Point Austin: Gun Crazy

More massacres, more conversations, more sanctimony ... more nothing

A photo of the flier for Abbott's suspended campaign to win a shotgun
A photo of the flier for Abbott's suspended campaign to win a shotgun (courtesy of Matthew Hogenmiller)

How easy was that? It only took the deaths of 10 students and teachers at Santa Fe High School to get one shotgun out of circulation. That was the response of the Gov. Greg Abbott re-election campaign, when it dropped the "Win a Texas-Made Shotgun!" contest from its fundraising page – now all the page promises is a $250 voucher, which you can presumably spend on ... oh, a year's supply of Skittles. At this rate, it should only take another 100 or so mass shootings in the state to make a tangible dent in the readily available private arsenals in Texas.

Yes, it's entirely too easy to be cynical about the possibility of substantial gun law reform in Texas, since state leadership has shown no real inclination to do anything but pray and blame Satan for those very bad people who've been making a habit of shooting up schools, churches, movie theatres – any place where people might gather and provide handy targets. Oddly enough, Satan seems to be doing most of his devilish work in the good ol' sanctified U.S.A., bypassing those foreign dens of iniquity – from England through Europe on down to Australia – despite a locally pronounced tendency to heathenism and irreligion ... as well as much more restricted access to guns.

The governor has bravely subtracted one shotgun from the armory.

Nevertheless, the governor has bravely subtracted one shotgun from the armory, and we can also thank Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for his astute observations that the real factors underlying gun violence are abortions, video games ... and too many doors on school buildings. One important function of Texas politicians has always been to provide stunned amusement to the rest of the country, and Patrick has once again delivered. As Molly Ivins once said about another officeholder, "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day." Yet we should acknowledge that Patrick, at heart still a venomous radio shock-jock, is crazy like a rabid fox, and cares not at all what George Stephanopoulos might think of him.

What Voters Believe

It's at least theoretically possible that Abbott and Patrick, et al. do care what Texas voters might think of them, even though their careers are based on running only to the hard right, in the direction of Republican primary voters. The reflexive pundit consensus is that there's simply no support for stronger gun laws in Texas. That conventional wisdom was reiterated in The New York Times reporting on Santa Fe ("Anti-Gun Backlash from School Shooting? Probably Not in Texas," May 20). While noting how the Parkland, Fla., school massacre has triggered a national movement for gun control, the Times reporters wrote, "There is little indication of anything similar in Texas, a place where guns are hard-wired into the state's psyche ...."

Maybe that's right. Yet later in the very same story, the authors note: "Polling shows the state's voters are more split on guns than popular culture might indicate. According to an October poll ... more than half of the registered voters surveyed said gun control laws should be stricter. Only 13 percent said the laws should be less strict than they are now, and 31 percent would prefer to leave current gun laws unchanged."

Which is it? Are Texans "hard-wired" enthusiasts for guns, or do a majority of Texas voters support stricter gun laws?

What Politicians Do

Gov. Abbott is now hosting "round­tables" on the subject, but based on recent history, the discussion is unlikely to yield much of substance: fewer school exits, more security guards ... armed teachers? One extremely obvious first step, after Santa Fe, would be to hold parents legally accountable for allowing easy gun access to their underage children – why weren't those weapons locked where no emotionally volatile teenager could get his hands on them? But if anything at all comes out of the Capitol, we should not be surprised if it means more guns, rather than fewer.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which diligently tracks the carnage, thus far in 2018 there have been 102 mass shootings (four or more injured or killed), and overall more than 5,500 deaths and 10,000 injuries. The casualties include 241 children, and more than 1,000 teens. Gun enthusiasts might celebrate "defensive uses" (632), although those are easily outstripped not only by the total 22,416 shooting incidents this year, but even by "unintentional shootings" (654).

Whatever might save us from this endless and ongoing carnage, "more guns" is definitely not on the list. I would certainly like to believe that this latest Texas school massacre will move public policy and the broader culture ever so slightly in the direction of sanity and commonsense restrictions on guns. Based on our recent history and the defiant stranglehold of gun-crazy politicians, I see little reason to believe that will happen.

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guns, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick

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