The Perfect Enemy | Wendy Davis sounds off on gun politics in Texas
June 30, 2022

Wendy Davis sounds off on gun politics in Texas

Wendy Davis sounds off on gun politics in Texas  POLITICO

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Hello, readers. What an awful week. I wish I could say I’m looking forward to taking a break from the news this long weekend, but that doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. I keep thinking about a line from an article in Texas Monthly: “The children who died in Uvalde lived the last quarter of their lives during a global pandemic.” The fact that we can divide their lives into fractions because we know where they begin and end, and the fact that the past few years — the ones that seemed to pass me by in a blur — were the most significant years for them … it all just hit me at once.

Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for your help putting the newsletter together.

Six and a half years ago, I edited a piece by former Texas state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis that has stuck with me ever since. She wrote about what it’s really like to consider staking out a pro-gun-control position in a deep-red state like Texas. Spoiler alert: It’s hard. There are voices everywhere telling you you’re ending your political career. You’re worried that this single position will take attention away from everything else you want to accomplish. In the piece, she wrote that she ended up deciding to support the open carry of handguns in her state as a result of that kind of pressure.

There were plenty of people who didn’t like the article when it was published; many found it cowardly. But it was honest. And if you’re looking for a read on how we got here — an endless cycle of deadly shootings followed by conversations about policy solutions that go nowhere in Congress and state houses — Davis’ article is still a good place to start.

I was curious to hear what she had to say now, after the Uvalde, Texas, shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead earlier this week. She was angry, but she thinks there have been changes in the past several years — and she’s hopeful more are on the horizon. A shorter version of that full interview is below; read the full piece here.

Katelyn Fossett: Since you wrote that last article, do you think it’s gotten harder or easier to stake out positions in favor of gun control in Texas?

Wendy Davis: I think it’s gotten easier and sadly, it took repeated tragedies to make that the case. But I think the sentiment in this country has shifted because there is such an epidemic of mass shootings and we are waking up to the reality that we must do something to address it.

Fossett: Easier for politicians, too?

Davis: I didn’t say politicians. Because clearly Republican politicians … though they understand in their hearts that something needs to be done, they do not have the political courage to do it. I think what shifted is the sentiment of the majority of Americans. And I’ll describe to you why that is.

Let’s just take, for example, what happened last night. … I’m just going to pick a congressional district: Texas’ congressional district 30. There was a runoff in a Democratic primary. This is Democratic, but it’s reflective of what happens. There are, you know, 850,000 people in that district — I don’t know what the exact number is — do you know how many people voted in that Democratic primary runoff?

Fossett: How many?

Davis: Less than 10,000 people. Less than 10,000 people decide who the congressperson will be. That same thing happens in Republican primaries. And typically, the people who are coming out to vote in those are people who are on the edges of either party. The more extreme people, the more politically motivated people.

What’s happened in Texas is because we’ve had three redistricting cycles in the past two decades. … Our state has become more and more gerrymandered, and we now have a number of Republican districts that are actually not reflective of the percentage of people who identify as Republican. In those districts, only the primary matters. And in those primaries, only the extreme voter matters. That means that those politicians feel like that’s the voter they are going to be held accountable to. And that’s who they talk to. That’s who they develop their policies for. That’s why what they do doesn’t match who we really are, whether we’re talking gun control or abortion rights or, you know, support for public education and so on and so forth. It doesn’t match the reality of who we are.

Fossett: I was actually going to ask you about this. There is an article that was published in Texas Tribune very recently that showed that as support for gun control measures have increased in Texas, usually in the aftermath of mass shootings, gun restrictions have just continued to relax.

Davis: That’s right. In this last legislative session after we had the horrific mass shooting in El Paso, we actually loosened gun laws even more. That is sickening and infuriating. And I think there are so many people across our state and across our country who are so angry about the fact that political, quote-unquote, leaders are not in step with our values and our concerns. And unfortunately, what that causes is an even greater withdrawal of participation in the democratic process, because it just reinforces to people over and over and over again that their voices don’t matter. Their votes don’t matter because the people who are in elected office are not reflecting their concerns.

Fossett: There might be people who say that this shooter acquired his weapon illegally, so what effect would these restrictions have? What would you say in response to that?

Davis: There are so many layers where we do not capture and prevent someone from buying a gun. One of those, of course, showed up in Buffalo, where we had a person who had demonstrated a propensity for that kind of violence; it was widely understood he had those proclivities. And yet, there was no red flag instituted against him. We don’t have a red flag law in Texas.

And of course, where the governor and lieutenant governor went today was, “Well, this is a mental illness problem. It’s not a gun safety problem.” It’s both. It’s always both. If a mentally ill person has the capacity to purchase a weapon … we’ve got to create systems that capture that person in a net.. …

We can’t point to these limited instances where this person didn’t get caught in a trap, when we didn’t set the trap. We’re so far from setting the trap.

Fossett: Do you think this can be a hinge moment? Can it be a moment that spurs politicians to act differently or are they still under these same pressures you talked about in your article?

Davis: I think this can be a hinge moment for a couple of reasons. This came on the heels of two other tragic mass shootings. And it comes at a time when candidates more and more are staking out a moral and conscionable claim about our duty to do something about it. The fact that this most recent one involved these precious babies that all of us can imagine our own children and grandchildren, and that we have politicians who are unafraid to talk about it and to invite us to participate in a solution … It can be a hinge moment. It truly can be. And I certainly hope that it will.

Fossett: What do you want to say to Republican politicians in Texas?

Davis: I would repeat what Beto [O’Rourke] said today: “This is on you.” Governor Abbott, right after the shooting yesterday, said “This is horrific and incomprehensible.” I’ve never tweeted a tweet with, like, all caps, shouting and an F-bomb before, but I did in response to that. Because it is absolutely comprehensible. We can comprehend it because it’s happened over and over and over again. So yes, it’s comprehensible. We need to do something in the face of it. It’s incomprehensible to me that Republican politicians can continue to pretend as though this is not a problem that demands a solution. And it’s incomprehensible to me that they believe that holding office, for their ego and their desire for power, is more important than a child. I think it’s as if, given a choice — someone says to them: “You get to be governor again or I’m going to shoot this child,” they say, “I want to be governor again.” It’s literally that clear.