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Rep. Veronica Escobar On Gun Legislation


President Trump called it a, quote, "warm and wonderful visit." Not everyone thought so. His visits to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, yesterday were marked by bitter protests from residents of both those cities and loud criticism from Democratic presidential candidates.

So is any of this going to make it any easier for Congress to pass gun control laws? Yesterday, President Trump said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important. I don't want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate - sick people. I don't want to - I'm all - I'm all in favor of it.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents Texas' 16th Congressional District. She is on the line from her home in El Paso. Thanks so much for being with us, Congresswoman.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Of course. Good morning.

MARTIN: From talking to your constituents after the shooting in El Paso, what kind of action do they want the government - the federal government to take right now?

ESCOBAR: Rachel, we are, as a community, very concerned about the gun violence epidemic. We are also equally concerned about the hate epidemic in this country. And everywhere I go, folks are telling me, we need action; we need action. And I agree with them completely.

We just heard the president talk about looking at background checks. The House of Representatives has passed two very good, bipartisan commonsense background check bills. We passed them early in the year. They have been sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk since then. I would ask that the president give Senator McConnell a call and ask him to move on those bills today. They could do that as early as today, Rachel.

MARTIN: Some of the criticism of at least one of those bills has been that, as Republicans argue, they wouldn't be effective because it wouldn't require a wholesale database of every single gun sale. Is that something that you should look at? Should House Democrats be looking at expanding the notion of a background check in proposed legislation?

ESCOBAR: I am all for making any piece of legislation more effective and stronger. They can do that today. If they took these bills - and we could work things out in conference committee, but the Senate has to act first.

MARTIN: What about in Texas? I mean, I don't have to tell you that this is a state where owning guns is an integral part of the identity of many Texas families. Do you see any signs now, especially after this massacre in El Paso, that Texans across the state are changing their minds about gun control?

ESCOBAR: I do believe that Texans are - and you're right, Rachel. I grew up with guns. And we are a state that is, you know, interested in keeping their guns. But I think more and more Texans are understanding that we don't need weapons of war in our neighborhoods. There's absolutely no reason to have assault-style weapons - the kind that the terrorist who came into my community, the kind that he purchased legally.

We had state leaders - state legislative leaders here yesterday. We had the - the lieutenant governor, the governor. And the lieutenant governor, I was watching his interview last night with a local television station. And he said that they were - the action that they were planning on taking was to convene roundtables around the state. And the reporter - the local reporter asked why they don't take action immediately. And the lieutenant governor said, well, it's not the right time. We are - next year is political season, and people retreat into their corners, and things get very partisan.

And I just - I was stunned because Texas has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. The - the - the terrorist's mother called police when her son bought an assault-style weapon. But until we have laws that keep up with the threat, nothing is going to change. And...

MARTIN: Let me ask - let me ask you, Congresswoman, just in closing - it's going to take bipartisan support no matter what. Are you...


MARTIN: ...Willing - can you point to evidence that you personally have reached across the aisle to work with Republicans? I mean, you turned down the opportunity to meet with the president when he was there. Was that a missed chance to articulate your point of view?

ESCOBAR: He turned down a conversation - a request that I had for dialogue with him the day before. That's why I turned down being a part of the motorcade. We do have to work together, and it starts with a conference committee on bills that we've already passed. That's the easiest first step.

MARTIN: Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas, we appreciate your time.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro was listening in to that conversation and joins me now. Domenico, we heard Congresswoman Escobar say that she believes that, at the very least, the Senate needs to work - bring these bills into conference so they can hammer out a compromise. Is that close to happening?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, you know, she talked about wanting to have universal background checks, something the House has done. She talked about wanting to ban assault-style weapons. Republicans are pushing red flag legislation, or extreme risk laws, which allow police to temporarily seize guns from someone when someone close to that person reports that they see or hear something that strikes them in a funny way. Senators (ph) Graham, Senators (ph) Rubio - Graham from South Carolina, Rubio from Florida - have been pushing these.

But you know, whether it gets through in the Senate is going to depend on Mitch McConnell and on Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, who says he wants any kind of red flag legislation married to universal background checks.

MARTIN: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro for us this morning. Domenico, thank you. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.