What I want my Texas community to understand about gun reform

November 7, 2017

The first time I traveled abroad, I met a group of fellow tourists. We bonded over our shared adventure and talked about where we were originally from. My new friends mentioned places like Canada, Ireland, and Argentina. When it was my turn to share, I proudly stated, “Texas.”

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

The first time I traveled abroad, I met a group of fellow tourists. We bonded over our shared adventure and talked about where we were originally from. My new friends mentioned places like Canada, Ireland, and Argentina. When it was my turn to share, I proudly stated, “Texas.”

Texans — myself included — have a unique loyalty to our state. Most are also highly patriotic, but our home state has an elevated place in our hearts that many non-Texans don’t really understand. Whether you’re a native or a transplant, once you spend some time in the Lone Star State, you’ll start understanding that the devotion Texas encourages stems from its one-of-a-kind culture.

It goes beyond BBQ, the Houston Astros, and Selena. It’s a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type of independence, a frontier wanderlust as big as the Texas skies, a Southern hospitality that extends to everyone.

These qualities all add to the unique Texas culture I’ve grown up in and proudly claim — but there’s another facet of my state culture that I’ve become increasingly ashamed of: our obsession with guns.

Guns are as beloved in Texan culture as our cowboy history. Three-day gun shows draw huge crowds to our convention centers, shooting ranges are a regular date-night attraction, and concealed-carry laws allow licensed citizens to carry firearms everywhere from college campuses to State and National parks. During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, firearms were both practical and comforting for many Texans who were hit hardest by the storms. Rescue crews made up of volunteers armed themselves as they began their searches. Citizens used shotguns and rifles to keep looters from robbing them of supplies.

And it isn’t just civilians who should be considered when talking about Texas gun culture. Whether we’re discussing the Texas Revolution or the 30+ military and naval bases in the state, our military population and their firearms have been an integral part of Texas history since our founding.

Texas state troopers
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Even I, an avid and outspoken firearm reformist, respect that guns have a place in my state’s history.

However, when mass shootings continue to happen — this time at a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas — when do we admit that our obsession with guns needs to become an obsession with gun reform?

During Sunday mass on November 5th, a gunman and homegrown terrorist, Devin Patrick Kelley, opened fire on the congregation at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a town southeast of San Antonio and three hours from my hometown of Houston. When the gunfire stopped, Kelley ran, leaving behind at least 28 casualties, including a pregnant woman and the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor. The gunman was later found dead in his vehicle and investigators have yet to release clues regarding Kelley’s motives for the attack — but this is a scenario that has become all too familiar.

As soon as social media got word of yet another mass shooting, the same old arguments we have every time there is a mass shooting were revived. Politicians who refuse to push hard for gun reform offered the same thoughts and prayers as usual, with no tangible suggestions as to how we can prevent this in the future.

While addressing the tragedy, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton even pushed the need for more citizens to participate in concealed-carry; Paxton thinks this will increase the chance of an armed hero preventing the next mass shooting. (In this instance, it’s important to note that concealed-carry regulations prevent carrying firearms inside places of worship.)

The NRA’s Twitter has so far been silent since the attack — yet, only days before, the account posted about the importance of the Second Amendment in the aftermath of last week’s attack in Manhattan. These reactions (or lack thereof) have been repeated so many times throughout our modern history of mass shootings in America. Their choice to not acknowledge the Texas shooting proves how necessary it is for us to loudly call for reform in the place of politicians’ lip service.

For me, knowing that this keeps happening — knowing that it happened so close to my home and inside such a sacred place — hurts. Truthfully, whether you are a citizen of Sutherland Springs or you heard the news from afar, knowing that this happened, that it keeps happening, and that it will very likely happen again is a sorrow that’s too hard to swallow.

I know that there isn’t anything I can do individually to change Texas’s gun culture; it will forever be a part of what my state stands for.

But by voicing my concerns and demanding change through my votes, I can at least amend that culture to include gun reform.

That’s the only way we can stop this from happening again.

One hundred and eighty one years after Texas’s most famous battle, we’re still saying “Remember the Alamo” as a rallying battle cry. Let’s allow the tragedy in Sutherland Springs (and all the mass shootings that have terrorized us) to leave just as lasting a mark and create the necessary legislation to help end these assaults once and for all.

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