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More Texas Voters Begin To Change The Way They Think On Gun Issues


So Wade mentioned guns. But in any other year, guns would never come up in a Texas election. This is a red state. The Second Amendment is sacrosanct here. But because of the Parkland shooting, guns are on the minds of some voters in Texas. We're going to introduce you to two of them we met in Houston. One is a Republican who says her party has ignored gun violence for far too long. The other usually votes for Democrats, but he's rethinking his allegiances because of gun politics in this moment. And we're going to start with Bendi Saindon. She remembers watching the news coverage from Parkland, Fla., after the shooting.

BENDI SAINDON: I just would cry. I just could hardly listen to the radio or, you know, watch the TV without being moved to tears.

MARTIN: She lives in a classic suburban neighborhood in Houston in this big brick house with vaulted ceilings inside. There are photos of her 15-year-old son and two stepsons inside on the entry table. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey last year. Bendi points to her neighbors' houses down the street.

SAINDON: Her home and her family, they were flooded. And then her mom's house was flooded, also. That house was vacant over there.

MARTIN: Bendi tells me the storm has made her feel more vulnerable. And then there was the Las Vegas shooting and then Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And it has all just been too much.

SAINDON: I don't know. I guess I'm just kind of tired.

MARTIN: Have you talked with your family or friends about this issue? I mean, can you tell if other people, if the Parkland shooting changed how they think about gun rights?

SAINDON: I'm not really one to strike up political conversations.

MARTIN: Yeah. But it's going through your mind.

SAINDON: But it has. I have spoken about it to a few friends, and they're frustrated, and, you know, we get teary-eyed talking about it.

MARTIN: Yeah. Would it change the way you vote?

SAINDON: Yeah. So...

MARTIN: The emotion wells up, and she's got to take a moment.

SAINDON: Yeah. And, you know, I'm trying to stay within my party. Excuse me. So I'm trying to stay within the Republican Party, but it's hard to find Republicans who want to do anything.

MARTIN: So she's taken things into her own hands by digging into candidates' records.

SAINDON: The NRA has this website where they give them grades, you know, like, A-plus and whatever. So I'm looking for the bad scores...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SAINDON: ...And - I am. I'm, like, scratching. I've printed a sample ballot.

MARTIN: Did you?

SAINDON: Yeah. And I'm, like, striking through the ones that got the A-plus.

MARTIN: Bendi says maybe this is different for her now because her son is the same age as some of the high school kids who were killed in Parkland, Fla., and the whole conversation about guns feels personal.

SAINDON: Can I show you one thing?

MARTIN: Please. Yeah.

She walks me upstairs to the second floor and then opens a closet door. It's a space the size of a large walk-in closet, and it is full of toy guns.

SAINDON: So this is our armory of Nerf guns. Isn't that ridiculous?

MARTIN: But that looks menacing even though it's a Nerf gun.

SAINDON: Well, that is a zombie killer.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SAINDON: Yes. So that has, like, a chain thing on it 'cause somehow that is better for the zombie killing, or something.

MARTIN: Right. But so why did you want to show me this? What is it...

SAINDON: I feel like...

MARTIN: It worries you?

SAINDON: It bothers me.


SAINDON: So what - so you can pretend you're killing one another? But I don't really want you to kill anyone.

MARTIN: This is all new territory for her. And in our conversation, it does seem like she's working out how she thinks and feels about gun control in real time as we're talking. One thing she is clear about, though - she says the AR-15, the gun used in the Parkland shooting, doesn't have a place in society.

SAINDON: And, yeah, and those guns were designed to kill people. They weren't designed to hunt deer or to, you know, go squirrel hunting. Those were designed to kill people.

ALEX JONISCHKIES: To so many of us, millions of us, it's just a rifle. And that's not to say it can't be a dangerous weapon. I mean, let's face it. It was designed to be effective, and that can be used for good or bad.

MARTIN: This is Alex Jonischkies. The 30-year-old shares his two-story house with a couple of roommates to offset his mortgage. Between them, they've got a small arsenal of weapons in the house that they have brought out into the living room to show us. The guns are all laid out on this folding table in front of the fireplace, and Alex walks me through the particular features of each weapon - a revolver, a rifle, a long shotgun and his favorite.

JONISCHKIES: This is an AR-15. Specific features on this one - the 1-4x scope. So at 1x, it's kind of like an open sight. So you can go both eyes open.

MARTIN: Alex says he got into guns as a kid playing video games.

JONISCHKIES: So I played competitive Counter-Strike for a while back in the day, which is probably the first first-person shooter that I played.

MARTIN: And when it comes to politics...

JONISCHKIES: I normally agree more with Democratic principles. I'm pro-education, pro-civil rights, pro-regulation to a reasonable degree.

MARTIN: But in this moment after the Parkland, Fla., shooting, Alex is thinking about supporting pro-gun rights Republicans. I asked him about Beto O'Rourke.

JONISCHKIES: Beto is definitely an interesting race to watch, an interesting candidate to watch. He has been relatively mum overall about his specifics on gun control. He has stated that he supports the assault weapons ban and all the other proposals, but he's stated that only in blanket fashion so far, and it's not on his website. And so I'm interested to see where that goes in the general election and how he speaks about it in the general election. That may very strongly determine where I go from there, as far as my vote.

MARTIN: You could vote for Ted Cruz?

JONISCHKIES: I could, possibly. But it does depend.

MARTIN: It depends mainly on how hard Beto O'Rourke pushes on this idea of an assault weapons ban. Alex says going that far will scare a lot of gun owners back into the same old arguments.

JONISCHKIES: I think that for most people out there who see gun owners as the other side, there are a lot of us who do want to have this conversation. And I think there are a lot of us who are unfairly, and perhaps unreasonably, on our side, driven away from it by talk of bans.

MARTIN: Both Alex Jonischkies and Bendi Saindon have changed the way they're thinking about gun laws in this country after Parkland. The question today and in the fall midterms is how much it'll change their vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "REVELRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.