Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Gov. Greg Abbott’s first reaction to the shooting that claimed 22 lives in El Paso on Saturday was to emphasize the “need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health-based issues.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, both of whom have at least one Hispanic parent, blamed “white terrorism” and “white supremacy,” though they offered no solution.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted, “Sadly, there are some issues, like homelessness and these shootings, where we simply don’t have all the answers.”

Then there was Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. On Sunday, he passionately attacked the real problems: video games, social media, and “the absence of prayer from the public square” and from schools.

Patrick would later claim that the Twittersphere took his remarks out of context. Maybe some did, but I won’t. 

Patrick turned down (along with Abbott and several other state Republican leaders) a request to appear with host Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union program. Instead, Patrick joined Fox & Friends to make a passionate plea to skip “politics” and deal with the real problems. This is how he started the interview:

“I look at this evil act – and let’s condemn it for what it is, evil, evil – and I say, how long are we going to let, for example, and ignore at the federal level particularly, where they can do something about the video game industry?”

Patrick cherry-picks a portion of the shooter’s alleged “manifesto” in which Patrick says “he talks about living out his super-soldier fantasy on Call of Duty.” But Patrick doesn’t mention the larger sections in which the manifesto talks about the danger of non-whites taking over Texas and delivering it to the Democrats, a reality about which many Texas Republicans have expressed concern in fundraising letters. Nor did Patrick cite the manifesto’s discussion of the need to divide the United States into separate territories divided by race.

After decrying the effects of social media, Patrick returned again to video games, as well as one other cause: “This was maybe a video game to this evil demon. A video game to him. He has no sense of humanity, no sense of life. He wanted to be a super soldier, for his Call of Duty game, so we need to look at all of this and who we are, and as long as we continue to only praise God and look at God on a Sunday morning, and kick Him out of the town squares and our schools the other six days of the week, what do we expect?”

Patrick does ask a useful question. He asks, “What’s changed in this country? We’ve always had guns, we’ve always had evil. But what’s changed where we see this rash of shooting?” His answer, again, is video games, social media, and not enough prayer in enough places.

Of course, something else has changed, something neither Patrick nor virtually any other Republican leader wants to deal with. It is this: When the Second Amendment was written, the main infantry weapon of war was the single-shot musket. It had the accuracy of a whiffle ball and reloading required 10 to 12 steps. A well-trained soldier was expected to get off two to three shots per minute for the first few shots before the barrel started gumming up with powder residue.

What’s changed, Patrick asks? Police say they killed the shooter in Dayton early Sunday within 30 seconds after he started. Yet in that brief time, using a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round magazines, he killed nine (as of this writing) and wounded 27.

The New York Times on Sunday morning featured a comprehensive article that persuasively made the case that our epidemic of mass shootings is not about mental health, or background checks, or video games, or social media, or school prayer. It is about guns. Consider these points made by the article.

  • The United States has 270 million guns. We had 90 mass shooters between 1966 and 2012. This year, we’ve had 250 shootings in which three or more people have been shot. No other country has had more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters.
  • Americans are 4.4 percent of the world’s population and have 42 percent of the guns. The second-highest rate of gun ownership among nations of more than 10 million is Yemen, which is engulfed in a civil war. It is the only nation with a higher per-capita rate of mass shootings.
  • Americans suffer mental health issues at the same rate as other wealthy nations. Only about 4 percent of our gun deaths are attributed to mental health issues.
  • Americans don’t play video games at a higher rate than people in other developed nations.

Improving our mental health system and expanding background checks are worthwhile but hardly appear to be solutions. Neither of this weekend’s alleged mass shooters would likely have been kept from purchasing guns by such initiatives.

President Donald Trump yesterday called for death penalty legislation for hate crimes and mass shootings. Many shooters, however, have indicated they expect to be killed and are seeking fame as martyrs. The El Paso shooter expressed concern that he would be captured and would face the death penalty. The fear wasn’t a deterrent.

It is all about guns. As the Times article notes, Americans aren’t any more crime-prone than people in other nations. A Londoner is just as likely to be robbed as a New Yorker. The difference: The New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed during the robbery.

It is all about guns. Everything else is a diversion. And the most sensible first step is to ban the guns – as we did not long ago – that make mass murder easy even for amateurs. And the high-capacity magazines, too.

It won’t happen soon, however. We will keep giving young men the warrior’s tools of mass murder as long as the likes of Dan Patrick and John Cornyn and Greg Abbott want to talk about anything but that.

Rick Casey's career spans four decades of award-winning reporting on San Antonio. He previously worked as a metro columnist for the former San Antonio Light and, later, the San Antonio Express-News.