Outfitted in their official emergency response personalized khakis, Gov. Greg Abbott and his fellow Republicans took to the stage in Uvalde Wednesday to brief the media and issue solemn declarations of shock and sympathy in the wake of Tuesday’s horrific mass killing of two teachers and 19 elementary school students.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick promised to do more to harden protections at school campuses and expand mental health services in rural South Texas, but gun control was not addressed. Abbott sidestepped a question about his scheduled speaking appearance Friday at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Houston, where guns have been banned from the meeting.

Former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee seeking to unseat Abbott in November, stunned Abbott, Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and others when he strode to the foot of the stage, interrupted the press conference and confronted Abbott on his unwillingness to enact tougher gun laws.

“This is on you. Until you choose to do something different, this will continue to happen,” O’Rourke said to Abbott, gesturing with a pointed finger. “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”

“I can’t believe you are a sick son of a bitch to come to a deal like this to make a political issue,” Uvalde’s mayor shouted at O’Rourke during the livestreamed event as he was escorted away from the stage, never mind that the press conference itself will be seen by many as a political exercise. Outside, O’Rourke, citing his concerns for the well-being of his own three school-age children and those of other Texas families continued to advocate for stricter gun control measures, which he said have the support of the majority of Texans.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke confronts Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference about the school shooting in Uvalde on Wednesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

In a state deeply divided on issues of gun control, Wednesday’s press conference, with all its drama, will do little to change the minds of voters, much less heal the wounds of the families left to mourn their lost loved ones.

Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old shooter who first shot and wounded his grandmother at her home, was fatally shot inside a classroom at Robb Elementary School by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Abbott and Patrick both took credit for legislation passed in 2019 and 2021 to better protect school campuses from mass shootings. But those laws do not stop mentally unfit adults from purchasing assault weapons, hundreds of round of ammunition and then targeting innocent people in their rage and delusion.

Background checks are perfunctory and serve mostly to block convicted felons and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms. Ramos, like other shooters before him, took to social media forewarn of his intentions. Such warning signals, even when made months before such acts of violence, often go unnoticed or unheeded.

Scarcely weeks have passed since a white supremacist entered a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, to target Black Americans, leaving 10 people dead. Now we have a new day of terror.

Ramos celebrated his 18th birthday by legally purchasing two assault weapons, a cache of ammunition, and a tactical vest to protect himself and prolong his slaughter. He entered adjoining classrooms at Robb Elementary School, barricaded himself inside, and opened fire on students and two teachers.

It’s almost unbearable to imagine the scene inside the fourth-grade classroom, educators racing to protect their students even as they gave their own lives, while Ramos methodically targeted innocent boys and girls.

Buying the guns “was the first thing he did on his 18th birthday,” said Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) whose district includes Uvalde.

Many 10- and 11-year-old boys and girls in Uvalde will never see another birthday, and their families will be forever broken. The community, once best known as the home of Gov. Dolph Briscoe, will now be overshadowed by one ignominious day of violence.

Again and again, innocent Texans have been gunned down from Sutherland Springs to El Paso to Midland-Odessa to Uvalde as they worshipped in church, shopped at a Walmart, traveled on city streets and attended public schools.

It will happen again in some other Texas community when an unbalanced individual harboring grievances easily acquires an assault weapon and a cache of ammo and targets people in the course of their daily lives. Political leaders here and in Washington DC will issue “thoughts and prayers” press releases, and then do nothing.

Last night it took a conscientious NBA basketball coach to put aside a playoff loss and speak truth to power.

“I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough,” said Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors head coach. “There’s 50 senators, right now, who refuse to vote on H.R. 8, which is a background check rule that the House passed (in 2021). … There’s a reason they won’t vote on it: to hold on to power. I ask you, (Sen.) Mitch McConnell, and ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence, the school shootings, the supermarket shootings, I ask you, ‘Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children, our elderly and our churchgoers?’ Because that’s what it looks like.”

Somehow the powerful gun lobby, even after revelations of corruption at the highest levels of the NRA, remains all-powerful in America. The grieving parents and brothers and sisters of those gunned down are no match for the well-armed lobbyists plying the halls of power. So-called Second Amendment supporters will continue to oppose any reforms, refusing to acknowledge that Americans have never had the right to bear arms against other Americans, especially children.

These mass killings of innocent adults and children don’t happen anywhere else in the world with the same horrific predictability. Gun-related killings are far lower elsewhere in democracies with laws that tightly regulate the purchase and ownership of guns. Semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons are much harder, if not impossible, to legally acquire compared to traditional long rifles used for hunting and target competition.

O’Rourke paid the price in 2019 while running for president and declaring at a Houston debate, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”

Only months earlier, Patrick Wood Crusius, a 21-year-old Allen, Texas, resident and believer in racist Great Replacement Theory, traveled to El Paso to target Latinos. He killed 23 people and left 23 others seriously injured. Given his racist rants on social media, Crusius should have never been able to acquire the assault weapon he purchased legally and used in the mass killing.

O’Rourke’s statement back then undoubtedly cost him votes, and he will be attacked for his disruptive appearance at Wednesday’s press conference.

Don’t expect the state’s current elected leadership to agree Texas has a gun problem.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.