Jun 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Sister's death drives lawmaker's push for gun reform

 Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., stands in front of American flags at the Problem Solvers Caucus press conference in the Capitol.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal's push for gun safety legislation is rooted in childhood tragedy: his sister killed herself with a revolver, and he was the one to find her.

Why it matters: Carbajal, a Democrat from California, is one of several members of Congress whose lives have been shaped by gun violence — and who are demanding action after the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

  • "This trauma has been with me all my life," Carbajal told Axios.

Driving the news: The House today voted 224-202 to pass legislation by Carbajal that was combined with a proposal by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) to establish a federal red flag court procedure.

  • A gunman killed McBath’s 17-year-old son in 2012 over “loud music.” She said in a statement, "We must do something to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them."

The big picture: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during a 2011 constituent gathering and suffered severe brain injuries that left her with aphasia.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) when she and Ryan were shot in the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Speier survived, but suffered five gunshot wounds, while Ryan was killed.
  • Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot in 2017 by a gunman targeting lawmakers while they practiced for a charity baseball game. Scalise does not support restrictions including red flag legislation, which he says he believes to be a violation of the Second Amendment.

Flashback: Carbajal, a moderate Democrat who is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told Axios he was 12 years old when he walked into a room and found his sister dead from a gunshot wound.

  • The family had moved from Mexico to Arizona. His sister struggled with mental health challenges and found the family revolver.
  • His legislation, the Extreme Risk Order Protection Act, would instruct the Justice Department to set up a grant program to incentivize states to adopt gun violence restraining orders.

What they're saying: "If this were part of our psyche and societal culture back then, maybe someone would have noticed that my sister was not behaving well," Carbajal said of allowing authorities to take firearms from those deemed a risk to themselves or others, or preventing them from purchasing a firearm.

  • "Maybe somebody could have intervened and asked, 'Are there any firearms in the house?' And, you know, my dad could have been in a position to and say, 'Oh, darn, I have a gun'...it might have made a difference."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

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