Friday's weather wasn't generous to the groups counter-programming the National Rifle Association's annual Meeting at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. Rain fell throughout the day, drenching anyone spending too much time at City Hall Plaza, but that didn't stop a committed group of about 30 from rallying with Texas Gun Sense, an Austin-based pro-gun control group.
"It's important for us to be here so we can provide a common-sense response to some of what you're going to hear today," Texas Gun Sense Vice Chairman Ed Scruggs said. "We know that we represent the overwhelming majority of Texans that know gun violence is a problem and believe that we should do something about it."
In light of recent gun violence, Texas Gun Sense wants a sit down between the state government and advocacy groups on both sides of the gun-control debate. Scruggs believes there is common ground to be found without stripping anyone of their rights.
"Let's talk about some things we all agree on. Increasing and improving gun safety in the home — that's a no-brainer and everyone should agree on that. We've heard from Republican legislators that they do agree with that, but they aren't allowed to do anything about it by special interests," Scruggs said. "Better background checks, that's something that 94 percent of people agree on, but also things that will protect families in the home. Lethal violence protective orders, where a family member could go before a judge, say they were worried about someone and after due process the judge could intervene and take the weapons for a certain amount of time while that person gets treatment and evaluation.
Texas Gun Sense also brought along an expert, Devin Hughes of GVPedia, a gun violence data and research project, to talk about some of the myths that the NRA likes to push about firearms. He challenged the connection many conservatives — including President Donald Trump, who did so again Friday afternoon — make between Chicago's comparatively strict gun laws and its high gun violence rate.
The reason Chicago has a problem with guns isn't because it's too tough on them, Hughes said, but because Indiana is too easy.
"A perfect state example is the state of Hawaii [which requires getting a permit from the county in which one lives to buy a gun]. Hawaii has the lowest number of gun deaths in the nation, and they don't have guns flooding the streets like in Chicago, for instance, because Hawaii is an island," Hughes said. "Chicago isn't an island. It has the unfortunate distinction of being placed right next to Indiana, where our vice president is from. Indiana has some of the weakest gun laws in the country."
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Michael Sauceda and Lyndsi Falcon drove to Texas Gun Sense's rally from Kyle to show support for their nephew Joe Perez Jr. Perez died in a Tennessee Waffle House last month when a man opened fire on the restaurant with an AR-15.
"Hopefully, we can get our fellow Texans behind us, because enough is enough," Sauceda said. "We need stronger gun laws. The man who murdered my nephew and three others at the Waffle House had plenty of red flags and had his guns removed by the federal government, the FBI, only for the state to hand them right back to his father, we don't think that's right."
Sauceda also took issue with the gun the suspect, Tyler Rankin, was able to purchase before his alleged rampage.
"I don't think AR-15s have any place in our society. They are built for one reason, and that's to kill," Sauceda said.