`My son, who is autistic, was robbed by three black thugs.’ Lisa Luby Ryan on why she will oppose gun regulation `to my last breath.’

Challenger Lisa Luby Ryan points a hand gun at state Rep. Jason Villalba while debating gun control.

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday, seventeen people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school.

It was the deadliest mass shooting since Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Which was the deadliest mass shooting since 58 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a music festival in Las Vegas from a room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Right after the Sutherland Springs tragedy, I wrote in the Statesman:

In the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs church shooting, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is calling for the creation of a Commission on Gun Violence to examine its causes in Texas and recommend “common sense gun control reforms” to the next session of the Texas Legislature.

In an open letter to his “Fellow Texans,” Villalba wrote that he was asking Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to create a Commission on Gun Violence in Texas to be chaired by an appointee of the governor and vice-chaired by appointees of the lieutenant governor and speaker. It would be made up of four senators — two from each party — four members of the House — two from each party — and four other members — a law enforcement specialist, a mental health expert, a member of the clergy and an ethicist, all chosen by a majority of the other appointees.

“The primary charge of the commission shall be to determine the root causes of gun violence in Texas and to provide proposed legislation to address these issues and which shall be adopted in the 86th Legislature,” Villalba wrote. “The secondary charge of the commission shall be to publish the findings of the commission and disseminate through education and conference the proposals of the commission.“

There is no question that mental health plays a significant role in these attacks, and certainly, adequate mental health funding and accessibility shall be a key component to any solution to this complex issue,” Villalba wrote.

“But, to be perfectly clear,” the letter continued, “the commission shall focus on ALL possible causes of gun violence in Texas INCLUDING lax or deficient gun control laws and regulations in Texas. No shibboleth shall be off limits. THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL REFORMS IN TEXAS! If we expect a change in the outcomes, we must consider all inputs. The time is now to DO something. Whatever that may be.”

“Tonight,” Villalba, “I will go home and I will rest my hands and my face on the tops of my children’s heads. We will say our prayers and we will hug and I will thank God for them. For many families in Charlottesville, Sandy Hook, Killeen, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and across America, that will not happen. Today is the day that Texan parents like you and me stand up and say, enough. As God is our witness, this stops here.”

On Tuesday, Lisa Luby Ryan, who is challenging Villalba in the March 6 Republican primary, took Villalba to task for that initiative at a debate hosted by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters of Dallas.

As James Russell, who covered the debate for the Quorum Report, wrote:

Citing Villalba’s op-ed in The Dallas Morning News last year calling for a statewide commission to study the causes of gun violence ahead of the next legislative session, written after a man shot and killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, a town just east of San Antonio.

Ryan maintained her strong stance against any restrictions on gun ownership and usage, taking a personal view on the issue.

“My son, who is autistic, was robbed by three black thugs. He wouldn’t give them the money and they beat him up,” she said. Texas laws currently bars anyone deemed mentally unfit from owning a gun.

Villalba said Ryan essentially wanted to equip terrorists with guns.

“I’m sorry if Ms. Ryan wants to give guns to ISIS,” he said.

Here is the pertinent portion of the debate, followed by a more complete transcript.

Ryan:

We are so pro-Second Amendment. We own guns. My husband has a concealed carry license. The only reason I don’t have one is I haven’t had time to do it. But my opponent, in the last campaign and this campaign, has not been endorsed by the NRA or the Texas gun rights association.Why? Because after the Sutherland Springs shooting, my opponent, who is a Reagan conservative (Ryan gestured air quotes as she said this) –

and by the way, Ronald Reagan would never call for the governor of Texas to create a special commission for gun regulations in Texas. Never would Ronald Reagan call for that, nor would a conservative call for special gun regulations, I don’t care what the situation is.

My younger son that I told you about, who’s autistic, 29-years-old, who lives on his own, didn’t live in the best part of Dallas because he couldn’t afford to. He came home four weeks ago Saturday at 9 p.m. He called me and said, `Mom, I’m home.’ He had been out with some friends. He called me at home and  I said, Great.’ Three minutes later my phone rang and he called me, hysterical. He had been robbed by three black thugs. with 9mm guns to his head, asking for his money.

Here’s a kid who makes $15 an hour and lives off that, and they asked him for his money. And you know what he said? He said, `No.’ And you know what happened to him? They beat him up.

And do you think Mr. Villalba that special regulations and regulations on guns would protect my son? Guns don’t kill. People do. And I will fight all day long against gun regulation, and stand pro-Second Amendment to my last breath.

I tried to reach Ryan yesterday to ask about that loaded turn of phrase: three black thugs.

