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Political Response to El Paso Shooting Is 50-Plus Years in the Making

Rifles inside the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Dallas in May 2018.
Rifles inside the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Dallas in May 2018.
Brian Maschino
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It started almost as soon as police arrested the man accused of murdering 22 people at an El Paso Walmart on Saturday morning. Texas' political leaders got in line and on their marks before turning to one of the most well-worn pages in their hymnals. Thoughts and prayers abounded, as did blame. For video games, the lack of prayer in public school and "mental health-based issues."

There was not any mention from Texas' Republican leadership of doing anything that might prevent someone like 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the alleged shooter, from getting his hands on a semi-automatic weapon like the one authorities say he legally purchased in North Texas before his rampage. That would've deviated from the script that's been in use for a half-century, ever since Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas tower and shot 47 people, killing 16, in 1966.

After Whitman's massacre, then-President Lyndon Johnson begged Congress to tighten U.S. gun laws.

“What happened is not without a lesson: that we must press urgently for the legislation now pending in Congress to help prevent the wrong person from obtaining firearms," Johnson said, according to The New York Times. "The bill would not prevent all such tragedies, but it would help reduce the unrestricted sale of firearms to those who cannot be trusted in their use and possession. How many lives might be saved as a consequence?"

By 1991, when George Hennard crashed his truck into a Luby's in Killeen, got out and shot and killed 23 people during the lunch rush, the Texas Rifle Association was already pushing the good-guy-with-a-gun narrative.

"Maybe somebody could have stopped that crazy guy in there had there been an armed citizen. Maybe then he wouldn't have gotten so far," TRA spokesman Jim Brown told the Times .

After Devin Patrick Kelley shot and killed 26 people as they attended the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on a Sunday morning in 2017, Abbott, almost 30 years later, echoed Brown's call. 

Texas Gov. Greg AbbottEXPAND
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Gage Skidmore

“The answer to gun violence isn’t to take guns out of the hands of people like Stephen Willeford (an armed civilian who shot Kelley after he left the church) or the people of Sutherland Springs,” Abbott said at the 2018 NRA National Meeting. “The answer is to strengthen Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens in the United States of America."

During his time as governor of Texas, George W. Bush favored a response that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to lean on. The culture and people's hearts are what need changing, Bush argued, not gun laws. 

"I don't know of a law — a government law — that will put love in people's hearts. ... It's hard to explain how hatred lurks in somebody's heart to the point where he walks into a church where children and adults were seeking God's guidance and shoots them," Bush said after Larry Gene Ashbrook shot and killed eight people, including himself, at Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church in 1999.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan PatrickEXPAND
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
Mike Brooks

Patrick has repeatedly singled out video games specifically.

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and particularly violent video games," Patrick said on ABC's This Week in 2018, after Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed eight people at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. "Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, may have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games.”

This weekend, Patrick offered an almost indistinguishable sentiment.

"This was maybe a video game to this evil demon. A video game to him. He has no sense of humanity, no sense of life. He wanted to be a super soldier, for his Call of Duty game," Patrick said of Crusius. "As long as we continue to only praise God and look at God on a Sunday morning and kick him out of the town square at our schools the other six days of the week, what do we expect?"

Whatever the circumstances of the shooting, Texas' Republican politicians can be counted on across the board to say one thing needs to stop. Politicization, the real problem.

“I think we need to focus more on memorials before we start the politics,” Abbott said Saturday.

Here's Ted Cruz last year on Fox and Friends, talking about the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018.

“The reaction of Democrats to any tragedy is to try to politicize it. So they immediately start calling that we’ve got to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. That’s not the right answer,” Cruz said.

Rick Perry could've been talking about any shooting when he made the same point.

"One of the things that I hope we don't want to see from the federal government is a knee-jerk reaction from Washington, D.C., when there is an event that occurs, that they can come in and think they know the answer," after Adam Lanza killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

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