Republican governors have a familiar routine whenever there’s a mass shooting somewhere inside their state’s borders. They typically offer their “prayers,” heap praise on the police for doing their jobs, and then blame mental illness for the tragedy. The purpose of this is threefold: to pretend for a moment that they actually care; to push off the issue until it’s swallowed up—as it always is—by the next news cycle; and most importantly, to divert any focus from the gun manufacturers that fund their campaigns. Then they go home and forget about it—or, in the case of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, dream up new, pointless stunts at the border to rile up their voting base.
Abbott, like nearly all Republicans faced with the issue of mass carnage wrought by automatic and semi-automatic weapons in their home states, prefers to get this tiresome task behind him as painlessly as possible. Interviewed on Sunday by softball-friendly Fox News, Abbott’s prepared word salad in response to Saturday’s mass shooting in Allen, Texas, proved to be in fine form.
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His interlocutor was Fox’s Shannon Bream, who apparently is not permitted to suggest that sales of any specific assault weapon should be banned or restricted, although she presented Abbott with a Fox poll that indicated, among various poll questions, that 61% of Americans favor banning them. Bream chose instead to toss him some easy targets: How about background checks, “mental health” checks, or “enforcing existing gun laws” (whatever that means)?
From the Fox News transcript:
I want to put up a poll that we just had on possible gun reforms here in the U.S. This is just out from Fox News. When you ask people what they would favor, background checks for guns, enforcing existing gun laws, legal age to 21, requiring mental health checks, flagging people for danger to self, all of those score at more than 80 percent.
Are there things that you would consider in Texas or that you think Congress should consider at a federal level along those lines?
Pretty straightforward questions. Still, Abbott seemed flummoxed, unable to answer any of them:
Well, on the federal level, as you know, some laws were passed last year to begin to address this. At the state level, listen, this is something that we have been grappling with over the past year, and there are some potential easy solutions such as passing —also we're working on right now to get guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and to increase penalties for criminals to possess guns.
But, Shannon, we need to recognize the reality, that what we've seen across the United States over the past year or two, and that is an increased number of shootings in both red states and blue states. Shannon, we've seen an increased number of shootings in states with easy gun laws as well as states with very strict gun laws.
I think that the state in which the largest number of victims have occurred this year is in California where they have very tough gun laws were 11 people died..
This is straight out of the NRA 101 playbook: Cite a mass shooting in a state where governors and legislatures are actually trying do something about the problem. Hey, if there’s a mass shooting in California, then that must prove that gun restrictions don’t work. Let’s just spin the wheel and play “mass shooting” roulette, Abbott is saying.
First of all, that’s flat-out wrong. As pointed out by Brandon Gage, writing for Alternet, California ranks 44 in gun deaths, near the very bottom, in mass shootings, while Texas proudly ranks 26. But more importantly, California’s governor and legislature are working actively to pass stricter gun laws, while Texas’ state government has worked equally hard to loosen them. Yes, it’s an uphill battle for California given the current composition of the Supreme Court and the power of its funders in the NRA, but really, which state is showing that it cares more about its citizens’ safety? That’s not a hard question. California is doing its best against nearly impossible odds, while Texas is demonstrably showing that it really values the gun lobby and its spigot of campaign contributions.
But Abbott couldn’t resist waxing philosophical about gun violence. As reported by Washington, D.C.’s Fox affiliate, Fox5:
We have to find a way in this county where we can once again reunite Americans as Americans and come together as one big family and in that regard find ways to reduce violence in our country," he said.
That’s really sweet, coming from Abbott. This is what he tweeted in 2015:
Finally, Abbott played the latest card in the Republican mass shooting response template, blaming the whole annoying episode on the mentally ill. As reported by Dallas’ WFAA:
"One thing that we can observe very easily is that there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of anger and violence that is taking place in America," Abbott said. "And what Texas is doing in a big-time way is we are working to address that anger and violence by going to its root cause, which is addressing mental health problems behind it."
But as reported by Michael Tomasky, writing for The New Republic, far from actually doing anything to prevent them, Texas is leading the charge to make mass shootings even more ubiquitous than they are today.
In 2021, Texas passed a law allowing Texans to carry guns in public without a permit or the licensing a permit would require, and another law prohibiting stage agencies and local governments from enforcing new federal gun rules (you read that right—prohibiting).
And regarding that “big-time” funding of those Texas mental health programs? Abbott slashed the funding of the department that administers them by $211 million in April 2022, leaving Texas dead last out of all 50 states for overall access to mental health care.
Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez delivered the most cogent response thus far to Abbott’s platitudes.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, the latest massacre in Texas constitutes the 199th mass shooting this year.
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