Why not just say, three thugs?

I couldn’t reach her, but I did receive a statement made on her behalf from Jordan Powell, spokesman for her campaign:

 Less than a month ago, Lisa’s autistic son had two handguns pointed at his head while being assaulted and robbed. If she had it to do over again, she would use different words but as a mom this crime and the lingering trauma caused to her son is still very real and raw. The substance of the exchange centered on Representative Villalba’s support for gun control, which Lisa strongly opposes.

The problem, though. is that Ryan’s reference to three black thugs is lodged in a statement otherwise disconnected from any logic.

How would her son’s traumatic experience have been different, and worse, if Villalba had his way and the state examined the causes of gun violence in Texas?

This incident occurred under the current state of Texas’ gun laws, which Ryan does not want to see infringed upon by the likes of Villalba.

Her son did not have a gun on him, and if he did, someone might have gotten killed.

As it was, according to the Dallas Police Department report on the incident, the victim’s injuries were, thankfully, limited to “redness on cheek.”

If the police – or an armed citizen – had shown up at precisely the right moment that night, and events unfolded in precisely the right way, the perpetrators might have been caught in the act.

But that didn’t happen, and nothing about Texas gun laws or what a study commission might recommend about changing Texas gun laws, would have changed what happened on Saturday Jan. 6 (the incident was slightly longer ago than she remembered it), unless, of course, they came up with better ways of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

Nonetheless, Ryan’s real and raw reaction to her son’s trauma at the hands of three black thugs, armed her with the emotional ammunition she needed to fight all day long against gun regulation, and stand pro-Second Amendment to my last breath.

Here, in part, was Villalba’s reaction at the debate:

The panel that I called for didn’t call for additional gun regulation or gun control. It said, let’s look at the root causes of gun violence in Texas. Let’s find out why this happens.

xxxxxxx

I am a concealed handgun carrier. I have several weapons. I voted in favor of campus carry. I voted in favor of open carry. I voted against Constitutional carry because it’s a foolish, ridiculous law that makes no sense in Texas, or at least the urban centers. It might make sense in certain counties where it’s OK, but not in the middle of Dallas County.

Constitutional carry means permitless carry, which means you don’t have to have any kind of certification. You don’t have to have any kind of test. That means that anybody can have access to them, and that means somebody who could be mentally infirm, that could be somebody who’s a domestic abuser. That could be somebody who is a card-carrying member of ISIS. I’m sorry Ms. Ryan, if you want to give guns to ISIS, that’s your business.

As for Ryan’s assertion about President Reagan on gun regulation, there is this, from Janel Davis at PolitiFact Georgia on Feb. 5, 2013, on the question, “Did Reagan support an assault-weapons ban?”

About a month after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, President Barack Obama rolled out a package of gun-control proposals during a speech with Vice President Joe Biden. The package included initiatives such as an assault-weapons ban that requires congressional approval, along with 23 executive actions that the president can implement on his own. The price tag for the package is estimated at $500 million.

 In presenting the package, specifically the portion dealing with the assault-weapons ban, Obama made a point of conjuring past President Ronald Reagan’s stance on the same issue.
“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” Obama said during the speech. “A majority of Americans agree with us on this. And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law-enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons.”

Evoking past presidents is a frequent practice by politicians. Unfortunately, sometimes the context and the content of the recollections are incorrect. PolitiFact Georgia decided to check the accuracy of Obama’s statement, as well as whether most Americans support a ban on military-style assault weapons.

Obama pitched his gun plan at the White House surrounded by school-age children who had written letters to the president about the Newtown school shooting. In the audience were the parents of one of the students killed at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with a survivor of the 2007 shooting massacre at Virginia Tech that left more than 30 people dead and an additional 15 wounded.

Against this emotional backdrop Obama’s plans drew immediate and intense reaction from supporting groups such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as well as opponents such as the National Rifle Association.

Obama’s push for an assault-weapon’s ban hearkens to the original ban passed in 1994 that expired in 2004. At the time of that ban’s passage, Reagan — who took office in 1981– supported it. In a joint letter to The Boston Globe with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, the former presidents wrote, “While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.”

Eight years before this letter in the newspaper supporting the assault-weapons ban, Reagan, who was then president, signed into law the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which was supported by gun rights advocates. In addition to providing protections for gun owners, the act also banned ownership of any fully automatic rifles that were not already registered on the day the law was signed.

These items provide a framework for Reagan’s actions around an assassination attempt on his life months after taking office in 1981. The shooting left Reagan wounded and presidential press secretary James Brady paralyzed. The shooting provided the impetus for the Brady Bill, introduced in 1987, that required background checks for gun purchasers and a waiting period before a buyer could take possession of a gun.

