Houston police chief says criticism of GOP lawmakers over guns is ‘not political’

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday stood by his criticism of Senate Republicans for not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and taking action against gun violence, saying “death is not political.”

“To the people who say this is political — this is not political. Death is not political — you see, death is final,” Acevedo told CNN during an interview in Houston. “So the question is simple: Do you, Senator (Ted) Cruz support closing the boyfriend loophole that’s in that (Violence Against Women Act) law, yes or no? Because if you look at the response from the elected officials in the Senate, not one of them addressed the loophole. You know why? Because you’re on the wrong side of history. That’s why.”

While federal law bars spouses, ex-spouses, live-in partners and people who have children together from possessing a firearm if they have a domestic violence conviction, it does not apply similar constraints to dating partners in what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole.”

An outspoken advocate on the issue of domestic violence, Acevedo on Monday slammed Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, for not pushing to close the loophole, as the Houston Police Department mourned the death of Sgt. Chris Brewster. He was shot and killed while responding to a call from a woman who said her boyfriend was armed and assaulting her.

“I don’t want to hear about how much they support law enforcement,” the police chief said on Monday. “I don’t want to hear about how much they care about lives and the sanctity of lives yet, we all know in law enforcement that one of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House and getting the Violence Against Women’s Act (passed) is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. So you’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you’re here for the (National Rifle Association).”

He continued: “I don’t want to see their little smug faces talking about how much they care about law enforcement when I’m burying a sergeant because they don’t want to piss off the NRA,” he said. “Make up your minds, whose side are you on? Gun manufacturers, the gun lobby, or the children that are getting gunned down in this country every single day.”

Congressional response

On Capitol Hill, Cornyn told CNN on Wednesday that Acevedo was “mistaken” by invoking the Violence Against Women Act, arguing that laws are already in place to prevent those with domestic abuse convictions in Texas from owning firearms. Texas law prohibits a person convicted of a misdemeanor for family violence from possessing or transferring firearms and ammunition for five years. And federal law says a person who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is prohibited from possessing any firearm or ammunition.

In a statement, Cruz argued Acevedo was playing politics.

“It’s unfortunate the chief of police in Houston seems more focused on trying to advance his own political ambitions than on supporting the brave men and women of HPD (Houston Police Department),” he said. “The fact is that this killer was a criminal whom federal law already prohibited from having a gun.”

The suspect in Brewster’s killing has a 2015 conviction of assaulting a family member, according to public records.

“Under current law the shooter would’ve been legally disqualified from purchasing a firearm,” Cornyn said. “So I regret (Acevedo) took the occasion, the sad occasion, of the officer’s murder to try to make a political statement that was factually wrong.”

Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which was enacted in 1994, has stalled in Congress. The bill provides grants and support to various groups that work on issues relating to sexual assault and domestic violence and prevention, among other things.

In April, the Democratic-led House voted to reauthorize the act after it lapsed earlier this year — and added language to apply many provisions to dating partners. Some Republicans at the time objected to the bill for several reasons, including the inclusion of a provision that would close the “boyfriend loophole,” prohibiting dating partners convicted of assault or stalking from purchasing firearms.

The future of the Violence Against Women Act

Discussions in the Senate for a bipartisan version of the bill have fallen apart. Last month, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa introduced her own version of the Violence Against Women Act that extends the law by 10 years while Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a Senate version of the House bill.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN on Capitol Hill he hopes there can be a bipartisan compromise and hopes it could be reauthorized permanently.

“I mean we seem to be stuck here,” he said on Wednesday when asked if a negotiation could be reached by the end of the year. “I was hoping that Sen(s). Ernst and Feinstein could get there from here, but we’ll keep trying.”

Democrats and gun advocates have criticized Senate Republicans for prolonging action on gun violence.

When asked about criticism that Senate Republicans are delaying action on the Violence Against Women Act to avoid angering the NRA, Graham said: “I don’t believe that.”

“I think what’s going on here is you’re having a lot of concepts, social policy changes that are really not at the heart of the Violence Against Women (Act) so there’s probably blame to go around to all sides,” Graham told CNN.

The Houston Police Officers’ Union Board on Monday issued a memo to union members criticizing Acevedo for making “political statements” in the wake of Brewster’s death and called for Acevedo to apologize to the Houston Police Department for “hijacking this somber moment.”

“The fact that Chief Acevedo chose that moment to make a political statement on guns, is nothing short of offensive and inappropriate. There is a time and place for every discussion and this was neither the time nor the place,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN. “We are all grieving for Chris and the focus should be on him and his family and not on the Chief’s agenda.”