What is most horrifying about the killings in El Paso, Texas, where a man openly carrying a rifle strolled into a Walmart in a shopping mall and opened fire, killing at least 20 people and wounding another 40, is not that they happened.
Nor even that they reflect a circumstance of American life that has become so mundane that politicians can pull a premasticated statement of “thoughts and prayers” out of their files and post it on Twitter even before the blood has dried. (President Trump was quick out of the box to uselessly offer a tweeted “God be with you all.”)
No. What was most horrifying is what the El Paso shootings tell us about the utter inability and unwillingness of our political leaders to heed the message of gun violence by doing something about it. Texas is a model case, for its legislators and governor not only turned down measures that would impose rational controls on gun owners, but loosened existing laws.
When you get 10 pro-2nd Amendment bills to the governor and he signs them all, I would rank it up there with one of the most successful sessions we’ve had.
This was done under pressure from the National Rifle Assn. and its Texas branch, known as the Texas State Rifle Assn. Just six weeks ago, on June 29, the NRA’s Texas lobbyist crowed that 2019 was a “highly successful” year for the organization. Every single bill backed by the NRA and passed by the Legislature received the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott.
“When you get 10 pro-2nd Amendment bills to the governor and he signs them all, I would rank it up there with one of the most successful sessions we’ve had since I’ve been doing this,” the lobbyist, Tara Mica, told the Dallas Morning News.
Terrible shootings in ElPaso, Texas. Reports are very bad, many killed. Working with State and Local authorities, and Law Enforcement. Spoke to Governor to pledge total support of Federal Government. God be with you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2019
It’s important to observe that loosened gun laws in one state don’t affect only the residents of that state, but leach their fatal poison into neighboring states and across the country. The military-style semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting of three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28 is illegal to own in California, where the killings took place. But it had been bought legally in neighboring Nevada.
“You can’t put borders up, speaking of borders, to a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said after the Gilroy killings.
Let’s take a look at what the NRA and its sedulous followers in the Texas Legislature have wrought.
- They defeated measures to ban bump stocks, which magnify the lethality of long guns, and to place restrictions on sales at gun shows.
- The Legislature passed a bill to bar firearms in airports, but it was vetoed by Abbott because it “would impose an unacceptable restraint on the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding travelers... The bill as drafted would newly prohibit carrying in any part of the airport terminal building, even ahead of the TSA inspection checkpoint.”
- The Legislature passed laws limiting the ability of school districts to regulate guns in parked cars on or near their premises, allowing foster homes to store guns, and barring landlords or housing associations from prohibiting firearm possession by tenants or residents.
- A new law makes it harder for churches, mosques and synagogues to prohibit the carrying of firearms on their grounds. Under current law, places of worship are “gun-free” in Texas; as of Sept. 1, the NRA says, “these places have the same right enjoyed by nearly all other controllers of private property in the state to decide whether to allow License To Carry holders on their premises.”
The measure affecting houses of worship is an especially acute example of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. It was designed as a response to a November 2017 massacre at a church outside San Antonio, in which 26 people were killed, including an unborn child, and 20 more injured — reported as “the deadliest shooting at a place of worship in modern American history, as well as the deadliest mass shooting in modern Texas history.” Characteristically, the Texas Legislature responded to the tragedy by making it easier to carry guns into a church.
The NRA has never been shy about using firearms massacres to call for more guns everywhere. As recently as May 10, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, its lobbying shop, cursed “anti-gun politicians” for having chosen to sensationalize tragedies time and again to advance an “anti-freedom agenda.” This effort, the NRA said, “entails presenting as large a number of fatalities as possible, and so researchers, the media, and anti-gun politicians combine suicide, homicide, accidents, legal interventions, and incidents in which the intent is unknown.”
Here’s a number of fatalities to present: In the weeks after the NRA posted its screed, four were killed and 15 injured in Gilroy, Calif., and 13 were killed and five wounded in a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va. And then there’s El Paso, where as of this writing the toll is 20 dead and 26 wounded.
The reason that the needle hasn’t moved in America’s response to these tragedies is the NRA’s money and the cowardice of politicians who take it. As we observed in February 2018, after a former student opened fire at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the event promoted the obligatory grief-loaded tweet from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
We wondered at the time whether he would be comforted when he went home at night by the $3,303,355 in campaign spending he had received from the NRA during his legislative career. Despite its current administrative turmoil, the NRA still holds the butcher’s bill for filling politicians’ guts with largess over the years.
No doubt Texas legislators have collected their share, or they wouldn’t strut about so proudly for killing measures that would make their state, and others, just a tiny bit safer.