Beto below stage demanding to speak at Abbott and to everyone at the table. Screencap NBC.

Beto O’Rourke Interrupts Press Conference To Blame Texas Governor for Mass Shootings and He’s Right

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About 24 hours after the unsurprising but somehow devastating news that there was another mass shooting at an elementary school, the city of Uvalde held a press conference with many high-profile local and state “leaders” in a high school auditorium. The suspect, who was fatally shot at the scene, murdered 19 students and two teachers, with more in critical condition, days before the summer break. There to speak at the conference was Governor Greg Abbott and crew (Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton), Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, and more (almost exclusively) “good ol’ boys.” Fifteen minutes into the press conference, former congressman Beto O’Rourke came in to make it clear who was at fault.

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On video, as Abbott begins passing the mic to Patrick, you can hear O’Rourke, off-camera, saying something along the lines of “Governor Abbott, I would like to say something.” Everyone on the stage looks uncomfortable, Cruz starts chuckling, and McLaughlin starts yelling at O’Rourke. In the muffled chaos, you can hear O’Rourke reference the shooting at Santa Fe High School (2018, 10 killed) and El Paso (2019, 23 killed).

Pointing at the table, he continues, “The next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing […] You’re all […] You said this was not predictable — this is totally predictable when you choose […].” O’Rourke projects well, but McLaughlin is shouting too loud and saying things live on air like “you’re a sick son of a bitch” in response what the current 2022 gubernatorial candidate is saying. Eventually, the sound gets lower on some broadcasts as journalists paraphrase O’Rourke’s statements.

He’s right though

I don’t want to get into the actual press conference post-O’Rourke’s disruption because I’ll pull out my hair with the deflections and failure to act. However, we can see why everything O’Rourke said (that we heard anyways) is right concerning how the recent past and all future shootings under Abbott’s governance will be his and his supporters’ fault.

Since 2013, Texans’ support for a background check for all gun sales has never dipped below 74% (though it usually sits in the high 70s and low 80s). There are some background check laws already on the books. However, gun show loopholes and the refusal to do anything about “ghost guns” make this almost pointless. For context, a convention center 15 minutes from me, in Texas, holds gun shows, 1–2 a month, year-round. Also, the legislature (with Abbott’s support) lowered the age one could get a gun to 18 (the age of the gunman in this case) and allowed for permitless carry for those 21+, regardless of whether the handgun is open or concealed. In April 2021, only 1/3 of Texans favored permitless carry. Even pro-cop groups pushed against this.

Much of the press tour, with Abbott and others, has been and will continue to be pushing for mental health care access. “Mental health,” while very important, is not a new issue. Just as “Critical Race Theory” is a blanket scapegoat for everything Republicans don’t want kids to hear, “mental health” is a blanket scapegoat for shootings and a way to move away from talking about gun reform in any capacity.

Abbott has refused to take federally allotted medicare to expand mental health services (well before Donald Trump’s presidency) or tap into “rainy day funds” despite acknowledging this as a larger issue. Instead, Abbott will talk and get nothing done while taking in money from the NRA ($13,700,000 and counting), bragging about book bans, taking trans children away from their parents, and figuring out a plan on how to get the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that says undocumented students have a right to public education.

Running on change

If it isn’t already happening, people upset by O’Rourke’s words will call this a politically motivated stunt. After all, he is running for Governor against Abbott and has recently almost beat out Ted Cruz in the 2018 U.S. Senate race. If this choice of time and place was politically motivated, I don’t care because I actually believe, if elected, he will pursue gun reform in his capacity as governor and head of the state’s Democratic party.

When he ran for president and supported the mandatory buyback policy for military-grade weapons after the El Paso shooting with the phrase “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he may have won something in heavily Democrat states. However, this statement was polarizing in swing states and a death blow in Texas. If he’s bringing similar common-sense gun legislation energy in 2022, I’m not putting money on a win (because this is an almost 50/50 split in opinion among Texans for reasons I don’t know!), but I do believe that he is being honest in doubling down in this effort to keep our communities safer by pointing to hypocrisy and demanding better.

(featured image: screencap from NBC)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.