WASHINGTON - Two people who lost family members to gun violence offered a Senate Judiciary subcommittee opposite positions today on the best way to solve the problem, one saying if she'd been able to carry a gun legally she could have stopped the shooter while the other said more restrictions are needed to keep guns out of criminals' hands.
Suzanna Hupp, a survivor of the 1991 Luby's massacre in Killeen, Texas, recounted her experience when a gunman drove his truck through a Luby's restaurant and shot 50 people, leaving 23 dead, including Hupp's father and mother. Hupp expressed regret over leaving her firearm in the car that day and blamed the deaths inside the restaurant not on the shooter, but on the Texas gun laws that made it illegal for her to carry her weapon into the restaurant.
"A few months earlier I had made the stupidest decision of my life. I had begun leaving my gun out in my car because I did what most normal people would do. I wanted to be a law abiding citizen," Hupp told the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I remember looking around and thinking 'Great what do I do now? Throw a salt shaker at him?'
"You may think that I was angry with the guy who did it, but the truth is that's like being mad at a rabid dog," Hupp said. "I was mad as heck at my legislators because I honestly believed that they legislated me out of the right to protect myself and my family, and I would much rather be sitting in jail right now with a felony offense on my head and have my parents alive to know their grandchildren."
On the other side was Sandra Wortham, whose brother Thomas Wortham IV, a Chicago police officer who had returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, was shot and killed outside his home as someone tried to steal his motorcycle. Thomas Wortham IV and his father, a retired police officer, were both armed at the time but were unable to stop the murder.
"I understand the law. I respect our Constitution, but to me this isn't about taking away the lawful right to own guns. We are not anti-gun people. My family is not an anti-gun family," Wortham said. "I value and respect the right, the rights that are provided by the Constitution. However, I find it very hard to believe that our founders intended those rights to go so unreasonably unchecked. … It isn't about the right to lawfully own guns. This is about trying our best to keep guns out of the hands of people like people who killed my brother.
"The only people who should be disturbed by common sense gun laws are people who shouldn't have guns in the first place," she said. "We need to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands in the first place and I don't think that makes us anti-gun people. I think that makes us pro law abiding citizens who want to live without this constant fear of this violence as a result of guns."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, chairman of the subcommittee, argued on behalf of strengthening the background check system to ensure that background checks are conducted for all gun purchases, not just those bought from federally licensed firearms dealers.
"There are too many families who now face an empty seat at a dinner table, too many parents who walk past an empty bedroom, too many husbands and wives who have lost the love of their lives because of gunfire," Durbin said in his opening statement. "Americans all across the country are saying enough. We've reached a tipping point. We need to act. We need to better protect our kids, our families, our schools, our loved ones, from the epidemic of gun violence. Some say we should just enforce the laws that are on the books. But that's not enough. There are so many gaps in those laws that we know they've created the situation we face today."
Sen. Ted. Cruz, R-Texas, warned that some of the proposals to curb gun violence that have been put forward infringe upon second amendment rights.
"Constitutional rights are designed to be protected not just when they're popular, but especially when passions are seeking to restrict and limit those rights," Cruz said. "Stripping the constitutional rights of law- abiding citizens does nothing to prevent criminals from carrying out violent crime."
Today's hearing on solutions to gun violence was the second hearing of its kind held by the Senate Judiciary Committee since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Last month, President Obama introduced his gun policy agenda, which called for the banning of some assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The president's plan included 23 executive actions on gun violence that would not require congressional approval, which included a directive for national agencies to strengthen the criminal background check system.