El Paso, Dayton mayors, community leaders discuss gun violence

Lauren Grobe

Assault weapon bans and universal background checks dominated the conversations on gun violence and recent mass shootings at the 2019 Texas Tribune Festival on Friday. 

The Tribune hosted two conversations between community leaders and activists on preventative measures against gun violence. In the first, two mayors from the cities affected by gun violence this year discussed the aftermath of the mass shootings in their cities. 

Mayor Dee Margo of El Paso, where a gunman killed 22 inside a Walmart on Aug. 3, and Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, where 10 were killed outside a local bar the next day, both said they supported background checks and “red flag” laws, but the mayors differed on whether to ban assault weapons. 

Margo said the mass shooting in El Paso was a “total anomaly” because the El Paso community has a safe culture.

“Evil entered our community from 700 miles away,” Margo said. 

Margo said he is unsure if a bill banning assault weapons would help because there is not a clear federal definition of an assault weapon.

“I don't know that we really need those types of weapons for the full Second Amendment (rights), but I don't know where you start,” Margo said. “There's a lot of gray that has got to be worked out.”

Whaley said the shooting in Dayton is part of a larger problem. She said shootings have become commonplace in the United States, and mass shootings are a widespread fear.

“I've always felt like these shootings, because they're becoming so much more random in nature, they can happen in any city,” Whaley said.

When recounting a vigil for the victims in Dayton, Whaley said people are growing angry and frustrated with the lack of legislative action on gun violence. 

“People started just chanting, ‘Please do something,’ and it really came organically just from the anger, the grieving of the community,” Whaley said. 

Another panel of gun control supporters and elected officials discussed possible legislative solutions to gun violence and the media’s portrayal of mass shootings.  

Shannon Watts, founder of the anti-gun violence advocacy group Moms Demand Action, said the perception that nothing is being done about gun violence is false. 

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Watts said. “The fact that Moms Demand Action happened in (and) of itself, that we could build political power, (proves) all of this work is happening.”

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said elected officials need to acknowledge the power of gun lobbyists who donate to Republican candidates and influence their vote. 

“More than bipartisanship, we need courage,” Blanco said. “Elected officials need the courage to do what’s right.”

Texas Democrats pushed Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to discuss laws on gun violence earlier this month, according to the Austin American-Statesman. If Abbott denies the session request, the topic will be addressed when the Texas Legislature meets again in 2021. Blanco said this wait was too long. 

“We don’t have enough time,” Blanco said. “People are dying.”