Parkland father protests as GOP lawmaker blames gun violence on immigration system

Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver who was killed during the Parkland shooting last February, speaks during a gun safety rally at the Coral Springs Museum of Art.
Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver who was killed during the Parkland shooting last February, speaks during a gun safety rally at the Coral Springs Museum of Art.

Manuel Oliver, father of a Parkland shooting victim, had heard enough.

After listening Wednesday to a Republican congressman blame the gun violence outbreaks on the country’s immigration system during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Oliver stood up and quietly protested.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, suggested Oliver be removed from the room.

“Is there a process in the committee whereby if the very same people are repeatedly interrupting the time of the members that those people will be asked to depart the committee?” Gaetz asked Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York.

Oliver, the father of slain student Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was allowed to stay. Nadler issued the raucous hearing audience a warning.

Wednesday’s hearing came nearly a year after 17 people died when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Gun violence had not been addressed by the House Judiciary Committee in eight years — eight years when Republicans, who tend to be gun rights advocates, controlled the House.

Nadler and the Democrats moved quickly to hold a hearing. Democrats took control of the House a month ago, and gun control activists eagerly packed the hearing room Wednesday with young people wearing “March for Our Lives” and “Team Enough” T-shirts.

Among the Democrats’ witnesses was Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Eastmond said that she hoped to recenter the gun control conversation around marginalized communities of black and brown people who are most affected by gun violence.

Nearly all of the 24 Democrats on the committee were in attendance. Five out of 17 Republicans on the committee were present after the opening statements.

The lawmakers debated a background checks bill authored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, a gun owner and Vietnam combat veteran. The bill would expand background checks, requiring them for nearly every gun exchange, including purchases, loans, and gifts. The law includes exemptions such as cases of transfers to some family members.

Throughout the meeting, committee members remained at an impasse over how to proceed, struggling to agree on basic facts about the country’s gun violence problem and ways to address it.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, described Thompson’s bill as a “palliative exercise” and “fraud,” arguing that it would not be effective in preventing gun violence.

“We’re far too comfortable offering bills that constrain law-abiding citizens without protecting them from the people who mean them great harm. We’re far too comfortable talking about tragedy without learning its clearest lesson: If we want to combat mass violence, we have to address the human factors actually driving it,” Collins said.

Instead of the bill, he and many of his Republican colleagues advocated for better mental health services.

In a meeting last year with student survivors of the Parkland shooting, Trump vowed to back some forms of gun control. “We’re going to be very strong on background checks,” he said. “It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It’s been going on too long. Too many instances, and we’re going to get it done.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, represents the district that includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He said that the background checks bill has the votes to pass in the House. But it could face trouble in the Republican-dominated Senate.