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Houstonians recall Sandy Hook victims and push for gun law changes

December 17, 2018

When a gunman killed 28 people in Sandy Hook Elementary School six years ago, Willie Johnson believed that gun safety laws would soon be reformed.

“Then nothing was done,” Johnson said at a vigil for the victims. “I’m very upset… I’m just trying to figure out how many children have to die before the legislators do something.”

As the state legislature prepares to convene, local clergy and the Metropolitan Organization on Sunday held a gun control vigil at Trinity United Methodist Church. Those present spoke passionately about gun safety policies.

“Despite the fact that we’re supposed to be a first-world country, a civilized nation, a nation of laws, we continue to see the scourge of gun violence in the United States,” said Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo.

In January, Acevedo will become president of Major Cities Chiefs, a group of the police chiefs from the largest cities in the United States and Canada, and said he would use the position to argue for implementing a universal background check and closing what’s known as the gun show loophole, which allows private individuals to sell and trade arms without background checks.

“We are going to be a lot more vocal,” Acevedo said.

While organizations such as Major Cities Chiefs are gearing up to advocate for change on a federal level, the Mayor’s Commission on Gun Violence has researched safety policies that the city, county and state can implement.

One of the members of the commission, Abbie Kamin, pointed to the gun show loophole as an issue that could be acted upon locally. “That’s something the city can do immediately,” she said.

As the roughly three dozen present remembered the tragedy, many expressed frustration at what they perceived as a lack of progress. Wasiq Javed, a freshman at the University of Houston, is also on the Mayor’s Commission on Gun Violence and spoke about the impact Sandy Hook had on him as a 12-year-old.

“At that time, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I knew children had died, and I knew that I was just two years older than them — that my life could’ve been at risk,” he said. “What have we done in six years?”

David Lyon, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, read an opinion piece he wrote for the Houston Chronicle in January of 2013. After every mass shooting in the years since, he has referred to the article and says he could still write it word for word. He eventually published a version for his congregation with blanks instead of the words “Sandy Hook” so that members could fill in the name of the latest disaster.

“Our purpose here is to stop filling in the blanks and change the narrative,” Lyon said.

For the Ed Jones, the pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, the urgency of the vigil that he had been planning for months had been underscored by personal tragedy that very week.

A family member, 17-year-old Drew Conley, had been shot and killed the Monday before.

“He should’ve played football in the playoffs Friday night,” Jones said, of Conley, a Fort Bend Marshall defensive back.

“Sometimes we don’t think about this issue until it knocks on your door,” Jones said about gun safety. “And sadly, sadly it has knocked on many doors. It hurts my heart.”

rebecca.schuetz@chron.com; twitter.com/raschuetz

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