In a 1991 New York Times op-ed titled “Why I’m For the Brady Bill,” Reagan detailed his support of a seven-day waiting period for gun buyers. “Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics,” Reagan said in the op-ed. “… If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”

“Reagan supported the Brady Bill. That was after he had left office, but he did support it,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. “His views are a little complicated because he also signed legislation easing the (1968) Gun Control Act, so you can take Reagan either way.”

As for the president’s assessment that “a majority of Americans agree” with the assault-weapons ban, we went to the polls for answers.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll involving guns, politics and governing priorities was conducted by telephone Jan. 10-13. The poll included a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including land-line and cellphone-only respondents. The poll’s results have a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The poll includes three pertinent questions about weapons bans:

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on semi-automatic handguns, which automatically reload every time the trigger is pulled?
Fifty-one percent of all adults said yes; 46 percent said no. Fifty percent of registered voters said yes; 47 percent said no.

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, meaning those containing more than 10 bullets?
Sixty-five percent of all adults said they supported a ban; 32 percent opposed. Those same numbers applied to registered voters.

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons?
Fifty-eight percent of all adults supported a ban; 39 percent opposed. Fifty-nine percent of registered voters supported a ban; 38 percent opposed.

So how does Obama’s statement rate?

During his speech laying out a package of gun-control proposals, the president evoked Reagan’s support of an assault-weapons ban. History shows that Reagan’s track record on guns is a winding road. He was a strong gun rights supporter who signed legislation easing an earlier gun law. But he also supported legislation for background checks and a waiting period for potential gun owners. He did support an assault-weapons ban and even joined two other former presidents in a letter to a major newspaper urging congressional approval of a ban.

Not only did Reagan support the ban, but so do most Americans, Obama said. Information from a Washington Post/ABC News poll supports the president’s statement.

On these two issues, we gave Obama a True rating.

Ryan might also might want to read this: How Ronald Reagan learned to love gun control, from Peter Weber at The Week.

Or, When Ronald Reagan embraced gun control, by Francis X. Clines at the New York Times.

From the recent Dallas Morning News endorsement of Villalba over Ryan:

Villalba has a pragmatic approach to finding solutions to everything from highway funding and addressing the working poor, and is not afraid to cross the aisle to get things done. We worry that Ryan, the 57-year-old owner of an interior design firm, is unprepared for office,  given her shallow understanding of important issues facing her district and her misstatements of fact.

Meanwhile, there was this.

Here is the top of what I wrote in that story on May 27, in which Villalba expressed his frustrations with the last session.

When state Rep. Jason Villalba was first elected to the Legislature in 2012, he was described as the future of the Texas Republican Party.

Five years later, representing an affluent North Dallas district that Hillary Clinton carried and whose constituents include former President George W. Bush, Villalba is one of only three Hispanic Republicans in the Legislature. During his years in Austin, he has been a loyal and outspoken advocate for House Speaker Joe Straus and an unabashed admirer of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Yet despite his talents and ambition, Villalba remains literally and figuratively a back bencher in the Texas House. Denied a chairman’s gavel, he is custodian of the House candy jar, his talents thwarted and ambitions blunted as he now closes out a session he calls “my toughest yet,” a self-described Reagan Republican out of step with the continued rightward march of his party.

“The conservative grass roots and Lt. Gov. (Dan) Patrick and his followers can say, ‘We moved the needle materially this session from where it was last session, and last session we claimed it was the most conservative session in Texas history,’ ” Villalba said this week, in the session’s waning days. “So I think it’s a real win for Lt. Gov. Patrick. I think he had an excellent session. Did he go as far as he wanted to go? The answer to that is ‘no.’ But I think he got further than he expected to get.”

But for Villalba, with tough votes on sanctuary cities, transgender bathroom policy and abortion, “There have been more times this session when I felt icky when I drove home, just gross with what the body had done, that I never felt before.”

Rep. Jason Villalba on the House floor on May 26, 2017.
(RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The story concluded with this:

Villalba, meanwhile, finds himself wondering: “Is this worth it? I come down here away from family, making less money away from my kids, away from my wife. I did some really good things for Texas, but I went sideways a lot of the time, not because of my votes but because of the votes that were influenced by ideologues and purity police.”

Ultimately, Villalba decided it was worth it and to seek another term. He faces Ryan on March 6, and, if he prevails, a serious Democratic challenge in the swing district in the fall.

I asked Villalba last night whether he had ever heard anything back from the Big Three about his call for a study commission on gun violence.

“No,” he replied. “Nothing.”