Political rivals clash in heated press conference after Texas shooting leaves 21 dead

25 May 2022, 20:55 | Updated: 25 May 2022, 22:43

Political rivals clashed at a press briefing
Political rivals clashed at a press briefing. Picture: Getty

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Texas governor Greg Abbott was yelled at by political rival Beto O'Rourke during a press conference, for "doing nothing" amid a spate of mass shootings in the state.

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It came in the wake of the deaths of 19 children and two adults in a shooting at an elementary school in Texas, one of a spate of mass killings involving guns in Texas in recent years.

Democrat Mr O'Rourke is challenging the Mr Abbott, a Republican, for the governorship of Texas.

He told him: "The time to stop the next shooting is now, and you are doing nothing."

"You said this was not predictable, this was totally predictable, and you choose not to do anything," he added.

As he lambasted Mr Abbott he was told he was "out of line and an embarrassment", while Senator Ted Cruz told him to "sit down".

One person said: "I can't believe you are a sick son******** who would come to a deal like this to make a political issue."

Beto O'Rourke interrupted a press briefing over gun crime
Beto O'Rourke interrupted a press briefing over gun crime. Picture: Getty

As Mr O’Rourke was leaving he said "this is on you" before another person added: "It's on a******** like you, why don't you get out of here."

During the press conference, Mr Abbott pointed to the issue of mental health as the main factor that had led to shooting.

READ MORE: Heroic girl, 10, 'shot dead calling 911' as Texas gunman kills 21 in school massacre

After Mr O'Rourke had disrupted the press conference, he said: "We need all Texans to, in this one moment in time, put aside personal agendas and think of somebody other than ourselves and think about the people who are hurt and help those who have been hurt."

The shooting, in the small town of Uvalde, happened days before the National Rifle Association (NRA) is set to hold its annual meeting in Houston, where Mr Abbott and other Republican leaders are scheduled to speak.

Earlier Mr O'Rouke had urged him not to attend, writing on Twitter: "If you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend's NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas."

Governor Abbot was accosted by his rival
Governor Abbot was accosted by his rival. Picture: Getty

In the last five years, Texas mass shootings have targeted worshippers during a Sunday sermon, shoppers at a Walmart store, students on a high school campus and drivers on a highway. More than 85 people have been killed.

The latest attack is deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade.

But, despite this, the Republican-controlled government in the state appears unlikely to adopt any significant new limits on guns.

A year ago, gun laws there were actually loosened following a 2019 mass shooting that targeted Hispanics at a Walmart in El Paso, killing 23 people.

One of the last major gun restrictions in Texas was removed: required licences, background checks and training for the nearly 1.6 million registered handgun owners in the state at the time.

READ MORE: 'Bullied' Texas school gunman Salvador Ramos 'bought guns for his 18th birthday'

Mr Abbott, who is up for re-election in November, signed the measure.

After a shooting at Santa Fe High School in 2018 that killed 10 people, Mr Abbott had signalled support for so-called red flag laws, which restrict gun access for people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

However, he later retreated amid pushback from gun-rights supporters.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who won the Republican nomination for a third term on Tuesday, told Fox News after the Uvalde shooting that the best response would be training teachers and "hardening" schools.

State senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, said: "I can't wrap my head around it. It's disturbing to me as a policymaker that we have been able to do little other than create greater access to these militarised weapons to just about anyone who would want them."

The situation in Texas is mirrored nationally as the Republican Party continues to block stricter gun laws in Congress.

"When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?" President Joe Biden angrily asked in an address from the White House after the Uvalde shooting.

Mr Biden's party has slim control of Congress, but gun violence bills have stalled in the face of Republican opposition in the Senate.

Last year, the House of Representatives passed two bills to expand background checks on firearms purchases, but both languished in the 50-50 Senate where Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome objections from a filibuster.

"It sort of centres around the issue of mental health. It seems like there's consensus in that area," leading Republican senator John Thune said about how Congress should respond to the Uvalde shooting. He did not specify what that would be.