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Rep. Villalba Wants To Get To The Bottom Of Gun Violence


The time is now to do something. Those words were written by Jason Villalba in an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. Villalba is a Republican state representative in Texas. And after a massacre at a church in his state, he's proposed a bipartisan commission to talk about preventing tragedies like this. Over the past week, there have been calls for tighter gun control.

There have also been calls for more guns. We talked to Villalba about how exactly he plans to take on this divisive issue.

JASON VILLALBA: Well, imbued in the DNA of every Texan is the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, I have a weapon on me right at this moment.

GREENE: You do?

VILLALBA: Absolutely.

GREENE: What is it?

VILLALBA: It's a personal defense weapon. It's for use in a situation where someone would come to try to accost me in my car or mug me at night. But it's a little small, what they call a pocket pistol in Texas. And I'm going to get in my car in a few moments and drive down to Fredericksburg and do some hunting for some wild hogs. I'll be using an assault rifle.

But, you know, my proposal just said, let's consider all of the factors that may have led to this tragedy, one obviously mental health treatment, care, resources. But the other issue has to be looking at gun control. And it might not be gun control. Maybe it's expansion of gun rights, perhaps. We have to understand what is the best way to begin to stop this?

GREENE: I just want to make sure I heard you right with one of the things you said. You said you might consider an expansion of gun rights being the solution here. That doesn't sound like tightening gun laws. So basically what you're saying, you want to be a leading voice and just open a conversation and wherever it goes?

VILLALBA: Yes. If you look closely at my proposal, I said, let's bring together the smartest people in Texas on this issue and let's start talking about, one, the root causes of gun violence in America and in Texas and, two, what kinds of solutions we might craft to address this situation. If the issue is we have situations where people are slipping through the existing system, let's address that.

If the issue is placing more firearms in the hands of individuals who would be able to respond at a moment's notice, then, you know, that should be something that's on the table.

GREENE: Well, a lot of people who look at the massacre at the church in Sutherland Springs say that they feel like they know the problem there. There were laws in place that should have prevented this man from purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer. The Air Force did not pass on information about his criminal record to a federal database that they should have.

So existing laws were not enforced. I think this is a message you hear often from the NRA that existing laws are not being enforced. Would you agree that that is, if we speak narrowly, the problem that needs to be addressed here?

VILLALBA: Oh, unquestionably, right? I mean, look, we have a set of rules and regulations in place that should have prevented this. The fix is not to layer on additional laws and rules and regulations necessarily. The fix is to find ways to better enforce existing rules and regulations.

GREENE: With all due respect, Representative, I just wonder, you have a lot of passion on both sides of this. You have people in the NRA and a lot of people who own guns saying, don't tighten our gun laws. You have people on the other side who have said, they've had it. I mean, it is time in this country to take steps to tighten gun-control laws.

You seem to just be in the middle saying, hey, let's have a conversation. Is that - what do you tell people who want more from someone who represents them?

VILLALBA: I think what's happened in America today is that everything's become so polarized. Everything is within the black and the white. The solutions to complex problems never lies in the black and the white, it's always in the gray. There are ways to find solutions to these problems, but it's not going to be eliminate all guns or it's not going to be give everybody a gun.

It's going to be somewhere in the middle where we say, look, if we can start to think through what is the root cause, then we can address it. We need to start with a thoughtful and deep-diving conversation. And then we need to find legislative action that can address those issues and find ways to find a middle ground and fix this problem.

GREENE: Representative Villalba, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

VILLALBA: You got it. Thank you so much, have a great day.

GREENE: Texas Republican Representative Jason Villalba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.