Wearing red “Moms Demand Action” t-shirts, one couple said they lost their 20-year-old son George Kemp Jr. to gun violence in 2013. When elected officials, Calandrian Kemp said in an interview, “sit at the dinner table and they see their children for holidays, or go off to college or get married, think about those who have lost their children to gun violence…because my husband George Sr. and I have to go to the cemetery to visit our child, and we still have an empty bedroom.”
“He’s been gone almost six years now,” George Kemp said. “For a father, it hurts. I suffer every day. I worry about my grandkids, my great-grandkids, my nieces and nephews. If it can knock on our door, it can knock on anyone’s door.”
The Kemps attended a rally Sunday night in downtown Houston along with about 100 other protestors and elected officials to demand legislation on gun violence. Gathering in response to the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, rally-goers cheered whenever speakers called for universal background checks or the banning of assault weapons.
“These [assault] weapons that are intended to maim and murder and kill, they belong on the battlefields,” thundered Rep. Al Green, one of the lawmakers in attendance at the rally. “The streets of this nation are not battlefields. The churches of this nation are not battlefields. The schools are not battlefields.”
Protestors booed at the mention of the National Rifle Association, just one of many gun rights groups that has spent a total of $42 million in contributions and lobbying efforts in Congress since 1990 (of which, more than $200,000 has been delivered to Sen. John Cornyn of Texas).
Green’s calls to ban assault weapons have been echoed by Texas’ two presidential candidates, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, who shut down the NRA on Twitter this weekend. O’Rourke needled the NRA, who then Tweeted at the former congressman, “Beto, have you taken a look at the polls” with a laughing/crying emoji. (The group was referring to the presidential candidate’s own single digit polling.) O’Rourke fired back, “Yeah, I’ve seen them. 70% of Americans support an assault weapons ban, including most Republicans.”
But the gun rights group wasn’t the only target at Sunday’s rally. Most of the evening’s anger was directed to Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the Texas Legislature, both of which have failed to pass common-sense gun safety legislation, such as universal background checks on all firearm purchases, something an overwhelming majority of Americans– including 92 percent of Texans– support. Eyeing a protestor’s sign that read “Change gun laws or change Congress,” freshman Rep. Sylvia Garcia said, “It is not the Congress– all of it [at least], it’s the Senate, we must change the Senate.”
“We passed a universal background check in February, not yesterday, not last week, in February, and guess where it is?” Garcia asked the crowd. “Mitch McConnell’s desk.”
“Ban McConnell!” a protestor shouted at Garcia, who agreed and encouraged Texans to pressure and march on Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have opposed the popular gun safety measure since being elected to office and have joined President Trump in framing the recent string of mass shootings as a mental health problem.
Multiple city and county officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, joined the event organized by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Everytown Gun Safety. In a statement, the groups made it clear, gun violence “is a public health crisis that demands urgent action.”
Chief Acevedo, whose microphone was accidentally cut off mid-speech but continued ahead supported by cheers from the audience, blasted Cornyn for not knowing how to curb gun violence and issued a fiery rebuke to hypocritical lawmakers who he said supported police only when it was convenient. “If you don’t know the answers– they are there– but at least be honest and say, ‘I don’t care to know,’” Acevedo said.
While much of the evening rally focused on the recent tragic mass shootings, the demand to act on more invisible day to day gun violence that disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic victims was also very much present. In the past five years, more than 17,000 Texans have died due to gun violence including 353 children, according to online database Gun Violence Archive. This year, more than 800 Texans have died due to gun violence. Despite calls from state Democrats for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to address the issue follow the El Paso terrorist attack, Republicans have made it clear they plan on pushing gun violence back until the next legislative session in 2021, if at all.
“It doesn’t require a special session for Texas to act,” Abbott said during a town hall last week. In 2017, Abbott did not hesitate to call a special session to debate a bathroom bill.
Photo by Fernando Ramirez, The Texas Signal