immediately in a special session:

  • Raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21
  • Requiring universal background checks for all firearm sales
  • Implementing “red flag” laws to allow the temporary removal of firearms from those who pose imminent danger
  • Require a waiting period for the purchase of a gun
  • Regulating civilian ownership of high-capacity magazines.

During his travels throughout the state, Collier said he’s met many Republican officials who support the gun control measures he is discussing but they are afraid to discuss it publicly.

“You talk to ordinary Texans — Democrats, independents and Republicans — and they want gun safety,” he said.

Republican opposition

On the Republican side, there’s a completely different approach to gun reform. Leadership flat out rejects gun control measures, opting to focus on arming more teachers, increasing mental health resources and increasing police staffing at schools. At their recent conference in Texas, members of the National Rifle Association were unwilling to support any new gun restrictions.

20-year NRA member Bill Pepper outside the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

Abbott dismissed any suggestion of rolling back gun laws he signed to loosen gun restrictions and he dismissed the efficacy of background checks.

“Let’s be clear about one thing, none of the laws I signed this past session had any intersection with this crime at all,” Abbott said. “No law that I signed allowed him to get a gun.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has also been adamant that policies to restrict guns were off the table. “That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime,” he said.

In a poll from April, 51% of Republicans and 37% of independents said state officials were doing enough to prevent such events.

David Thomason, a political scientist at St. Edward’s University, said Democrats would have to be careful about their approach if they want to win over the Texas public. The party would need buy-in from independent voters and Republicans, some of whom support limited gun control measures. Sixty percent of independent voters said they disagreed that state leaders had done enough to prevent mass shootings in last year’s UT-Tyler poll.

But pushing forward on measures seen as too extreme, like the mandatory gun buybacks O’Rourke has pushed in the past, could turn off rural, suburban and independent voters who could be persuaded to support other measures.

“The Democrats need to rethink how they approach guns and the relationship between guns and violence,” Thomason said. “It’s not a single issue — a single regulation will not change how someone commits violent actions. There are many pieces to it.”

NRA Protesters speak on gun reform

By Aswad Walker

Tensions were not nearly as high as some expected as protesters confronted NRA Convention attendees and members of the various law enforcement agencies on hand to protect them. However, passions were still on level 10 regarding people’s stances on the need for gun reform.

The Defender Network was on the scene—the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green—to hear what attendees had to say.

REASON FOR ATTENDING

I think it’s extremely insensitive and tone death to the families, the children in the entire community that were just traumatized just a few days ago for the NRA to hold this convention in Houston, Texas… To add insult to injury, we have elected officials who are compensated by us, the taxpayers, who are actively participating in the NRA Convention. (Eulalia Gillum, concerned parent)

First of all, silence and not voting, staying home, being apathetic, sides with the oppressor. Those inactions side with the killer. My brother was murdered; died by guns. My aunt was murdered; died by guns. A bunch of my cousins were murdered; died by guns. I’m sick of people everywhere, dying by guns. It doesn’t make sense to me that anybody can go by a gun. I mean, it’s just super simple. (Jolanda Jones, Texas State Representative)

Well, I’m not a spokesperson for the NRA, but I would imagine that the feeling that runs through the NRA is that the core reason for those mass murders has very little to do with the weapon that is used. The core reason for those murders is that we’re a different society than we used to be. And in fact, we’re much more dangerous society, and we need to learn how to get a handle, and to identify those who are the most dangerous in our society rather than trying to penalize the general public, who are responsible citizens or gun owners. (Bill Pepper, NRA member for 20 years)

I know I need to be doing more than merely giving thoughts and prayers, so, yes, others need to do more, as well. It’s a combination of things. It’s not just one thing that we’re going to do. And we would hope that the church would come to that realization, as well. “Yes, we’re gonna pray. But we’re gonna get out and let our voices be heard in different ways.” (Taria Page, faith community member)

We need lawmakers who are going to get these gun laws changed. And I’m not trying to take away anybody’s 2nd Amendment rights or their guns. But you don’t need an assault rifle to protect your home and yourself. (Adryan Billups, faith community member)

The fact that I have to stand up here as a 16-yr-old student and fight for my safety in school is appalling, but I’m not going to back down… Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets. Gun laws do. (Taran Hozack, rising high school senior & event speaker)

We must take the polls in November like no one has ever seen before. Because frankly, I’m sick of it. You’re sick of it. The people of Texas are sick of it. And don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for the 19 children who will never have the opportunity to vote this governor out of office. Be bold. Be strong. And together, we will rise up to turn Texas blue. (Joshua Martin, UH SGA president)

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