- Johnathan Silver
- Jonathan Tilove American-Statesman Staff
A Republican state legislator, as well as several Democrats and gun control advocates called Wednesday for action in the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs church shooting.
State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, called on Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to create a commission to “determine the root cause of gun violence in Texas” and propose legislation ahead of the 2019 legislative session.
Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on dozens of worshipers Sunday at First Baptist Church. He killed 26 people and injured 20 others.
“There is no question that mental health plays a significant role in these attacks, and certainly, adequate mental health funding and accessibility shall be a key component to any solution to this complex issue,” Villalba said in a letter to “fellow Texans.”
“But, to be perfectly clear,” the letter continued, “the commission shall focus on ALL possible causes of gun violence in Texas INCLUDING lax or deficient gun control laws and regulations in Texas. No shibboleth shall be off limits. THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL REFORMS IN TEXAS! If we expect a change in the outcomes, we must consider all inputs. The time is now to DO something. Whatever that may be.”
Democrats and gun control advocates pushed Wednesday for hearings.
“I am calling for a series of hearings not for the session but now,” state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, told reporters during a news conference at the 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.”
Kelley was a domestic abuser whose conviction didn’t stop him from purchasing the weapons he used to attack parishioners. He also resisted help for a mental illness, according to a police report that came to light Tuesday.
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 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 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.”
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.”
Representatives for Texas Gun Sense, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and The SAFE Alliance also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference.