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The tragedy in Uvalde has reignited the political fight over gun ownership


This holiday weekend, President Biden visits Uvalde, Texas. He's traveling to the scene of a mass shooting for the second time this month. He will arrive amid questions about just what happened, in what order, as police may have taken an hour to overcome a gunman at Robb Elementary. There's no real question about the battle lines over guns. Biden urged Congress to act, and lawmakers have only begun discussing very narrow changes to gun laws with no promise of success even at that. The National Rifle Association is going ahead with its annual convention in Texas starting today. For many ordinary people, though, guns are less a matter of controversy than a part of life.

Our colleague A Martinez is talking with some of them. He's in Texas. Hey there, A.


Good morning, Steve. Yeah. What we wanted to get at was how guns can be viewed so differently depending in part on where you live and what you've lived through. I visited with a couple in Uvalde whose livelihood relies to a great extent on guns.

GAIL JACKOWSKI: This room is a processing room. They're processing beef, deer, wild game.

MARTINEZ: Gail Jackowski and her husband Pat work in the meat-processing industry, and they help hunters prep the wild game that they shoot. They're Texans who don't see guns in the same way as many of the people who are looking on from LA, Chicago or D.C.

G JACKOWSKI: My dad was an avid hunter, so I grew up with guns my whole entire life. I probably went hunting 10 years old, and that was a long time ago (laughter). And so guns have been a part of my life. And I had seven brothers and sisters. So we all hunted. We all had guns in our life. But it wasn't a problem. You didn't pull out a gun 'cause you were angry.

MARTINEZ: So is it fair to say that by the age of 10, you were proficient in handling a gun? The safety...


MARTINEZ: The phone was ringing off the hook the entire time we were there.

G JACKOWSKI: The phone call was about the briskets. After all that's happened, everybody's wanting to have a fundraiser. Huge corporations are calling in - people calling in. I'm sorry. I'm emotional about it - (crying) giving back to these families. And you just can't help but have your heart break for other people's problems.

MARTINEZ: After we all took a moment, we got back to our conversation, and we talked about how for the people that live here, guns serve a practical purpose.

G JACKOWSKI: You at least have something against somebody walking up on you or an animal walking up on you or, like, a snake being right there. We used to live in Batesville. You'd go home - there were snakes on the road. Broke down one time - I was going to walk all the way to the ranch. There was a huge rattlesnake across the road.

PAT JACKOWSKI: We have a lot of rattlesnakes and stuff. You might want to change their mind about biting you.

MARTINEZ: That's Gail's husband, Pat. They live about 60 miles from the border. He says his property has been damaged, but they have never been threatened personally. He and Gail worry about the human traffickers with a reputation for cutting fences and utilities. And he says he believes a gun makes them safer.

P JACKOWSKI: We're having a huge problem with the border - people come in from everywhere, all over the world. And even the law enforcement will tell you, don't leave home without a gun. Protect yourself.

MARTINEZ: If we were having this conversation in the middle of Los Angeles and someone walked in with a gun, I would be panicked. I would be tense. But if someone walked in with a gun here in Texas, do you get the same sense that I would have gotten?

P JACKOWSKI: No, it doesn't bother me if they walk in and they have a firearm because they have the right to have it, and they have it exposed where you can tell they have it. They're just either law enforcement or a private citizen that wants to protect theirself.

G JACKOWSKI: You carrying a gun wouldn't bother me at all. And you may protect me.

MARTINEZ: Why don't I ask, have you ever fired at someone in self-defense?

P JACKOWSKI: No. Never have. Never needed to. Don't really want to. But you never know. And without it, you're just dead meat.

MARTINEZ: And while Pat and Gail are trying to come to terms with the unthinkable in their own neighborhood, they wonder why - whether it's in Uvalde or in a big city like Houston, where they used to live - why wouldn't the targets of mass shooters be given more of a chance to fight back?

P JACKOWSKI: Where do these tough guys always go? They go in churches. They go in elementary schools. They go in soft targets. They don't go - they don't walk into a police station, try to pull this. They always just go where they know they got the upper hand. And they go and harm, injure and kill people that can't defend themselves. If they were tough, they would do it with tough people, not with little kids.

G JACKOWSKI: Like the guy that walked in the school here - he probably knew none of the teachers were armed or waiting on him. Or - Uvalde's not the kind of town that this should have happened at. So he probably knew he was perfectly safe walking in, and he had so much time before law enforcement showed up - because it just doesn't happen here. But in a big city where it happens, the teachers and the faculty ought to be armed and trained, at least some of them, that could do it. That way they can protect theirself - 'cause it does happen. We're in a new world. When I was a kid, it didn't ever happen. You never heard of it. But you are hearing about it now. So maybe the situation is train and arm more people in these positions. What's wrong with that?

MARTINEZ: You see, for Pat, guns don't have to be seen as a threat. Giving someone a gun can also be an act of love.

P JACKOWSKI: I've been giving them to my own sons as gifts and my own daughter. And they know how to use them. And they use them the right way. They don't misuse them. And this is just the way we live here, and I've never personally seen anything wrong with it. We don't bother anybody with it.

G JACKOWSKI: So many people don't understand guns, don't touch guns, and they're scared of them. It's not the gun you have to be scared of; it's the people using it.

MARTINEZ: Texas is a state that just recently lifted some restrictions on gun ownership, including lowering requirements for training so more people could carry a weapon. Pat and Gail are strong supporters of Second Amendment rights, but they also say they might be OK with adding some limits, such as raising the legal age for possession or limiting the types of weapons that can be bought.

G JACKOWSKI: Like an assault weapon - it's not necessary for most people to own an assault weapon. What else are you going to do with an assault weapon besides kill somebody with it or go in to somewhere and start shooting?

MARTINEZ: One of the things I always hear after a mass shooting is that people want solutions. One of the things I've heard here is that a solution has to work here, a solution that works for this place. What do you think that means in the grand scheme of things? Because a solution that maybe works in New York doesn't work in Texas.

P JACKOWSKI: Well, one thing I feel like - most of these guys throw up a lot of red flags, and people really need to be paying attention to these red flags and report it. Maybe not every time it's going to be a home run, but tell them what you saw. Tell them what you saw on social media. It's worth reporting to save lives.

MARTINEZ: And, Steve, I mentioned how I grew up in Los Angeles. And for me, even now if I see someone with a gun there, it's hard for me not to think that that's either a cop or a criminal. For Pat and Gail - they're operating under a very different set of assumptions. I married a person from West Texas who grew up with guns - visiting her tiny hometown, seeing folks at a family barbecue openly carrying with no one being concerned by it. It's these various experiences that really can shape someone's views about gun ownership and gun laws as well.

INSKEEP: Which is useful to know. A, thanks so much for your reporting this week. Really appreciate it.

MARTINEZ: Sure, Steve.

INSKEEP: Our colleague A Martinez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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