Now is the time to talk gun violence, Democratic state lawmakers and gun control advocates proclaimed Wednesday.
“I am calling for a series of hearings not for the session but now,” state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, told reporters at press conference in the Texas Capitol. “We need to take action now, so we can approach this issue the same way we have approached obesity, or opioid use or any other threat to the health of Texans.”
The outrage from Collier, her colleagues and other advocates follows another mass shooting that has gripped the nation. Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on dozens of worshipers Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a rural community near San Antonio. He killed 26 people and injured 20 others.
Since Sunday, details about Kelley’s past have painted the picture of a domestic abuser whose conviction didn’t stop him from purchasing the weapons he used to attack parishioners and that of a man who resisted help for a mental illness.
But calling the incident just the consequence of a mental health issue doesn’t tell the whole story, lawmakers said Wednesday. They called for laws that would require background checks for anyone wanting access to a firearm, make lying on a background check form a state offense and would allow judges to order the removal of guns from people whose relatives demonstrate are violent or threatening violence.
“This is about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals,” Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said. “Let’s not confuse this debate into one about the Second Amendment or going after anyone’s guns. This is what common-sense people of good conscience who are law abiding want. …This isn’t taking sides in a culture war.”
Lawmakers disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assessment that it’s too soon to talk politics.
“Well, OK, it’s too soon to talk about Las Vegas then. Can we talk about that now? Well, when can we start talking about Sutherland Springs? And the answer to that is now,” Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, said.
“I can tell you that the folks in Sutherland Springs are racked with grief,” but lawmakers should be able to have the conversation, he added.
Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, recalled praying after the Sunday attack then asking for forgiveness for being tired of praying for people affected by gun violence.
“What’s it gonna take? Is it gonna take one of the representatives or one of the senators on the other side of this building to lose one of their children in a mass shooting for us to take this action seriously?” Romero said. “I pray again that that’s not the case.”
Diana Earl, an Austin resident whose son was shot and killed after an argument last year, said she is a member of a club no one wants to be in because of “senseless shootings and uncontrollable anger and a convenience of having easy access to weapons.”
“What do we do? What have we done?” she said. “We experience tragedy. We pray. We grieve. Then we rinse and repeat it all over again.”
Rabbi Steve Folberg of Congregation Beth Israel said people are right to criticize elected officials who offer only prayers but won’t budge on reforms on how people can access guns.
“There are prayers of words, and there are silent prayers of the heart, but there are also prayers of doing, prayers of action,” he said. “Indeed, action is a form of prayer.”
Kelley’s attack is considered the deadliest church shooting in American history. Of the 26 who died, their ages ranged from 18 months to 77 years old and included an unborn child.
The Air Force said Monday that it did not report Kelley’s military conviction for domestic abuse in 2012 to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Sunday’s shooting resumed a national conversation about how to regulate guns. Lawmakers on the federal level, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have said they will push for legislation to improve background checks.
Representatives for Texas Gun Sense, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and The SAFE Alliance also spoke Wednesday.