Juan Castillo: How common sense can transcend ideology about guns


It seems outrageous now, but cruising New Mexico streets while tossing back a beer used to be as common as hatch chiles in August. It was the culture, pure and simple, says Doug Fritzsche, who used to live there.

Not surprisingly, until the 1990s, New Mexico led the nation in alcohol-related deaths, the New York Times reported back in 2005. Carnage on the highways stirred outrage, which triggered new laws that reduced the number of deaths.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was out front trying to change the culture by latching on to a singular, strategic focus:

“They said this behavior is killing people,” Fritzsche told me.

RELATED: Maybe evil is always with us, but we are not powerless

Change would also come to Texas, among more than two dozen states where it was still legal to drink and drive in the mid-1980s.

Why is MADD’s strategy back then still noteworthy now?

Fritzsche thinks focusing on behavior that presents a public-safety issue could work to change the culture once more as America wrestles with a different problem that’s killing people with disturbing regularity: gun violence.

It could be successful, he said, if it focuses specifically on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in the nation’s string of mass shootings. Highly militarized weaponry just doesn’t make any sense, “and it’s created a great deal of damage, so why don’t we do something about it,” Fritzsche said.

If you read these pages regularly, you might recognize Fritzsche’s name. A Presbyterian Church pastor now living in Austin and working in New Braunfels, he recently penned a powerful op-ed for us. Fritzsche wrote about how Gov. Greg Abbott put the Sutherland Springs church massacre in the context of historical evil.

Fritzsche took issue with the idea that evil is simply a fact of life and the message that sends: that we are powerless to do anything about it.

By the way, Fritzsche is no “anti-gun nut,” as he put it. In the Army, he learned how to use an assault weapon and he’s owned guns. He’s somewhat torn about the gun debate; guns have a function in society, he said, but not highly militarized weapons.

I also wrote about the Sutherland Springs massacre last week. I said it is long past time we do something about the mass shootings that have become the new norm in America.

COMMENTARY: We can’t let gun violence remain the new normal.

Many of you wrote back. Some said you feel the same way – and you’re fed up that our lawmakers aren’t doing anything about it. I’ve heard from gun owners who can’t fathom how assault weapons have legitimate use outside the military.

Others said I’m another typical “knee-jerk liberal” intent on making this a political issue and on taking your guns away. Keep the guns. I understand the Second Amendment. I get why hunters and those who would protect their homes need their weapons.

I shared the latter reaction with Gina Hinojosa, the Austin Democrat who represents the 49th District in the Texas House.

“It’s a knee jerk-reaction. You don’t even say (gun control) and people put you in this camp,” she said.

Like Fritzsche, she couldn’t just sit idly after Sutherland Springs.

So, three days after the massacre, Hinojosa, a member of the state Homeland Security and Public Safety committee, joined a few fellow legislators at a Capitol news conference to urge state lawmakers to declare gun violence a public health issue.

“Let’s not confuse this debate into one about the Second Amendment or going after anyone’s guns,” Hinojosa said. “This is what common-sense people of good conscience who are law-abiding want.”

I’m appalled when I hear some people say that the massacres that snuff out innocent lives at churches, concerts, movie theaters and elementary schools are just the price we pay for our freedom.

But I find it reassuring that people like Fritzsche and Hinojosa are standing for the courage of their convictions and are looking for solutions and places where all can come to reasonable agreement. I’m heartened to hear that a bipartisan group of senators led by Texas Republican John Cornyn unveiled legislation last week to strengthen background checks for gun sales. A Quinnipiac University poll released the same day found support among Americans for universal background checks at an all-time high.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: Viewpoints delivers the latest perspectives on current events.

Americans aren’t powerless. We know that the man who massacred churchgoers at Sutherland Springs had a domestic violence conviction in military court that should have barred him from buying a gun. Yet, he bought a gun each year since 2014. We don’t have to let that stand.

The subject of gun violence is sadly ensnared in a culture war. But, I believe that common sense and good conscience can transcend ideology. A few of you wrote to say that’s naïve. Sure, the gun issue divides Americans — that’s plain to see. But in the end, we all share a common and decent humanity and a unifying respect for the common good.

Objectives aimed at preventing more mass shooting are ones all Americans can rally around. Doing nothing after each mass shooting is tantamount to throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Oh, well, life goes on.’ Yes, but at what price?

Castillo is the American-Statesman’s editorial page editor. You can contact him at jcastillo@statesman.com



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: What is the real message of #MeToo?

The feminist website Babe published an account of a date gone bad. The pushback has been swift and sharp. I share some of the concerns of the critics, but I also think young women are sending a message that is being missed. The account by the anonymous “Grace” about a bad date with comedian Aziz Ansari was, if not “3,000 words of...
Lacking minorities, state boards are ill-prepared to serve all Texans
Lacking minorities, state boards are ill-prepared to serve all Texans

Gov. Greg Abbott should look at fairness, justice and best practices — along with qualifications — in making appointments to state boards and commissions. Given his record, that clearly is not happening. If those measures were used, Abbott’s appointments would better reflect the ethnic, racial and gender diversity of Texas. They don&rsquo...
Moms are fighting for gun violence prevention in Texas – and winning
Moms are fighting for gun violence prevention in Texas – and winning

Five years ago, I watched news of the Sandy Hook school shooting unfold in horror. When the scope of the tragedy was confirmed, I got up to tell my husband, only to fall to the floor. Although I didn’t know the families impacted by this devastating shooting, as a mom of two young kids, it felt deeply personal to me. Immediately after Sandy Hook...
Facebook comments: Jan. 21, 2018
Facebook comments: Jan. 21, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Mark D. Wilson and Sebastian Herrera, Amazon announced that Austin made its short list of 20 cities that could become the site of its second headquarters. More than 238 cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico submitted applications for Amazon’s HQ2. Dallas was the only other Texas city to make the cut...
Herman: Let’s eavesdrop on two Texas Repubs going at it on Twitter
Herman: Let’s eavesdrop on two Texas Repubs going at it on Twitter

Through the miracle (menace?) of Twitter, let’s eavesdrop on a conversation between two of our duly elected state officials. But first, let’s meet our players. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (known to some as “Sticky”) is a Republican from the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Bedford. He’s a keep-government-out-of-our-lives...
More Stories