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People holding candles and signs condemning gun violence filled half of San Antonio’s Main Plaza on Sunday, mourning the deaths caused by mass shootings in El Paso and other parts of the country.
At least 22 are dead after Saturday’s killings at an El Paso Walmart by a gunman who law enforcement officials have said posted a hate-filled, anti-immigrant manifesto online. A mass shooting early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, and a series of shootings in Chicago also drew renewed attention to the nation’s seemingly endless episodes of gun violence.
“The last thing we want to do is be in denial and say that this could never happen in San Antonio,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told the crowd. “It could and it might.”
The El Paso shootings were particularly painful to many San Antonio residents because of the family and cultural connections between the two Texas cities.
“For many of you, I’m sure you have someone in El Paso that you care very much about, that you were worried about yesterday,” state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) said at the vigil. “You struggle with that selfishness of wanting them to be OK and knowing that there are lots of other people from that point forward that will never be OK.”
Many of the speakers diagnosed the problem as a proliferation of hate alongside easy access to high-powered weapons.
San Antonio poet laureate Carmen Tafolla told the stories of some of the El Paso victims in an original poem titled “We Are the Enemy.” Incarnate Word Sister Martha Ann Kirk compared the modern American epidemic of gun violence to now-eradicated diseases, such as polio.
“When I was a child, polio was raging,” Kirk said. “People united. Scientifically, they analyzed the problem. They worked together as people of goodwill.”
Several politicians who spoke voiced support for specific policies while also directing their ire at President Donald Trump. Many at the vigil tied the El Paso shooter’s motives to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
In a statement read by an aid, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett called for Trump’s impeachment. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said he supports a ban on assault weapons, as did Gina Ortiz Jones, the leading Democratic candidate for House District 23, which stretches from San Antonio nearly to El Paso.
Gun violence prevention groups involved with the event included Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. Volunteers passed out flyers urging attendees to contact Republican Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to try to persuade them to support a background check bill that passed the Democrat-controlled House.
Many of the speakers urged action even in spite of the unlikely odds of gun control legislation passing with a Republican-controlled Senate or, at the State level, in a Republican-dominated Legislature and executive branch. No Republicans spoke at the San Antonio vigil on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, we’ll be back again, won’t we?” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Unfortunately, we’ll have to do this all over again and remind ourselves who we are as a city, as a nation.”
For now, Salazar recommended donating blood at blood banks or hospitals. He also suggested hosting active-shooter training classes, whether at resident’s homes or workplaces. Sheriff’s office staff will conduct the classes for free, he said.