From The Texas Newsroom:
As bad as the massacre at a Uvalde elementary school was on Tuesday, “it could have been worse,” Gov. Greg Abbott said on Wednesday.
Abbott spoke at a press conference in Uvalde a day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in the small town about 85 miles from San Antonio. Abbott was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and several local officials.
“The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives,” Abbott said.
He said the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, had no criminal history that was known to law enforcement as of Wednesday and said authorities were still working to determine if a juvenile criminal record existed.
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At the press conference, Abbott said the gunman posted on Facebook about 30 minutes before the shooting that he was going to shoot his grandmother. That was followed by a message saying he shot his grandmother and then another that he would then shoot up the school.
A spokesman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, later clarified those messages were not posted publicly and instead sent through the application’s private messaging tool.
“The messages Gov. Abbott described were private one-to-one text messages that were discovered after the terrible tragedy occurred. We are closely cooperating with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation,” spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted.
The shooting has reignited the debate over gun control as Democrats and supporters of gun reform are again calling for changes to Texas policy. Under current state law, a long rifle or AR-15 style weapon —which Abbott said the gunman used — can be purchased in Texas by anyone 18 years old or older without a permit. The governor also signed legislation in 2021 to make handguns purchasable without a permit as long as the buyer is at least 21 and not barred by current laws.
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Abbott’s comments Wednesday focused on mental illness even though he said the gunman did not have a history of mental health issues. Abbott said conversations with the county sheriff and others indicated Uvalde County struggles to address mental health disorders.
“They said ‘We have a problem with mental health illness in this community’ and then they elaborated on the magnitude of the mental health challenges that they are facing in the community and the need for more mental health support,” Abbott said.
The governor made similar claims after the 2019 shooting in El Paso that claimed the lives of 23 people. But mental health experts said that issue is not to blame for the rash of gun violence in the state.
While Abbott focused on mental illness instead of guns, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said there will be “plenty of time to discuss and analyze what happened.” Then he turned to religion.
“In these other shootings – Sutherland Springs, El Paso, Odessa, Santa Fe – it’s God that brings a community together. It’s God that heals a community,” Patrick said. “If we don’t turn back as a nation to understanding what we were founded upon and what we were taught by our parents and what we believe in, then these situations will only get worse.”
When Abbott was asked about gun laws, he said the issue is complicated and criticized other cities and states that have gun violence despite more stringent legislation.
“People like to try and oversimplify this. Let’s talk about some real facts. And that is there are ‘real’ gun laws in Chicago. There are ‘real’ guns laws in New York. There are real gun laws in California. I hate to say this but there are more people that are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said.
The press conference was interrupted briefly when Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who is challenging Abbott in November, approached the stage and told Abbott he was responsible for the shooting due to his embrace of pro-gun laws.
“This is on you,” said O’Rourke. “You said this was not predictable? This is totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
O’Rourke was escorted out by security and told reporters afterward that it was “insane” that the gunman was able to purchase his weapons.
“It is absolutely wrong, in fact it is insane. The governor talks about mental health [but] it is insane that we allow an 18-year-old to go in and buy an AR-15. What the hell did we think he was going to do with that? This one is on us,” O’Rourke said.
Abbott is scheduled to speak at this week’s annual convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, the first for the organization since the pandemic. The lineup of speakers also includes former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Sen. John Cornyn was also scheduled but withdrew due to a scheduling conflict.
When asked if he’d keep his commitment, Abbott said he was unsure.
“As far as future plans are concerned, I’m living moment to moment right now,” Abbott said. “My heart, my head and my body are in Uvalde right now.”