Can Texas find its way out of the state's gridlocked gun debate?

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People pray and pay their respects at the makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting that left a total of 22 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall WalMart in El Paso, Texas, on August 6, 2019. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)
People pray and pay their respects at the makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting that left a total of 22 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall WalMart in El Paso, Texas, on August 6, 2019. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

After each mass shooting in Texas, state lawmakers vow to do something. Often, what they've done is further relax gun laws. But when a gunman killed 23 and wounded 26 in his hometown El Paso, Democrat state representative Joe Moody begged his colleagues to find a solution.

"It was shocking to me the resistance we faced from the get go," Rep. Moody says. "My thought was, 'This is a perfect time to kind of dissect this. Let's talk about it.'"

"Even colleagues on my side of the aisle showing frustration to me, ‘Why do you continue to work on this when nothing happens every single time?’ " he says.

Today, On Point: Looking for a way out of Texas’s gridlocked gun debate.


Rep. Joe Moody, Democratic State representative serving Texas's 78th district. (@moodyforelpaso)

Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works, a gun store and training facility. Host of gun-rights radio show Come and Talk It. (@michaeldcargill)

Transcript: Rep. Joe Moody (D-TX) On Mass Shootings And Culture Of Gun Debates In Texas

Meghna Chakrabarti: Given the tragedy that you experienced in El Paso a couple of years ago, I wonder what the last few days, the last week has been like for you, Representative, in the wake of the murders in Uvalde.

Rep. Joe Moody: It's hard to not be instantly transported back to the feelings that I had on August 3, [2019]. And even speaking about it right now, I can feel that kind of creeping in to my mind. Three days after August 3, I dropped my oldest off at kindergarten for his first day of school. Very scared. Didn't know what to expect. Within a couple of days, there was an active shooter drill on campus because people were obviously ... being very cautious about what was going on.

After the shooting in Uvalde, the next day, taking my kids back to that same campus and — there's nothing no way to explain it other than you're just experiencing that trauma again. And it's hard when your 8-year-old asks you if you heard that an entire class had been killed. What's the conversation? And I want to have that conversation with them. It's obviously something that he's hearing about and knowing about, but it's incredibly challenging. Knowing that we face such opposition to trying to create a safer environment for our kids, it becomes even more heavy. It's a heavy feeling of that obligation to your children just as a parent, but also to your community as a whole.

Chakrabarti: Yeah. Now, we should note that mass shootings in the United States are obviously far more common than they are in other countries. But within the U.S. context, mass shootings are the cause of, what, 2 percent of the overall gun deaths in this country. And that many, many more people die by suicide with a firearm. That's the bigger context here, and I know that also applies to Texas. But just listening to you struggle a little bit right now, Representative, it's clear that the experience of living in a community that has had a mass shooting doesn't leave an individual. Does the trauma stay with the community overall as well?

Rep. Moody: Absolutely, and I think because of the nature of the shooting here in El Paso — it was racially motivated, targeted at our community, targeted at immigrants — it really cut to the core of what makes our community beautiful. We're very accepting. This is an integrated community. It's binational. You know, everybody has family across the border. They know the people that work across there. It is a vibrant, beautiful community that it is accepting. And so that violence tore straight at the beauty of of what we love about our community. And so, I think that it touched every single one of us in that very profound way. And it's something I know that will never leave me.

And when I speak to people — you know, just friends — after I saw them after the Uvalde shooting, they just needed to hug, to hold one another. Even in that space, even almost three years later, it's that raw, and it's that powerful.

Chakrabarti: Yeah. You know, our goal for today's show is deeper understanding, right? I mean, because the debates have been had and they will continue to be had — the political debates. But I really want to get a sense of sort of why there seems to be — not just in Texas, but in many places across the country ... a gap between some areas of consensus that Texans themselves have about some shared belief about the need for some basic gun safety regulation and what actually happens in Austin.

I used to cover the statehouse here in Massachusetts for years, and I often found that the culture inside a statehouse was a very, very different culture than in the rest of the state. Right? It's like almost two entirely different places. So that's what I'd like to try to understand here a little bit.

And so, Rep. Moody, on a general basis in Austin for, like, let's say for less controversial things than guns — what's statehouse culture like? Are you able to talk frequently with members across the aisle? How does the process usually work?

