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HPD officers, Texas senators condemn Acevedo’s gun control remarks after sergeant’s death

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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks during a press conference at HPD headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Houston. Photo: Jon Shapley, MBO / Associated Press (Courtesy Houston Chronicle)

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WASHINGTON — Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s comments after the fatal shooting of a Houston police officer have ignited a storm of controversy as rank-and-file officers accuse him of politicizing the death of their comrade. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are pushing back on Acevedo’s claims that a federal loophole allowed the accused killer to buy a gun.

Acevedo on Monday blamed Senate Republicans for caving in to the gun lobby by refusing to close a loophole in federal law, suggesting that their failure to act was related to the officer’s death.

But questions remain about how the alleged shooter, who had a history of mental illness and previous convictions for domestic violence, was able to get the gun in the first place.

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Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who Acevedo called out on Monday, say the issue is more complicated than the police chief initially portrayed it.

Police Sgt. Chris Brewster was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call in east Houston Saturday evening. Soon after, police arrested 25-year-old Arturo Solis. He is charged with capital murder.

Solis had prior a family violence conviction that blocked him from legally purchasing a firearm, court records show. His family and defense attorney also claims he has a history of mental illness, potentially raising further hurdles for his ability to legally buy a gun.

“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,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said. “The fact is that this killer was a criminal whom federal law already prohibited from having a gun.”

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Acevedo stood by his comments about the GOP’s refusal to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which would close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows those with a history of dating violence to legally purchase firearms, in some cases. Acevedo said he is “not going to engage in a back and forth” with the senators.

“My comments about the issue of domestic violence and gun violence and the context of their meaning are quite clear when viewed in their totality,” he said. “Anyone who wants to ignore my overarching message and focus on the convenient probably has little interest in passing VAWA with a prohibition of gun possession by domestic abusers who fall into a boyfriend category.”

Under federal law, those convicted of assault against family members are barred from buying guns — but the law only applies to abusers who were married to their partners, lived with them or had children with them.

House Democrats earlier this year passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act that would have closed that so-called “boyfriend loophole.” The NRA, however, opposed it, and negotiations on the legislation broke down in the Senate.

It appears, however, that the boyfriend loophole did not apply to Solis.

In August 2015, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge that he assaulted a woman he was dating who lived with him at the time, according to charging documents.

That alone should have prevented Solis from buying a gun under state and federal law. Texas law prohibits convicted abusers from buying guns within five years after the end of their punishment. Solis was sentenced to 70 days in jail.

“What matters under federal and state law is that he lived with the family member he was previously convicted of assaulting at the time of the crime,” a spokesman for Cornyn said.

The Houston police union, meanwhile, blasted Acevedo for “hijacking” a “somber moment”

“By now you have heard Chief Art Acevedo engage in a 5-minute rant on gun control outside the funeral home where fallen Sgt. Chris Brewster was taken,” a memo posted to the union’s Facebook page said. “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.”

Acevedo’s comments drew national attention and support from gun reform advocates and celebrities, including Patricia Arquette and Cher.

Cameron Kasky, who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and co-founded March For Our Lives, tweeted that “Acevedo is a leader through and through.”

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