Giffords: Cleveland shooting shows gun industry’s business model

Gun Rights

Saving lives is not a partisan issue. It can’t be, when our nation’s gun violence epidemic touches every community.

Upper left: Diana Velazquez Alvarado, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Bottom left: Julisa Molina Rivera, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Upper right: Jonathan Casarez, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Bottom right: Payton Washington, one of two women wounded by a man in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one of them said she mistakenly got into his car thinking it was her own. Middle: Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzman and Sonia Argentina Guzman Taibot, victims of the Cleveland, Texas shooting.

Upper left: Diana Velazquez Alvarado, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Bottom left: Julisa Molina Rivera, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Upper right: Jonathan Casarez, a victim of the Cleveland, Texas shooting. Bottom right: Payton Washington, one of two women wounded by a man in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one of them said she mistakenly got into his car thinking it was her own. Middle: Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzman and Sonia Argentina Guzman Taibot, victims of the Cleveland, Texas shooting.

Houston Chronicle Staff

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In Cleveland, Texas, Sonia Argentina Gúzman Taibot, Diana Velázquez Alvarado, Obdulia “Julisa” Molina Rivera, José Jonathan Cásarez, and 9-year-old Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzmán were murdered. In Kansas City, Mo., Ralph Yarl is recovering from a gunshot to the head. In upstate New York, Kaylin Gillis is dead. In the Texas Hill Country, Payton Washington was recently released from the ICU. All because a few strangers thought their unjustified fear — or annoyance — was greater than these people’s right to live.
 
Their lives were taken for the simple act of asking a neighbor to be quiet at night, for knocking on the wrong door, for mistakenly identifying a car. Countless more lives were ripped apart — all in the span of a couple weeks. 
 
I’m furious on behalf of the victims and their families. I’m especially furious with the gun lobby for pushing this dangerous “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality for decades, both through its culture of illogical fear, gun rights absolutism and deification of violent vigilantes such as Kyle Rittenhouse. The gun industry wants Americans to feel constantly under siege because, well, it’s good for business.
 
How did we get here? It wasn’t by accident — it was by design. Over the past 25 years, the gun lobby has systematically crafted this dystopian version of America by stoking fear and passing laws that encourage violence, including “stand your ground” laws in 30 states. A recent report by Giffords Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund found that these laws create more violence by allowing people to use deadly force in public, even when they could easily de-escalate a situation.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) listens as Democratic lawmakers speak in support gun background checks legislation bill H.R. 8 on Capitol Hill on February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 26: Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) listens as Democratic lawmakers speak in support gun background checks legislation bill H.R. 8 on Capitol Hill on February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

“Stand your ground” laws don’t allow people to shoot someone simply for a perceived insult, for ringing a doorbell or for turning down their driveway. But they do create a culture where people feel emboldened to use deadly force, and racist biases can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.


These recent preventable tragedies are getting attention, as they should, in part because of their proximity to one another. But the dangerous consequences of the gun lobby’s promotion of preemptive violence are not new.
 
After George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, Zimmerman was acquitted in a trial where his lawyers claimed self-defense. In 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by armed vigilantes who referenced their state’s “stand your ground” law as justification for hunting down and murdering a Black man out jogging. In 2021, Rittenhouse was acquitted for murdering two people at a Black Lives Matter protest, for which he claimed self-defense. 
 
I often say we don’t want our country to become the Wild West, where disagreements that turn into shootouts are the norm. The reality, however, is even worse: We’ve become a country where children are shot for no reason at all. 
 
Combining NRA fearmongering with permitless carry and “stand your ground” laws — which the American Bar Association called a “low-cost license to kill”— in a country where there are more guns than people is a recipe for disaster. A recent Florida road rage incident led to two men shooting each others’ daughters, with the first man who fired a shot ruled as having used justified force. 

Neighbors gather for a vigil, Monday, May 1, 2023, outside the home where a mass shooting occurred Friday, in Cleveland, Texas. A manhunt for the gunman culminated in the arrest of 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza on five pending counts of murder Tuesday. His partner was arrested Wednesday on allegations she hindered police.
Neighbors gather for a vigil, Monday, May 1, 2023, outside the home where a mass shooting occurred Friday, in Cleveland, Texas. A manhunt for the gunman culminated in the arrest of 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza on five pending counts of murder Tuesday. His partner was arrested Wednesday on allegations she hindered police.David J. Phillip/AP

Race and racism often play a role in whether an attack is viewed as justified. A study that looked at FBI homicide data from 2005 to 2010 found a 281 percent higher chance that a homicide will be ruled justified if the killer is white and the victim is Black than if both are white. An analysis in Florida found that a conviction is twice as likely when the victims in a “stand your ground” case are white. 
 
It shouldn’t need to be said, but murdering people for a neighborly request or for knocking on your door is not what freedom looks like. Worshiping Zimmerman and Rittenhouse as right-wing heroes is not “tough” or patriotic. And allowing people to shoot first and ask questions later is not a world Americans want to live in. 
 
Saving lives is not a partisan issue. It can’t be, when our nation’s gun violence epidemic touches every community. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Republican or a Democrat — parents want to send their kids to school or outside to play without worrying about a gun ripping their child away from them. 

My heart broke watching family members of children murdered last year in Uvalde beg lawmakers to pass House Bill 2744, an important new bill to stop teenagers from purchasing the gun that killed their beautiful children. Their voices were not those of either political party, but the voices of parents and siblings fighting to save even more families from feeling their pain and grief.
 
The America I know and love is full of kind, caring, generous people who love their families and enjoy spending time with friends. They give to charity, worship and are always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. I cannot stand by and watch as cynical gun industry marketers portray my country as a place where unknown danger lurks around each corner. The vast majority of Americans — gun owners and non-gun owners alike — agree. We must not allow the gun industry to hijack our culture and corrupt the American way of life. 

Gabby Giffords, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was shot in the head in 2011 during an attempted assassination. She’s the founder of Giffords, an organization that fights to reduce gun violence.

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