Rep. Moody: Yeah, I've been in the legislature over a decade now, and the main thing you heard when you get to the capital, Austin, is, "Hey, we're not Washington, D.C. We sit with one another. We don't pick our seats by party." You're all over the floor. You mix and match. You know, we have Democrats that chair committees, even though we're in the minority in leadership positions. You mentioned that I served as speaker pro tem. I did that under Republican speakers, two of them, in fact. And so we have in our past had a very healthy bipartisan conversation. Then, depending on the makeup of the House, the numbers, you know, there's 150 of us, you know, that'll kind of ebb and flow a little bit depending on, you know, how big a majority the other side has.

And I've been in the minority my entire career, but that's never stopped me from working on thorny issues like the death penalty. I mean, you think in Texas that's something that you shouldn't be able to work on. But I found Republican counterparts to even work on an issue like that together. And so we have a very good environment that seems to cultivate that working together. But in the last few years, as we've seen a hyper polarization and a hyper partisanship emerge at the national level, it seems to be infecting our politics, too, and getting worse and worse, even though the majority of Texans, as you said, have a consensus around many of these issues, the partisanship and polarization is ripping that apart.

Chakrabarti: OK. So when you say that you can have conversations and work in bipartisan groups, what does that actually look like? I mean, can you have a hallway conversations with other members? Is there, you know, are the working groups that are formed to deal with various proposals or issues — are they collegial When you get together? I know these sound like basic questions, but when when we talk about polarization and extreme polarization, I mean, I've heard stories in statehouses where — and obviously in Washington — where people like literally physically don't even talk to each other anymore.

Rep. Moody: Yeah, there's certainly some folks that have that have that approach in Austin. Those are not people that I associate with. Having a young family here, when I go down to Austin to do things, I want to be productive with my time, I want to get things done. Also, knowing that I'm in the minority, if I want to accomplish any of the goals for my community or for my policy perspectives, then I have to have that across-the-aisle view. I can't get the votes unless I do. And so, you know, we have those hallway conversations, dinner conversations. I mean, I've even taken vacations with some of my Republican colleagues. I don't want to get them in trouble and name them here.

But, you know, those are the types of things that we have a collegiality and a friendship that matters. And some people don't. Some people have those conversations behind closed doors and then will be you know, in my opinion, you kind of change their public persona. And that's unfortunate because I think we could do much better if we lead forward with those types of honest conversations outwardly, like we have sometimes behind closed doors.

Chakrabarti: OK. So then, does that same culture of at least a willingness to initially work together and talk apply when the issues of gun safety regulation comes up?

Rep. Moody: Always seems like a more difficult conversation to start, to be honest. But it's one we engaged in in some very significant ways after the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe and El Paso in different ways and different conversations. What I feel like, though, is the weight of those conversations — it's hard to get up and over. Let's say you are able to achieve some consensus in the House. Well, now we have a whole another chamber in the Senate, and we have — the Governor has to sign the bill.

So, there's so many layers to getting something passed into law that we might have a different culture of discussing these things in the House, but you get a pronouncement from the Senate that if you send that to us, it's not going to see the light of day. You know, that happened with the red flag law that I carry. And so, those are the types of things that just stifle debate. And there are those that would rather shut it down than have those open conversations, which I don't think is healthy. It's OK to have these conversations. And let's say we don't land on a consensus, but let's get this out in the public and talk about it.

Chakrabarti: Well, we've got about a minute or so before we have to take the first break. But you talked about the red flag laws that you carried, and you've held hearings on them. And there's one in particular that really stands out that you've told us about, about the hearings that you had after the Santa Fe shootings. Can you just quickly tell us what happened there?

Rep. Moody: Yeah, it was probably one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen: adults open-carrying their weapons on their hip, standing menacingly close to these children that had just gone through a tragedy in Santa Fe. We offered our office a safe space for them to sit in because they felt like they were threatened. These adults were mocking them when they would testify, snickering at them ... whispering kind of behind their backs as they were at the table testifying. It was very bizarre and very disturbing.

Chakrabarti: And these are Texans who came to the hearing, not your fellow members of --

Rep. Moody: No, yeah, these were members of the public that decided to come in and harass these kids and intimidate them.

This program aired on June 1, 2022.


Headshot of Stefano Kotsonis

Stefano Kotsonis Senior Producer, On Point
Stefano Kotsonis is a senior producer for WBUR's On Point.


Headshot of Meghna Chakrabarti

Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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