Texas congressman slammed for prayers comment after mall shooting

Second Amendment

The Texas congressman who represents the latest community reeling from a mass killing 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 the Dallas suburb of Allen. His response to a question about prayer not preventing such tragedies immediately fueled 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 Saturday’s shooting, in which seven people also were wounded. “We are devastated by the tragic news of the shootings that took place at the Allen Premium Outlets today,” he wrote on social media.

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. Self spoke before authorities had publicly identified the shooter or released information about what may have led to the rampage.

Shannon Watts, who founded the advocacy group 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 killings like the latest in Allen are “the logical outcome of lawmakers giving unvetted, untrained civilians unfettered access to arsenals and ammunition.”

Self told The Washington Post later Saturday that “the immediate aftermath is not the time for politics. We have long ago traded faith in God, which means civic action based on that faith, for faith in government.”

Instead of limiting gun rights, Self said, local governments need to be free to better defend public spaces from armed criminals.

“If we are going to have people in our society who wantonly murder people, we are going to have to think about more protection – protecting our schools and soft targets like malls. That is the direction we need to be going: What are we going to do to protect ourselves? Unless we develop some civic conscience which means people don’t murder 5-year-olds, then we need to protect society.”

He said arming public school employees – as some Texas schools allow – is a good step, but more needs to be done.

“It’s going to take a much wider discussion for every locale to decide what they’re going to do,” he said. “How are we going to stop the criminals? Because I want to target the criminals.”

Self called proposals to restrict gun rights, such as raising the age at which people can purchase AR-15-style rifles, “a knee-jerk reaction that does not stop criminals.”

Self told CNN that “of course” he is concerned about the rise of violence but that his district is “very safe.”

Statewide, Texas has witnessed a steady rise in the number of firearm deaths, according to data from the Centers 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 neighbor 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 were killed in Uvalde, Tex., by a gunman who terrorized 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 was one of almost 300 Republicans nationwide who ran for office in 2022 and who had denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, a Washington Post investigation found.

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The Washington Post’s Andrea Salcedo, Rachel Pannett, María Luisa Paúl and Niha Masih contributed to this report.

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