May 26, 2022 - Politics

Shooting renews political debate in gun-friendly Texas

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke interrupts a press conference held by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott following a shooting Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The political divide over guns was on full and raw display during a Wednesday press conference, just one day after 19 children and two adults were fatally shot at an Uvalde elementary school.

Driving the news: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke approached the stage, extending a pointer finger toward Gov. Greg Abbott, and interrupting to deliver a message: "This is on you."

  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick immediately struck back, saying O'Rourke was "out of line and an embarrassment."

The big picture: The news conference underscored the country's discord over how to respond to the rising number of mass shootings. Even as Uvalde parents waited to hear whether their children were dead or alive on Tuesday, politicians fell into familiar camps — a uniquely American tradition amid a recurring tragedy.

State of play: Republican state leaders Wednesday called for mental health reform instead of gun control. Meanwhile, Democrats urged their colleagues to pass laws limiting access to guns or more strictly regulate them.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks to the media after interrupting a press conference held by Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Yes, but: Even if the two parties can reach a compromise, the Texas Legislature doesn't convene until 2023.

  • "Given the past pattern of policy making and the attitudes of Republicans, I don't expect to see more than familiar platitudes and deflection to vague future actions — which are unlikely to amount to anything concrete," Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, told Axios.

Flashback: After the state's previous mass shootings, Texas Republicans pledged to take action to prevent future killing sprees.

But GOP lawmakers have responded with measures that loosen requirements to carry a weapon, most recently passing a law allowing Texans to carry handguns without a license or training.

  • After the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, where 10 were killed, Gov. Greg Abbott asked lawmakers to consider so-called "red flag" laws that would allow courts to take firearms away from those who present a danger. Instead, that session saw measures that strengthened mental health initiatives, allowed more school marshals to carry guns on campuses and gave teachers access to firearms in the classroom.
  • After the El Paso shooting at a Walmart and the Midland-Odessa shooting, just weeks apart in 2019, state legislators returned to the Capitol only to approve a statewide alert system and pass a measure to make it a crime to lie on a background check.
  • Republicans overwhelmingly approved a permitless-carry bill last year, allowing anyone who can legally own a gun to carry it without license.

What's next: It's unclear what measures Republican lawmakers will push next session, but Abbott on Wednesday said Uvalde officials told him: "We have a problem with mental health illness in this community."

  • Just moments before, Abbott said the gunman had "no known mental health history" or criminal history.
  • Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan vowed to engage in a "long, very robust discussion about mental health" in the Legislature.

The bottom line: Compromises are short-lived in Texas politics — and it will be months before lawmakers actually return to the Capitol to hammer out any legislation.


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