Crossroads residents respond to Obama's proposal (video)

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Jan. 16, 2013 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

Joel Smith stands on the corner of Glass and Forrest Streets protesting President Obama and his efforts at gun control.

Joel Smith stands on the corner of Glass and Forrest Streets protesting President Obama and his efforts at gun control.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

President Barack Obama's use of executive orders to reduce gun violence across America stoked controversy in the Crossroads.

Those among the most visibly upset were at the Victoria County courthouse Wednesday, toting cardboard signs boasting words America's Founding Fathers put down on paper centuries ago.

Joel Smith, 24, of Victoria, said he was just giving the president what he asked for during his morning press conference - input. He wasn't worried his voice would go unnoticed in a small town like Victoria, which has a population of about 60,000 people.

"You've got to start somewhere," said the father of two, who does not own a gun, on his plans to gather more followers by the week's end via social media. "This is grounds for impeachment, if you ask me. ... We might as well start calling him King Obama."

Since he and his friend, AJ Irwin, a University of Houston-Victoria student, started their protest Tuesday, about 150 people have given them a thumbs-up as they drove past, Smith estimated.

On Wednesday, the pair gained another supporter, Candace Lantiegne, 19, who stopped by while running errands.

"We cannot form an able-bodied militia if we're fighting assault rifles with baseball bats," the 19-year-old single mother said, adding she often doesn't feel safe in Victoria and fully intends to obtain a weapon as soon as she is old enough.

Across town, trucks crammed into the Victoria All-Sports Center's parking lot, and customers browsed through their expansive stock of ammunition.

Curtis Brown, a Louisiana native traveling on business, was checking out rifles with a friend when he got word that gun laws may be changing.

A hunter of ducks and geese, he said guns level the playing field for women who can't overpower men in a physical altercation.

He said Obama's administration may be capitalizing on the still raw emotions of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where 20 school children were killed by a lone gunman.

"There's bad people everywhere, and police can't be everywhere all the time. They're more of a reactionary force. They're there to clean up the mess," he said.

Some people thought that parts of Obama's plan was reasonable.

Donna McCanlies, 65, of Victoria, grew up around guns and isn't in favor of banning them but said it makes sense to re-evaluate the Second Amendment now that times have changed.

"I doubt very seriously that our forefathers ever foresaw that guns would do this," she said of high-capacity magazine. "No one has ever given me a reason as to why they need a gun that's going to pop off 50 rounds in a second. ... You don't kill any animal with that many shots."

Dorothy Riojas, of Victoria, was raised on the other end of the spectrum.

"I'm scared to death of guns," she said. "I guess I'm just a city girl."

She liked the idea of banning assault rifles, which she said could destroy people. And, although the 68-year-old grandmother hadn't read or watched any news about Obama's proposals, she hoped taking more guns off the streets would make people safer, recalling a time when she could walk to school in a racially diverse neighborhood without fear.

Rae Stevens, who supports the right to bear arms, said the White House's proposed incentives to place more police officers in schools could be beneficial.

"People would be less likely to shoot up a school if they knew they were prepared to respond," the Victoria College student said.

Diane Boyett, a spokeswoman for Victoria ISD, said district campuses currently have eight school resource officers through the the Victoria Police Department and the Victoria County Sheriff's Office. She wasn't sure whether there were plans to add more in the coming years.

About lunchtime Wednesday, she hadn't had a chance to read about Obama's proposals but said, "anything that has been suggested that improves the safety and security of our schools ... would certainly be at the forefront of our thinking."

Area law enforcement, meanwhile, wondered how Obama's proposals could be implemented and what the ramifications would be.

Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler had lots to say about the White House's executive actions after he reviewed them extensively.

He said an expansive federal background check system, which would include a person's arrest and conviction history, tax status, mental health and prescription records, among other things, could "end any pretense to rights of privacy." He said the system could be breached, as the Department of Veterans Affairs' has in the past without new security safeguards in place.

Along that same vein, he said clarifying the Affordable Care Act to allow doctors to ask their patients about guns in their home could destroy the doctor-patient relationship in which many people have come to expect confidentiality. It's something he said could take a considerable toll in lives and money.

"Doctors should focus on caring for patients and gathering information relative to diagnosis and treatment," Tyler said. "(They) have enough responsibilities without being utilized as 'snitches.'"

Also, beginning a safe and responsible gun ownership campaign sounds like a good idea on the surface, but criminals aren't likely to sign up for the service, he said.

"It's a bit like imposing a curfew at the Convent because there's a graffiti problem," Tyler said.

Overall, Tyler said area law enforcement and prosecutors have and will continue to prevent gun violence with strategies such as tracing the ownership of guns used in crimes, a long-standing policy.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor got a synopsis of the provisions because he was testifying in Austin on Wednesday.

He stressed that more needs to be done to help mental health professionals cure dangerous human behavior.

"There is not a sole or single solution, but it needs the representation of all the stakeholders," he said via telephone.

He said it's not often deputies get calls from mental health care providers concerned about their patients harming others, but sometimes their family members come in to turn in their weapons.

O'Connor recalled how a few years ago, deputies discovered during a routine traffic stop on U.S. Highway 59, 200 rounds of 50-caliber bullets, which he said are used by military snipers.

He said that no matter what laws are in place, there may always be an underground black market boasting guns such as AK-47s.

"This is far from being over," O'Connor said about the gun debate.

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