VOICES

My brother was murdered. Now my elected leaders reject my plea for commonsense gun laws.

In the two years since my brother's death, I’ve fought for gun safety laws that could have saved his life and would save thousands of lives.

Carla Byrne
Opinion contributor

On Aug. 31, 2019, my younger brother Joe was on his way to take family photos with his wife and two children in the car – my 11-year-old nephew and 13-year-old niece. They pulled up to a red light in Odessa, Texas.

In seconds, he was shot and killed.

Our lives would never be the same. My brother was one of seven the shooter killed that day; 25 others were shot and wounded.

The hole in my brother’s chest took his life. We’ll never be able to fill the hole in our entire family. 

In the two years since, I’ve fought for gun safety laws that could have saved my brother and would save thousands of lives.

I’ve testified before the Texas Legislature, begging them to hear my story and the stories of thousands of other gun violence survivors who demand action. I tried to transport them back to to the days and weeks after my brother’s killing so they could hear my mother wailing.

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So they could see the tears flowing from my father’s eyes, and my niece and nephew heartbroken, fatherless.

They’d see my sister and me, shellshocked, so angry.

They’d be with me as I rolled up to my brother’s fresh grave to see my mother on her hands and knees, digging with her bare hands, so that she could plant flowers to remember her son. They’d hear me whisper to my husband, “My mother. Look at my mother.” And they’d see each holiday tinged with sorrow so heavy it threatens to suffocate us. 

But they didn’t listen to me. They lied to me. 

My family and I met with lawmakers dozens of times in the aftermath of the shooting. We implored them to take action, to act on a bill expanding background checks to all gun sales.

The shooter who killed my brother was able to buy a gun even though he never should have been able to. He failed a background check when he attempted to buy a firearm from a federally licensed dealer, but he was later able to find a stranger online who sold him a gun without a background check.

Carla Byrne with her brother Joe, who was shot to death on Aug. 31, 2019

We repeatedly heard promises from lawmakers that they would draft background check legislation. It's a desperately needed, commonsense solution. Each year, an average of more than 69,000 ads are posted on just one website in Texas for firearm sales that would not require a background check.

Texas adopts permitless carry law

Instead, our lawmakers passed permitless carry, which will let people carry loaded handguns in public with no background check and no safety training. This law goes into effect Wednesday.

After a mass shooting that killed more than two dozen people at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott promised that discussions he was having around proposed gun laws “weren’t just for show and for people to go off into the sunset and do nothing.”

He then promised after the murders in Odessa that “the status quo in Texas is unacceptable," and that the state must broaden its efforts.

Abbott failed to keep his promises. He failed to act.

When Abbott signed permitless carry into law in June, he showed yet again whom he’s looking out for. He picked the National Rifle Association's extremist agenda over the 81% of Texans who supported our state’s permitting system.

The governor sat near Wayne LaPierre, who has spent NRA member dues on private jets and lawyers, and rejected the scores of doctors, law enforcement professionals, faith leaders and gun violence survivors begging him to do the right thing.

Gun violence is a public health emergency

Until the NRA's recent cancellation of its Houston convention, Abbott had rolled out the red carpet for its leadership to come into our state and take a victory lap. The NRA said it canceled its convention out of a concern for public health amid the pandemic.

Where was this supposed concern for public health when it forced permitless carry through the legislature? Texans, including my brother, have paid for laws that disregard public health experts with their lives.

Tuesday, I mourn for my brother and for the hole torn through my family two years ago. Wednesday, I mourn for all Texans, now in even more danger with permitless carry going into effect.

And for the rest of my life, I will fight for commonsense gun safety laws and against those who would put our lives at risk by rolling them back.

Carla Byrne is a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action.