Beto O’Rourke disrupts GOP news conference on shooting

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Surrounded by fellow Republicans at a high school, Governor Greg Abbott concluded his opening remarks about murdering schoolchildren and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, when Beto O’Rourke stepped forward from his seat into the audience.

“Governor. Abbott, I have something to say,” said the Democrat who challenged Abbott for governor this fall, pointing the finger at his rival. “The time to stop the next shooting is now, and you do nothing.”

A mix of booing and cheering erupted from the crowd as the former congressman and 2020 presidential candidate spoke briefly and was then escorted out of the room. sen. Ted Cruz, standing behind Abbott, shook his head and said, “Sit down!” as a woman in the crowd chanted, “Let him speak.” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin called O’Rourke a “sick bastard”. Some people cried.

And with that, the briefing turned into a brawl similar to that in many corners of America after another school shooting that caused a shocking death toll — 19 children and two teachers.

Democrats want to talk about introducing restrictions on who can own a firearm and what types of guns should be available, while Republicans say such laws are pointless and would rather focus on other things like school security — or avoid the discussion altogether.

“We need all Texans to set aside their own agendas for this one moment, to think about someone but ourselves, about the people who are injured,” Abbott said immediately after O’Rourke left, raising his voice.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who took the microphone moments later, insisted that now was the time to focus on the victims and their families, adding: “This is not a partisan issue. This is not a political issue.”

But for many – including those in the high school auditorium – partisanship and politics are inescapable. Tuesday’s mass shooting in the small town west of San Antonio was just the latest to occur in Texas in recent years. After a gunman killed 23 people in a racist attack in 2019 targeting Hispanics at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, lawmakers relaxed gun laws.

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Abbott said on Wednesday that he considers the steps taken by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2019 to be the “most sweeping” move anywhere in the US to stop school shootings. He and other GOP officials said the right place to focus is on mental health and “hardening schools,” or making them safer, rather than limiting weapons.

He called the existing gun laws in Chicago, New York and California ineffective.

“I hate to say this, but more people get shot every weekend in Chicago than in schools in Texas. And we have to realize that people who think ‘Well, maybe we’ll just have tougher gun laws’ are going to solve that – Chicago, LA and New York disprove that statement,” he said.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke stood outside in the parking lot, yelling for gun control.

“If we don’t act, we’ll keep seeing this,” he said, “year after year, school after school, child after child.”

Residents of Uvalde also endorsed the two sides of the debate.

Ariana Diaz, 17, said she has friends in the close-knit community who have lost siblings and mothers. Speaking outside her high school, where the press conference was being held, Diaz said she would like to see O’Rourke as governor. She noted that the shooter was 18 and could buy two rifles.

“It’s not okay,” she said. “He’s only 18. He’s not even old enough to buy an alcoholic drink. He shouldn’t be old enough to buy a gun.”

Laura Ligocky, 41, said the shooting was “heartbreaking” as a mother, but she doesn’t see gun restrictions as a solution.

“Everyone wants gun control, and I don’t think it helps,” she said in the parking lot where O’Rourke called for restrictions on firearms. “I think it just makes things worse.”

Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg contributed from Dallas.

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