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Houston Suburb Revisits Its Position On Gun Control Following Recent Shootings


In the wake of the El Paso shooting, Texans at the other corner of the state are grappling with a tragic new normal. The state is known for some of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history, and that reality is making some in the once solidly Republican Houston suburbs revisit their positions on gun control.

Here's NPR's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales from outside Houston.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Kelly Fox was a pretty lonely Democrat when she first moved to Sugar Land 24 years ago. Tom DeLay was the powerful Republican House leader representing her district, and the state was solidly red.

KELLY FOX: My husband and I always joked that we were like these little blue dots in a sea of red.

GRISALES: But some think the tide is changing. The district is now rated as a toss-up by a nonpartisan group that tracks House races.

FOX: The blue dots are coming together, and it's turning things purple. And now we feel that there's more people like us (laughter).

GRISALES: Voters like Kelly are looking to Congress for answers on gun control. During a visit to her nearby farmers market, she said it's not about taking guns away.

FOX: When you try to have a conversation with someone who he feels really strongly about the Second Amendment, the first thing they're going to accuse you of is wanting to take away their gun. And that's not what we're saying. It's more like there are things that we can do to make it a little more difficult for people of these mindsets that are thinking these ways to get their hands on these weapons that can kill people in a matter of seconds.

GRISALES: But Mike Smith is worried the government will take his gun.

MIKE SMITH: You can't take people's guns away. Bottom line - I'm not giving away anything. I don't care who the president is or whatever. I'll hold onto mine.

GRISALES: The Air Force veteran is taking this 13-year-old daughter, Mikenzie, to the shooting range in Stafford, another Houston suburb, for the first time. A few days ago, there was an armed break-in in his neighborhood.

SMITH: I'm not going to have my door kicked in while she's at home asleep and can't defend herself.

GRISALES: But Mike does want to see the age limit raised on those who can purchase AK-47-style weapons.

Tom of Fort Bend County agrees and goes a step further. He's a longtime NRA member. And during a visit to a nearby gun range, he said it's time for a ban on assault-style rifles. He spoke on the condition of not sharing his last name because he's scared for his family's safety.

TOM: They've become far too strident in Second Amendment, our guns, screw everybody else. And I'm a life member of the NRA, so I don't think they're doing a good job representing us. I personally - this is really going to get me in trouble - I personally don't have any need for the AR- and AK-style weapons.

GRISALES: Rhonda Scott just moved from Ohio to the Stafford area to be with her son, and she's frustrated.

RHONDA SCOTT: It's sad. The way we're going right now, you have to look over your shoulder. You want to try and enjoy any events - outdoor events. And it shouldn't have to be this way.

GRISALES: Eileen Huang is also scared. She runs a group for Asian American professionals. She's familiar with reports that the suspected El Paso shooter targeted victims because of their race, and she's worried her community could be next. She asked Houston police for training at a forum on gun violence.


EILEEN HUANG: Everyone needs to be trained. We need to understand when something happens what we need to do.

GRISALES: But community members aren't just going to the police for training. They're also going to gun ranges. At G2G Southwest Family Shooting and Archery in Rosenberg, manager Don Miller says there's an uptick in business after mass shootings.

While cleaning a pistol for a customer, Miller says he's getting calls for private lessons.

DON MILLER: There's been an increase in people trying to get that done now because now they're afraid of - you know, they're not prepared now.

GRISALES: Back at the farmer's market, Kelly says she's still relying on lawmakers for change.

FOX: I think all politicians of all parties need to put away that party identification - put it away - because this is not a party political issue. It's a human issue.

GRISALES: It's pressure from suburban communities like these that could shift the debate on gun measures in Washington this fall.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUTUAL BENEFIT SONG, "TERRAFORM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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