The Texas congressman who represents the latest community reeling from a mass shooting has pushed back against Americans who say more than prayers are needed to curb the violence, labeling them “people that don’t believe in an almighty god”.
Rep. Keith Self (R) appeared on CNN on Saturday after a gunman killed at least eight people, including children, at an outlet mall in a Dallas suburb. His response to a question about prayer not preventing such tragedies immediately fuelled anger – with many on social media slamming his words as “meaningless” and “pathetic”.
It is God “who is absolutely in control of our lives,” said Self, who identified himself as a Christian and stressed that he wanted “to stay away from politics” and focus on the victims. “Prayers are important, and they are powerful in the families who are devastated right now.”
Self was among those quick to offer prayers after the shooting Saturday, which also injured seven people. “We are devastated by the tragic news of the shootings that took place at the Allen Premium Outlets today,” he wrote on social media.
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Self told CNN’s Paula Reid that a lack of mental health support was part of the problem. “We have people … with mental health that we’re not taking care of,” he said.
Shannon Watts, who founded “Moms Demand Action” after the Sandy Hook killings more than a decade ago, countered Sunday that “faith without works is dead. Prayers without action are empty.”
She called on Self to do more to protect Americans. Mass shootings like the latest in Allen are “the logical outcome of lawmakers giving unvetted, untrained civilians unfettered access to arsenals and ammunition”.
Self told CNN that “of course” he is concerned about the rise of violence but that his district is “very safe”.
His office on Sunday did not immediately return a request for further comment.
Statewide, Texas has witnessed a steady rise in the number of firearm deaths, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Lawmakers there have expanded access to guns in recent years, with residents now allowed to carry handguns in public without a license.
Just last week, five family members were gunned down by a neighbour who allegedly stormed their home with an AR-15. A 9-year-old boy was among those killed.
And nearly a year ago, two teachers and 19 students died in Uvalde, Tex., after a gunman terrorised Robb Elementary school for 77 minutes. Since that massacre, more local school districts have considered arming teachers as a way of increasing security.
Self, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, has cited the Second Amendment and its right “to keep and bear Arms” in countering calls for stricter gun laws.
“It is crucial that we not give rise to those who wish to incrementally strip away our right to self-defense,” a statement on Self’s website reads. “I will remain steadfast against any effort to restrict our Second Amendment rights.”
The 70-year-old lawmaker is a former Collin County judge who has represented Texas’s 3rd Congressional District since January. During his campaign last year, he said the biggest challenges facing the district were “growth challenges such as transportation, proliferation of drag queen shows that target children and drugs flowing into our area across the border.”
Self also appeared on a list of almost 300 Republicans who have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis.