For years, the Gun Owners Caucus had a regular presence at Texas Democratic Party conventions. The group’s message: “Texas Democrats do not want your guns; we already have our own,” as Daniel Barnett, the caucus organizer, put it in 2014.
But even in the buckle of the gun belt, where Democrats have long struggled to balance Second Amendment rights with gun control, things have changed. In the wake of mass shootings at a church in Sutherland Springs and a high school in Santa Fe, with the political mobilization of gun reform advocates throughout the state, and in the face of GOP intransigence, Democrats are becoming more sure-footed in their call for gun reform legislation.
At the 2018 convention in Fort Worth, the Gun Owners Caucus didn’t have a presence, but state Representative Eddie Rodriguez, a longtime Austin Democrat, organized a Stop Gun Violence event. The main convention program prominently featured young kids affiliated with March for Our Lives. On the exhibition floor, Moms Demand Action, a group advocating for extensive gun safety laws, set up a booth right next to the Texas State Rifle Association. The latter has had a booth at the convention since at least the 1990s, when it worked with the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass a concealed-carry law.
Dems still promise they don’t want your guns and are entirely supportive of the Second Amendment, but they’ve also gotten behind an increasingly wide array of “common-sense” gun reforms. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke openly boasts about his “F” rating from the NRA, and at the convention he elicited his loudest cheers when he called for universal background checks and an end to the sale of “weapons designed to kill people as effectively, as efficiently and in as great a number as possible.”
In the 2017 legislative session, House Democrats introduced 17 gun safety bills, though only one passed. The 2018 party platform includes a long list of policy initiatives, including universal background checks, limiting sales of “military-style assault weapons” and implementing red-flag laws.
“Guns are no longer the third rail of Texas politics,” Tariq Thowfeek, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party, told the Observer. “The NRA may not like it, but Texans are demanding leaders who unapologetically stand for common-sense gun reform.”
In June, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 51 percent of Texans believe the state’s gun control laws should be stricter. Gun policy was the second-highest priority for Democrats polled by Quinnipiac in May, trailing only health care.
Rita Lucido, the Democrat running for the Senate District 17 seat held by Joan Huffman, R-Houston, hasn’t shied away from talking about guns. In June, she hosted a town hall to discuss gun violence in schools with lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier, and she has blasted Huffman as a puppet of the NRA.
“I don’t think most people in our Senate district are that crazy about having their communities dictated by the marketing arm of rifle and gun manufacturers — that being the NRA, and that’s where her policy positions come from,” Lucido said.
And like an increasing number of Americans, Lucido has never owned a gun.