Remembering Joseph Bryan “Joe” Griffith, his family says the enactment of a common sense gun sale law would be the best kind of memoriam to honor him and the six other people who died and the 25 who were wounded on the blackest day in Odessa history, Aug. 31, 2019.
The Texas House Select Committee on Mass Violence & Community Safety convened at Odessa College last Nov. 7 to hear members of Griffith’s family and others testify about the need, but there has been no indication since then that the issue will be addressed in the legislative session opening Jan. 12, 2021, in Austin.
Carla Byrne of Odessa, Griffith’s sister, said in a July 22 email that she spoke to a member of the Springfield, Va.-based Gun Owners of America on her way out of the hearing. “This man, tall and looming in his GOA shirt, stopped me and said, ‘We don’t agree on things, but I’m sorry about what happened to your brother,’” she said.
“After listening to hours and hours of paranoid rhetoric from his GOA cohorts, I looked up into his face and saw kindness. I said, ‘Thank you, sir, can I ask you a question?’
“‘Sure,” he said.
“I’ve been sitting in here listening to rhetoric about ‘good guys with guns.’ I want you to know that my brother owned guns, lots of them, and had a gun right there in his car. But do you think his being a ‘good guy with a gun’ helped him that day? I mean, how was he to know, on his way to take family pics, that he was parked at a red light not next to the postman but a monster posing as a postman? How was he to know that he should get his gun out and hold it up at the ready like he was in the wild, wild West? His being a good guy with a gun was useless that day.”
“He looked down at me with sympathy and only shook his head with tears in his eyes. This sweet man messaged me later and said I had shown him another perspective and helped to change his views.”
Byrne acknowledged that 71-year-old Jack Wilson, who killed a shooter last Dec. 29 at a church in White Settlement, was a good guy with a gun, but she said the Odessa shooter should not have been able to buy a 5.56-millimeter AR-15 assault rifle in Lubbock because he was known to be mentally unstable and assaultive.
“What about all the bad guys with guns?” she asked. “Shouldn’t we try to ensure that there are some walls around them and their ability to obtain a gun? Why are all the supposed good guys so scared about implementing background checks for all gun sales? They’re worried that one common sense gun law will snowball into another law and another.
“But I call that bullshit. We don’t allow folks to operate a vehicle without a license. Why in the world do we allow just anyone to purchase a gun?”
Byrne, who owns a gun for home defense, said Texas “needs politicians with the backbone to do what is right and face the unequivocal result of angering the gun lobby.
“If our state representatives had the spine to shun the gun lobby, they might be surprised at the positive response from Americans, Texans and Odessans,” she said. “Ninety percent of Americans and 89 percent of Republicans support universal background checks for gun sales. So what gives? Money.
“My brother was a good man and this should not have happened. It was not God’s will. God’s will is not for evil. I pray people will listen. I pray our legislators will grow backbones and do what is right and I pray that Americans will vote for the legislators who address this issue.”
Griffith was a 40-year-old Odessa High School and University of Texas Permian Basin graduate who had taught mathematics for eight years at Goddard Junior High in Midland and since 2012 had worked at B-Line Filter & Supply. He and his wife Becky had two children.
His other sister, Marcy Askins of Midland, told the politicians at the hearing that the shooter “was admitted to a mental institution and threw a chair out of a window trying to escape.
“He assaulted the person who was trying to help him,” Askins said. “He was on his roof shooting innocent and defenseless animals and he brought a gun to a confrontation with his neighbor about trash. This is a man who bought a gun legally through a private sale who should have never been allowed a gun, let alone a gun of mass murder.”
Describing herself as a conservative Republican whose husband is a member of the National Rifle Association, Askins said, “I’m not trying to take away your guns.
“I believe a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun every single time, but I do not want crazy people to have access to guns. Why do people have to continue dying? If you don’t want your family murdered in the street, please do something so you won’t be singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to your dead brother’s grave.
“We are reasonable people as we know you are. Please do something so no more people have to die.”
Griffith’s father Gary told the committee that his son “was an honest man, the best who ever lived,” and his mother Sharon said the lawmakers were “appointed by God for just such a time as this.
“The law failed us, but you have the chance to change it,” she said. “When the next mother sits before you, it’s going to be on you.”
Bob Campbell is a reporter for the Odessa American covering Religion and Lifestyle in the Permian Basin.