Greg Abbott Is Blaming the Texas Mall Shooting on “Anger” and “Mental Health.” It’s a Distraction


Steven Spainhouer bore witness to “unfathomable” carnage when he arrived at the Allen Premium Outlets Saturday. “The first girl I walked up to was crouched down covering her head in the bushes,” he told CBS News. “So I felt for a pulse, pulled her head to the side, and she had no face.” He wasn’t a medic or a law enforcement official; he’d rushed to the Texas mall after his son, an employee at the H&M store there, told him shots had been fired. But he was “thrust into the position of being the first responder” anyway, a role he “never imagined in 100 years” he’d have to fill. “No one can see what we saw today,” he told CBS News, “and not be affected by it.”

Perhaps, but it wasn’t enough to push Republican elected officials like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, to act on common sense gun safety measures a vast majority of Americans support. Instead Abbott and his fellow party members are ignoring or exacerbating the issues they say are actually behind the crisis of gun violence: “mental health” issues and societal divisions. 

“There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of anger and violence that’s taking place in America,” Abbott told Fox News Sunday, the day after alleged gunman Mauricio Garica — a 33-year-old who appears to have spouted white supremacist and neo-Nazi views online — killed at least eight people and wounded several others at a suburban Dallas mall. “And what Texas is doing in a big-time way, we are working to address that anger and violence by going to its root cause, which is addressing the mental health problems behind it.”

America, of course, is not the only country where people have “mental health problems,” nor is it the only one where people are angry and divided. But it does stand alone in two areas: the abundance of guns and the frequency with which they are used in mass shootings, everyday violence, suicides, and accidents. Abbott and other Republicans insist that there is no connection between those two facts, that regulating guns would not make anyone safer and that calls to do so are short-sighted. “People want a quick solution,” Abbott said Sunday, apparently referring to gun control measures that a recent Fox News poll showed overwhelming support for. “The long-term solution here is to address the mental health issue.” 

But Abbott and the Republicans aren’t doing much on that front, either: The Texas governor said after last year’s Uvalde massacre that “we as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” but his much-touted initiatives to expand mental healthcare have been insufficient at best and have been hamstrung by previous cuts his administration made to the state’s Health and Human Services Commission — which oversees mental healthcare — to fund his hardline border policies, as ABC News reported last fall. Republicans, meanwhile, have only continued to double-down on the kind of extremism that possibly animated Garcia, who reportedly wore a patch on his chest reading “RWDS” — short for “Right Wing Death Squad” — as he rampaged through the Allen mall, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. Abbott said on Fox News Sunday that “we’ve got to find a way in this country where we can once again reunite Americans as Americans and come together as one big family.” But what does that mean, exactly, coming from a guy who has used his power to dehumanize immigrants, to marginalize Black and LGBTQ+ Texans, and to weaken democracy itself?

If Abbott really cared about fixing the mental health crisis in America, or about healing the country’s open political wounds, he could take real, sustained action to do so. He could prioritize them over the culture wars he’s been fighting from the front lines. Instead, he uses the issues only as a convenient cover to distract from policies that has “made it easier to kill and be killed,” as Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro wrote Sunday.

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“It’s almost become some normal event for everybody,” Texas State Senator Roland Guttierez, whose district includes Uvalde, told CNN on Sunday, urging Americans to “wake up to what’s happening here.”

Most have. A Fox poll last month showed 87% in favor of stronger background checks, 81% in favor of raising the legal buying limit to 21 and better enforcement of existing laws, and more than 60% in favor of bans on assault weapons. But Abbott and other Republican leaders have not only refused to rein in the gun crisis — they’ve enacted policies making it easier to obtain and carry firearms, including weapons of war. And as long as they put their NRA ratings over their constituents’ lives, America will continue to suffer scenes like the one Spainhouer witnessed Saturday. “It’s tough when you see a family that’s out shopping, having fun, get wiped off the face of the Earth,” he said, “because somebody with a gun has some other type of issue.”

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