For anyone with lingering doubts about the political stagecraft of Gov. Greg Abbott’s all-Republican press conference in Uvalde on Wednesday, consider this highly misleading statement by Abbott that day which, despite how it begins, had no basis in fact:

“It is a fact that because of their quick response getting on the scene, being able to respond to the gunman and eliminate the gunman, they were able to save lives,” Abbott said in praise of Uvalde first responders at the news conference.

We now know that statement is categorically false and that the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police chief and local police who arrived at Robb Elementary School failed to follow recommended protocols for stopping an active shooter in a school. Instead of converging immediately on Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old shooter, 19 officers milled about in a hallway outside the classrooms for 45 minutes while others stood outside the school building, ignoring pleas from desperate parents.

More than one hour after an active shooter call went out, a Border Patrol-led tactical unit stormed the classroom and fatally shot Ramos in an exchange of gunfire. Two teachers and 19 third and fourth graders lay dead, while 17 people were wounded.

It was the worst school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 when 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 boys and girls, ages 6-7, and six adult educators.

The erroneous claim by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, seated alongside Abbott on Wednesday, that a campus police officer “engaged” Ramos as he supposedly forced his way into the school was retracted one day later.

“He was not confronted by anybody,” Victor Escalon Jr., a DPS official, said during a press conference Thursday.

There was no campus police officer. Ramos simply walked through an open, unlocked door. It was one of many misleading statements delivered from the stage. Additional press conferences on Thursday and Friday followed Wednesday’s hurried, partisan affair. By Friday, a humbled and emotional McCraw was confirming the failure of local law enforcement to take action when children’s lives were still at stake.

“From the benefit of hindsight, where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision, period. There’s no excuse for that. When it comes to an active shooter, you don’t have to wait on tactical gear, plain and simple.”

A new timeline released by authorities underscores how past efforts by Texas Republicans to harden school campuses and arm willing teachers rather than restrict gun purchases are failing to prevent violence against children. Local police seemed to be no match for Ramos, armed with an assault rifle and 1,600 rounds of ammunition. He fired at least 160 rounds during his killing spree, days and weeks after leaving a trail of evidence on social media revealing his violent impulses.

People might not like the way former El Paso congressman and current Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke stormed into Wednesday’s carefully stage-managed media event, but when he pointed a finger at Abbott and said, “This is on you!” it turned out to be one of the few accurate statements made that day.

Abbott now says he is “livid” after being misled in initial briefings that led to his public statements praising the supposed heroism of local police. It is hard to imagine the DPS or Uvalde police conducting an independent, credible inquiry. A federal investigation is necessary.

Even the most ardent Second Amendment defenders gathering this weekend in Houston at the annual National Rifle Association convention should acknowledge that young men demonstrating antisocial behavior or espousing politically extreme and potentially violent views should not be able to walk into a gun store or go online and easily acquire assault weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and tactical body armor.

That is exactly what happened with Ramos as he turned 18 and purchased two assault weapons, and it follows a pattern evident in other mass shooting incidents in Texas.

Guns are big business in Texas and across the country. Gun sales and gun violence both reached new levels during the coronavirus pandemic. In the only democracy that suffers repeated mass shooting incidents in its schools and other public places, the United States continues to allow easy access to firearms and ammunition.

Tactical assault rifles line the wall at Nagel's Gun Shop.
Tactical assault rifles line the wall at a gun store in San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The mass shootings in Uvalde, in El Paso, in Sutherland Springs and in Santa Fe outside Houston, to name four, were the work of aggrieved, antisocial young men who easily armed themselves, first posting disturbing messages on social media and then targeting innocent people.

How many times does it have to happen here and in other states before Republicans shut out the gun lobby and enact stricter gun safety and control measures?

Perhaps the greatest deception at Wednesday’s press conference were claims by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that 17 important pieces of legislation protecting the public and schoolchildren against mass shootings were signed into law after the Santa Fe High School shooting.

Abbott and Patrick pointedly failed to note the leading roles they both played last year in passing a new law allowing citizens to openly carry handguns without a permit. Neither one mentioned Abbott’s acquiescence to Patrick in 2019, who opposed passage of a so-called “red flag” law that would have prevented unstable individuals from possessing or purchasing firearms.

Other proposals to strengthen background checks also have been blocked. Federal and state authorities have no real way now to identify individuals whose mental health issues, antisocial behavior or other warning signals should prevent them from purchasing and possessing firearms.

I wish every Texan Republican officeholder could spend one long night inside the home of one of the 19 Uvalde families who lost a boy or girl at Robb Elementary. The grief that now grips parents, siblings and grandparents is immeasurable. No scripted “thoughts and prayers” pronouncements carry any meaning or legitimacy.

We lost 26 people as they worshipped at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs in 2017. We lost 10 more in a Santa Fe classroom outside Houston in 2018. In 2019, 23 shoppers were gunned down in an El Paso Walmart. Weeks later, seven more Texans were randomly gunned down on Midland-Odessa streets.

Now we watch as Uvalde endures the loss of 19 schoolchildren and two of their teachers, while 17 injured struggle to overcome their gunshot wounds and a town of 15,000 is forever traumatized.

Which Texas community will be next?

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Robert Rivard

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