On August 3, El Paso joined the ever growing list of cities that have suffered mass shooting attacks, a list that’s included Las Vegas since October 1, 2017. As we were all beginning to learn about what was happening in El Paso that day, their hometown ex-Congressman turned presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was here in Las Vegas for the AFSCME Forum. When he came out to the press filing area to announce his immediate return to his hometown during their time of need, everything seemed to change… For him, for many of us journalists, for the other Democrats, and for the nation.
Today, Amy O’Rourke came to Henderson to speak with local gun violence prevention activists about how El Paso has been coping for the last six weeks, how her own family has been processing this tragedy, and what the entire nation must do to end this cycle of violence and suffering.
WARNING: This story addresses some very sensitive topics, including frank discussion of violence and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
“El Paso and Las Vegas are together in a club. We understand each other in our shared tragedy.”
– Teresa Crawford, Moms Demand Action
Seemingly picking up where Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) and Ted Deutch (D-Florida) left off on Monday, local activists briefed Amy O’Rourke at Zen Coffee Bar on the gun safety legislation they successfully advocated when the Nevada Legislature was in session. In addition, they got personal in explaining how 1 October and the overall daily grind of gun violence here in Nevada affects them and the larger community.
As Moms Demand Action (a part of the larger Everytown for Gun Safety network) volunteer Teresa Crawford noted while introducing Amy O’Rourke, “El Paso and Las Vegas are together in a club. We understand each other in our shared tragedy.” O’Rourke agreed. Later on, she declared, “El Paso is a beautiful city. The people are so kind. It’s unimaginable that something like this could happen.”
O’Rourke then spoke about how her 12-year-old son “couldn’t process” one shooter killing 22 people all at once. She then lamented, “The shooter drove 600 miles from Dallas to execute this attack because he feared a ‘Hispanic invasion of our country.’ This was not hate from within our community. This was hate from outside that attacked us.”
“I have a lot of relatives who went missing. We have the highest domestic violence fatalities of any ethnic group, and ultimately this can be traced to gun violence.”
– Crystal Lee, University of New Mexico
The conversation went beyond the usual talking points on specific bills and policies, and it continued to feel very personal and intimate as the activists at the table were sharing stories of comforting family members who survived mass shootings, mourning family members who lost their lives to domestic violence, and experiencing additional instances of gun violence hitting home.
CSN Cheyenne History Professor Sondra Cosgrove opened up on experiencing such a tragedy at her workplace: “At CSN, we had a faculty member who shot himself in the bathroom last year.” She then spoke about how administrators offered to stop the training event they were doing, yet they were speaking about it in a way that failed to acknowledge the severity of the suicide that had just occurred.
Crystal Lee, a professor at the University of New Mexico and a member of the Diné (also referred to as the Navajo) Tribe, got very personal as she described the severity of the growing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. As Perry explained, “I have a lot of relatives who went missing. We have the highest domestic violence fatalities of any ethnic group, and ultimately this can be traced to gun violence.”
Marisa Marano, another Moms Demand Action volunteer in Henderson, later opened up on her struggle to get her legislators to acknowledge the severity of the gun violence crisis affecting their constituents. While lobbying for SB 143 and AB 291 in Carson City, she tried to get the point across to Assembly Member Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson). According to Marano, “We tried to explain to her. She responded, ‘We have two daughters of our own. They go to public school. They like country music.’ She minimized our pain.”
“You have to speak as directly and as passionately as you possibly can. Even, as some people would say, it’s not the politically wisest thing to do, you have to be who you are and be honest.”
– Amy O’Rourke
Since the El Paso Shooting, Beto O’Rourke has sought to reboot his campaign as this terrorist attack targeting Latinx residents of his own hometown has seemingly injected a new sense of purpose into his candidacy. One of the most memorable and viral moments from last week’s ABC-Univision Debate in Houston was O’Rourke directly confronting the issue that most Democrats tend to avoid when they promote gun safety legislation. While explaining how he’d enforce a nationwide assault weapons ban, O’Rourke declared, “Hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15. If it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on the battlefield, we’re going to buy it back.”
It remains to be seen whether Beto O’Rourke’s big move on gun violence returns him to the frontrunner status that he quickly gained and lost this past spring. But according to Amy O’Rourke, this isn’t about polling or fundraising metrics. When O’Rourke spoke with us after the program, she noted, “Particularly after the shooting in El Paso, there was a sense of urgency. You just can’t do politics the way you’ve always done it.” O’Rourke continued, “You have to speak as directly and as passionately as you possibly can. Even, as some people would say, it’s not the politically wisest thing to do, you have to be who you are and be honest.”
Regardless of where Beto O’Rourke lands on February 22, Amy O’Rourke made clear that they don’t see gun violence as just another issue to use to fundraise or draw media attention. Yet since Las Vegas and El Paso now share this bond of tragic loss, determined recovery, and new advocacy for gun violence prevention, Beto O’Rourke’s new sense of purpose may yet resonate with Nevada voters in a way that the typically “politically wisest thing to do” doesn’t.
And finally, in case you or a loved one needs them, some resources
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. (I can attest from personal experience that it helps.) And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
If you know anyone who’s currently experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence has a list of resources available across the state. And if you want to do more to help, check out the Nevada Coalition’s action page for ideas on getting more involved.