El Paso, Dayton mayors discuss the mass shootings in their cities at Texas Tribune Festival


Flowers and signs lay at the memorial outside of the El Paso Walmart, where a mass shooting killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen others. (Border Report Photo/Steffi Lee)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The mayors from two cities that both experienced mass shootings this August spoke at a panel at The 2019 Texas Tribune Festival Friday.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley talked about the devastating weekend that took the lives of almost 30 people. Their conversation ranged from the mornings after the shootings, to gun control and the resilience of their communities.

Margo spoke about his experiences after finding out about the shooting. He was in Austin at the time and immediately flew home to El Paso to deal with the situation.

“I had no training, no expectation and given the nature and culture of El Paso, no one would ever expected it,” Margo said. “To say it was surreal would be an understatement.”

The Ohio shooting took place at 1 a.m. and Whaley was woken up by a knock at her door. She talked about how quickly they worked, and how in day one they had a vigil and a victims fund set up.

“I don’t think you’re ever prepared,” Whaley said. “The emotion for what’s going on in your community, I don’t think you can ever train for that.”

Both mayors talked about how the incidents have changed their communities, but in different ways. Whaley said this is the first time people in her city had come together after a crisis rather than pulling apart.

“There’s a real sense of championing of the city,” Whaley said. “It’s strange to me that something so painful and so sad and so debilitating to families, there’s something so beautiful that comes out of it.”

Margo said he thinks it will take his community several years to heal. However, what stands out to him is the generosity his people showed even in a time like this, and it is very different from what people expect.

“I will not allow this incident to define El Paso,” Margo said. “Yes it’s going to be part of our history, there’s nothing I can do about it, but I want it as an asterisk footnote to El Paso.”

The mayors also talked about gun control during the panel. Both agreed about the importance of background checks in the firearm purchasing process.

“I am 100% for the background checks and also the private sales background checks,” Margo said. “I don’t care if it takes longer than three days, if it takes a week or a month. It goes through the background check.”

Whaley testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and heard arguments for and against adding restrictions on guns. She said one of the arguments she heard against restrictions compared assault-style weapons to an accessory like shoes.

“I’m sorry but my right to have the liberty to walk down the street without worrying about one of these guns that can shoot so quickly, I think outweighs my ability to have an extra pair of shoes or shoot critters,” Whaley said.

Margo said he believes that there is more potential for action on the state level than on the federal side. He said he thinks what Gov. Greg Abbott is doing with his executive orders is a good start.

Whaley said a lot of mayors push for background checks because there are everyday incidences of gun violence that affect their communities, but get overlooked by the mass shootings.

“There’s an everyday kind of violence that’s happening in our country that doesn’t get covered anymore because it’s now normal,” Whaley said. “We still have this constant gun violence going on that really needs to stop in this country.”

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