— Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, in remarks to reporters, Dec. 9, 2019
Christopher Brewster, a Houston police sergeant, was shot and killed Dec. 7 while responding to a domestic violence incident.
Two days after the shooting, the Houston police chief had angry words for Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Had the Senate acted to prohibit abusive boyfriends from possessing guns, Brewster might still be alive, Acevedo implied.
His comments were misleading.
The suspected shooter had a domestic violence conviction on his record, which already prohibited him from possessing guns under Texas and federal law. Acevedo conceded that fact in an email and then a phone conversation with The Fact Checker, but he argued that critics were cherry-picking a line from his comments to distract from the stalled gun-control debate in Congress.
The Democratic-controlled House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in April, but the legislation has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. One stumbling block: The NRA, which has significant sway with Republican lawmakers, opposes a provision that would close what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole.”
Federal law bans people from having guns if they were convicted of domestic violence and the victim was a spouse, former spouse or a person with whom they lived or shared a child. What about a boyfriend? The House bill would expand the gun ban to include anyone who was a “dating partner” or former dating partner. In other words, it would close the boyfriend loophole.
Cornyn and Cruz have not indicated support for closing the loophole. Cornyn said recently that “convicted domestic abusers should not be able to own a gun.”
On Dec. 7, Houston police received a call from a woman who said her boyfriend was assaulting her and carrying two firearms. When Brewster arrived at the scene, Arturo Solis shot and killed him, authorities say. Solis, 25, has been charged with capital murder.
“The officer did not have his weapon out, did not shoot at the defendant,” according to John Brewer, one of the prosecutors handling the case for the Harris County district attorney’s office. “At that time, the defendant pulled his gun and emptied his gun at or into the victim.”
In remarks to reporters before escorting Brewster’s body to a funeral home, Acevedo said: “We all know in law enforcement that one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room, and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women Act, is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend.”
Cornyn’s staff pointed out that Solis pleaded guilty to a family violence misdemeanor in Harris County criminal court in 2015. Under federal law, that conviction prohibits Solis from possessing firearms. Texas state law also bans Solis from possessing guns, though only for five years after the date of his release from custody.
We asked whether authorities had determined how Solis obtained the firearms but did not get a response from the Houston Police Department. Solis’s defense lawyers say he has a history of mental illness. That would also disqualify him from having guns under current law. According to local media reports, Solis’s father said his son armed himself after burglars broke into his home.
The day after his comments about Republican senators, Acevedo said: “My emotions got the best of me yesterday, you know, I’m not sure that maybe it was the time, but I had a lot of anger and that anger is still here. … If you can’t figure out why I’m pissed, shame on you. A 32-year-old man should not be dead, and it’s not just him, it’s every day in this country.” (A Houston reporter noted that Acevedo at this news conference did not apologize for the substance of his earlier remarks, only the timing.)
Responding to our questions, Acevedo acknowledged that Solis’s family violence conviction in 2015 barred him from owning or carrying guns. He said he “did not know either way” when he made his comments Dec. 9 whether the boyfriend loophole allowed Solis to obtain firearms.
Acevedo added that he never specifically claimed the boyfriend loophole contributed to the officer’s death — but he conceded his remarks could be interpreted that way. Acevedo then argued that “Cornyn and Cruz” were focusing on one line from his comments to distract from the debate over the Violence Against Women Act and the boyfriend loophole.
“The reason I brought up Sergeant Brewster and the fact he was murdered by a man who beat his girlfriend is to illustrate how violent these men are and why we need to get the boyfriend loophole closed,” Acevedo said. “We need to do everything we can to keep firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans of sound mind, and elected officials need to do the same.”
The Pinocchio Test
Regular readers of The Fact Checker know we often withhold Pinocchios when a public official concedes an error. The point is to set the record straight, not dole out punishments.
As we see it, Acevedo clearly implied that Brewster might still be alive had Congress acted to close the boyfriend loophole, and his comments were deeply misleading.
But, when we reached out, Acevedo conceded that the suspected shooter was legally barred from possessing firearms because of a prior family violence conviction from 2015. The police chief also acknowledged that he didn’t have all the information when he made his comments about Republican senators on Dec. 9. So we will withhold Pinocchios for Acevedo.
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