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Six mass shootings have occurred in Texas during Gov. Greg Abbott’s 7½ years in office. He has offered prayers and condemned each.
The murders of five police officers in Dallas were “acts of cowardice.” The killing of 26 in Sutherland Springs was a “horrific act.” The high school shooting in Santa Fe that took 10 lives was an “act of evil.” The slaying of 23 at an El Paso Walmart was a “senseless act of violence” while the shooting deaths of seven in Midland-Odessa three weeks later were a “senseless and cowardly act.”
The slaughter of 21 at an elementary school in Uvalde was a “senseless crime,” which, Abbott added at a news conference Wednesday, “could have been worse.”
In the past, Abbott has suggested state leaders could do something — would do something — to prevent the next mass shooting. That same call to action was missing from the governor’s remarks at Uvalde High School. Though at times his voice wavered in anger, Abbott made no specific proposals for the coming legislative session to address gun violence.
He raised no issue with the fact that the alleged shooter had been able to purchase two rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition without raising suspicion. He suggested mental illness drove the troubled young man to violence and called for increased access to health care.
"I asked the sheriff and others an open-ended question … ‘What is the problem here?’” Abbott said. “And they were straightforward and emphatic — they said we have a problem with mental health illness in this community and then they elaborated on the magnitude of the mental health challenges they are facing in the community and the need for more mental health support in this region.”
But Abbott also said authorities were unaware of any criminal or mental illness history of 18-year-old Salvador Ramos that could have identified him as a potential threat.
Abbott said there was “no meaningful forewarning of this crime” other than Facebook posts Ramos made minutes before the shooting that he was going to target an elementary school. The social media company clarified that these were private messages Ramos exchanged with someone else.
Abbott praised the “amazing courage” of law enforcement personnel, without which he said the death toll would have been higher. Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said a school resource officer “engaged” Ramos outside, yet did not fire his weapon nor prevent Ramos from entering the building through a back door.
As he has in the past, Abbott rejected calls for stricter gun laws, arguing that cities and states which attempt to limit access to firearms still suffer from gun violence.
“I hate to say this, but there are more people shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” Abbott said. “We need to realize that people who think, ‘Well, maybe if we implement tougher gun laws, it’s going to solve it,’ Chicago, LA and New York disprove that thesis.”
Abbott on Wednesday praised the Legislature’s efforts in the 2019 session to improve school safety. These laws, suggested by a task force Abbott had created after the Santa Fe shooting, improved mental health resources for students and made it easier for teachers to arm themselves. None restricted Texans’ access to firearms.
Some of the task force’s more ambitious ideas, like allowing courts to seize guns from individuals deemed unsafe to themselves or others, never gained support in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
“We consider what we did in 2019 to be one of the most profound legislative sessions, not just in Texas, that we’ve seen in any state in addressing school shootings,” Abbott said. “We will continue to discuss with legislators all the potential avenues and pathways we can take to make sure schools will be even safer going forward.”
Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said she was hopeful the killing of elementary school students would spur Abbott to embrace some limits on firearm access that she said Texans broadly support. Instead, she saw a governor less interested in bold action than after past shootings.
“I don’t know which is worse, going through the motions when you have no intention of passing commonsense gun reform after a tragedy or just deciding that that’s not even worth mentioning,” Golden said.
A spokesperson for the Texas State Rifle Association said she could not comment on reforms the governor hasn’t yet proposed.
Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee in this year’s race for governor, angrily confronted Abbott at the news conference. O’Rourke, who has called for a prohibition on the type of assault rifle Ramos allegedly used, blamed Abbott for not taking meaningful actions after previous mass shootings.
“You are doing nothing,” O’Rourke said. “You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
Other Republicans on the stage denounced O’Rourke, who was escorted from the venue by police.
The Uvalde shooting took place 10 years after the only deadlier massacre at a U.S. elementary school, in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
That incident prompted Connecticut state lawmakers to pass some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, required background checks on all gun sales, limits the size of ammunition magazines and created a registry of suspects convicted of gun crimes. Then-Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, said he did not believe the measures would stop all mass shootings.
“That, however, cannot be the test that determines whether America chooses to act or remain complacent,” Malloy said in 2013. “These measures will surely save many lives.”
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