Houston police chief Art Acevedo urged Congress to act on the issue of gun violence Wednesday, saying "our streets, our neighborhoods are truly drowning in the blood of our victims and in the tears of their loved ones.”
At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee dedicated to gun policy, Acevedo declared, “Gun violence is arguably one of the greatest public health epidemics facing the nation everyone in this room loves and serves."
“Chiefs of police and sheriffs join the victims in asking you to act now to prevent one more death and bloodshed," he said.
Feb. 14 will mark the first anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., which claimed 17 lives and sparked a youth-led movement for gun control. Several young gun-control activists from the March For Our Lives movement attended the hearing. Democrats, who recently recaptured control of the House of Representatives, have made gun-control legislation a priority this session. In January, they unveiled H.B. 8, a bill aimed at strengthening background checks on gun sales and transfers, and it was discussed at Wednesday’s hearing.
In the past, Acevedo has been outspoken about his desire for increased gun-control measures. His congressional remarks came the week after four Houston police officers were shot and a fifth injured during a drug raid, after which Acevedo expressed “frustration” with lawmakers. “For whatever reason, they offer a lot of prayers ... We didn’t elect people to pray for us. We elect people to lead us; we elect people to make public policy decisions.”
In May 2018, he was drawn into an online debate with National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch after a shooting at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area killed 10 people, eight of whom were students.
A January 2019 analysis by the Houston Chronicle found that nearly two dozen children had been fatally shot in the Houston area since 2018. Texas had the highest number of firearm deaths of any state in 2017, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, though it did not have the highest rate of firearm deaths. A CDC analysis found that from 2015-2016, there were 828 firearm homicides and 921 suicides in Houston, including the Woodlands and Sugar Land areas.
Acevedo also serves as the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which has called for actions including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, requirements that unlicensed dealers perform background checks at gun shows, and strengthening the national criminal background check system.
At the hearing, Acevedo echoed those proposals, calling for Congress to consider expanding mental health provisions, universal background checks and “red flag” legislation, which is used by a handful of states to temporarily revoke firearms from someone a judge deems to be a danger to themselves or others.
However, some Republicans at the hearing appeared skeptical.
The background check bill "will not stop the transfers among criminals,” said Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.). He said that H.R. 8 would prevent people from obtaining guns to protect themselves from domestic violence, for instance.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) used the hearing to list crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
“I hope we do not forget the pain, and anguish, and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens,” Gaetz said. He claimed that H.R. 8 would not have prevented the crimes but that a wall at the southern border, such as the one proposed by President Trump, would have.
His comments set off a contentious exchange with the fathers of two Parkland victims and protests from other members of the committee.