Abbott is failing a critical test in Uvalde — being there

Concealed Carry

Just imagine: Hours after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago, Florida Republicans did something more than tweet out prayers from a hundred miles away: they showed up at the crime scene, stood in the blood-smudged hallways where 17 students and teachers were killed and surveyed the carnage with their own eyes.

What they saw was a suburban campus that had been transformed into a battlefield — papers blowing in the wind, abandoned backpacks piled up outside, blood pooling in certain areas — a scene that shook even the most ardent gun rights supporters to their core.

Richard Corcoran, then the conservative speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, had a long record of pushing looser state gun restrictions. The year before the Parkland shooting, he supported bills to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their guns everywhere from schools to polling places. Yet, one moment that night in the high school in Parkland seemed to change his heart, and his vote.

Michael Putney, a Miami political reporter, told ABC’s Ted Oberg for a recent, eye-opening series on Parkland’s aftermath that a police officer at the scene informed Corcoran at one point that he was standing on a blood stain where Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director, was murdered trying to protect his students.

“I am told that this very conservative speaker of the Florida House, simply having seen this scene and having the Legislature in session, said ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Putney said.

Just 23 days later, Florida, a state led by a Republican governor and controlled by a Republican Senate and a Republican House, passed sweeping bipartisan gun control laws. Lawmakers raised the age to buy all guns from 18 to 21, instituted a three-day waiting period, created a red-flag law which has been used more than 8,000 times to remove guns from people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others, and spent hundreds of millions on school safety and mental health.

By simply showing up and witnessing the gruesome, horrific aftermath of one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history, Republican politicians were apparently able to see past their partisan bubbles, past their own political calculations, past themselves, to take action that would truly save the lives of the people they represented.

Here in Texas? News broke this week that Gov. Greg Abbott, who was on hand the first few days after the Uvalde school massacre, hasn’t been back to Uvalde since June 5. Not even to attend a single funeral of the 19 children or two teachers slain that day by a deranged gunman and an AR-15. Grieving family members also say Abbott hasn’t bothered to call and check in.

“For everybody out there getting ready to vote, since this has happened, Governor Greg Abbott has yet to reach out,” said Angel Garza, whose 10-year old daughter, Amerie Jo, was among the students killed at Robb Elementary.

We wish we could say we were surprised. After all, Texans learned early on that within hours of the students and teachers being slain in their classrooms, Abbott opted to attend a campaign fund-raiser 300 miles away in East Texas.

Even if it’s the case that families holding private funerals didn’t want the governor to attend, Abbott should be asking himself why.

We aren’t among those blaming the governor for relaying erroneous information in a press conference about law enforcement’s heroic response. It seems he was truly lied to. But that’s no excuse for declaring early on that it “could have been worse” or for making a reprehensible comparison to the homicide rate in Chicago.

For someone considered to be a top presidential contender, Abbott has consistently fallen short at tragic moments that call for genuine leadership and real action. Despite promises of ‘never again’ after El Paso and Santa Fe, despite his high-profile convening of a task force to consider gun safety proposals and apparent openness to reforms such as red-flag laws, the governor ended up turning his back on lawmakers trying to pass such life-saving legislation.

We don’t doubt that the governor, like all Texans, was saddened and angered by the senseless loss of life in Uvalde. We just don’t believe he’s angry and sad enough. If he were, he’d find the words, find the will, find the way to transcend partisanship and rancor to push for the type of meaningful gun reforms that former Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, himself an NRA darling, signed after Parkland.

Next to Florida, Texas’ Republican leaders, with their empty platitudes and endless, drawn-out panels and studies and debates that never lead anywhere close to substantive change, seem rendered impotent by their servitude to the National Rifle Association. Or maybe they’re just callous after years of gerrymandered control of Texas government.

Texans — those we’ve lost, those grieving massacred loved ones and those of us praying our families won’t be next — deserve more than vague commitments from our governor to swing by Uvalde “many more times.”

If showing up is half the battle, the governor is failing.

How can we hold out hope that the governor will be moved to action when he can’t even be moved to visit a community mourning one of the worst massacres in our history? How can he move closer to a solution on gun violence when he seems intent on keeping his distance from the suffering it inflicts?

Abbott has never shown much of an appetite to challenge his Republican base. But the Uvalde massacre is a moment crying out for that. Step out of your bubble, governor. Meet with the victims’ families. Break bread with them. Listen to their stories about their beautiful children whose lives were cut short by senseless gun violence. Share tears and connect with them as humans, not just voters.

If that won’t spur you take action, to rally your fellow Republican lawmakers to do something more than issue reports and strongly worded statements, nothing will.

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