As It Happens·Q&A

'God help us in Texas,' says Democrat pushing for gun control after school shooting

In Texas, guns have more rights than people, says Texas Rep. Ann Johnson.

In Texas, guns have more rights than people, says Texas Rep. Ann Johnson

The photo of a little girl, a victim of the shooting, is seen by flowers placed on a makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25. (Chandan/AFP/Getty Images)

Warning: This story contains a graphic description of gunshot wounds. 

Story Transcript

In Texas, guns have more rights than people, says Texas Rep. Ann Johnson.

Johnson, a Democrat in the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives, is calling for gun control measures in the wake of Tuesday's mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde.

The gunman fatally shot his grandmother before heading to Robb Elementary School, where he barricaded himself inside a Grade 4 classroom and killed 19 children and two teachers. The bloodshed ended when police entered the room and killed him.

Authorities say he used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon, one of two that he purchased legally on May 16, just after his 18th birthday.

Johnson blames the ruling Republicans for repeatedly enacting measures that make it easier to access firearms in the state. Here is part her conversation with As It Happens guest host David Gray.

Can I just ask you about your own reaction when you first heard about the shooting?

We have mass shootings all the time, and ... unfortunately, people are numb. Students are numb. You hear reports of students that are going back to school today like nothing is different and saying that they are trained for these moments. 

There is something wrong with us as adults in a Texas society that we've gotten to the point that it is normal that an elementary school can be … considered a hard target. That we don't have the courage — or that Republicans don't have the courage — to stand up to the gun lobby and actually do something about the fact that our streets are flooded with these weapons. I had a bill that I offered to increase the punishment for mass shooters, and not even that could get through Lt.-Gov. Dan Patrick's Senate.

When the governor started talking about it yesterday, he said … the guy went in there with a handgun and a rifle. Well, of course, it's not a rifle like you would think of, that your dad might take you hunting [with] when you were a kid. We're talking about an AR-15, the kind of weapon that when these shells hit these bodies, that they are so disfigured that today these families are having to give DNA samples just to identify their children because the bodies are not recognizable based on the carnage that was committed inside an elementary school.

And so we've got to break from this being acceptable in our state and in our country. We're the only country that lives like this. 

And God help us in Texas. Our local elected officials, our leaders, the governor [and] lieutenant-governor, have let us know that guns are king here in this state. And they supersede the protection and the rights of kids in elementary school. 

I hope that, like me, voters are at a point where they've had enough.

Watch: Beto O'Rouke interrupts Texas governor's press conference on mass shooting:

Democrat Beto O'Rourke interrupts Texas governor at school shooting news conference

1 month ago
Duration 2:56
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for governor this year, interrupted Wednesday's news conference about the deadly elementary school shooting in the state, calling the Republican's response to the tragedy 'predictable.' O'Rourke was escorted out while members of the crowd yelled at him.

Gov. [Greg] Abbott said this afternoon it wasn't Texas gun laws that were at fault here, but the mental health challenges of the shooter. What do you make of that?

Gov. Abbott is great at deflecting any responsibility on his own lack of inaction. Every year, our population is being gunned down at a higher rate.

And let's even say that the governor is right about mental health. I serve on a committee where we asked for $500 million for mental health because we knew that there was a problem, and we got $113 million. And even with the allocations of our budget, the governor has recently taken $500 million from health and human services, juvenile justice and law enforcement … so that he can do what he's doing down on the border, which is nothing more than a political stunt.

We are getting to a point where it's not a question of if it will happen. It is simply a question of when it will happen. And I hope that people have recognized that you can't keep trusting this guy to protect you. He has no interest in protecting us from gun violence.

The people that have been in charge of the state for the last three decades are making us less safe. And those children deserve that we actually stand up and give them a voice.- Ann Johnson, Texas state representative 

Is it true that gun laws have actually loosened in Texas in recent years?

Every cycle, they make it easier to get a gun.

One of the biggest battles that I had on the floor of the Texas House this last session was over what they like to call "constitutional carry." They like to say that the Second Amendment provides that anybody at any point can run around with a gun. So much so that a business can't say, "Hey, we don't want a gun in here. We're a private business."

The gun lobby runs the Texas legislature through the Republican Party. And at some point, citizens of Texas have got to say: "I'm taking the House back, I'm taking the Senate back, I'm taking the governorship back. I want somebody who's beholden to the lives of Texans and our public safety, and not to the gun lobby."

The governor pointed out this afternoon that 18-year-olds have been able to buy guns in Texas for more than 60 years. So would changes in the law have prevented this massacre?

We absolutely need to have an honest discussion about common sense gun safety reforms, including background checks, extreme risk protection orders and safe storage. If you look at the barrage of gun violence that's occurring, many of those provisions would prevent it.

I know you've had this conversation many times before. Honestly, I feel like I've done this interview many times before. Is it ever possible for your country to have a "never again" moment, or will these massacres continue to happen?

Unfortunately, with our Republican leadership, they keep saying "never again." And that's a tweet that goes out on the day of the incident, and then there's zero accountability and follow-up.

And so the people of Texas, the people of this nation, are going to have to start deciding where they want to vote and where their interests are going to be and who they want representing them. 

Because we do this right now, probably at least — what? Once every couple of weeks? I mean, there are people being buried today from Buffalo, and we're dealing with this crisis here in Uvalde.

You're a former teacher yourself. Were you thinking about your own time in the classroom when you heard of it?

I still teach. And I love the classroom. And I love the exercise of having students that are going through their growth and education and their learning and what should always be considered a safe space.

But I've got a niece who's a teacher, and I said something to her yesterday about "I worry about you." And she said, "Me too." She said, "But there's no place [where] it's safe."

It's not just the classrooms. It's the classrooms. It's the churches. It's the malls. It's the streets. In this state, in this country, unfortunately, we have turned the logic on its head. Weapons of war have more protections and more rights than many of our citizens at this point, especially given what we're seeing Republicans do across the aisle on issues of constitutional civil rights.

The people that have been in charge of the state for the last three decades are making us less safe. And those children deserve that we actually stand up and give them a voice. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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