After Abbott wrapped remarks, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate stood and beelined for the stage to confront his political opponent.
“You are doing nothing. You are offering up nothing,” O'Rourke said. “You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”
Tuesday’s Uvalde school massacre has exposed the rapid deterioration of Texas’ political fabric. Tensions are palpable as lawmakers pay tribute to the dead on social media and constituents demand action on comprehensive gun reform.
It’s personal for O’Rourke, whose hometown was devastated by gun violence in 2019 in what’s come to be known as the El Paso Walmart massacre, which left 23 people dead.
Sen. Ted Cruz told his one-time opponent to sit down and drop the “stunt.” The mayor of Uvalde, Don McLaughlin, slammed O’Rourke as a “sick son of a bitch.”
Yet while Republicans are attacking the Democratic candidate over his approach, many liberals see a man who’s standing up for Texas families.
Kathleen Thompson, communications director for the Dallas County Democrats, said her organization is proud of O’Rourke.
“Every Texan deserves answers to why Governor Abbott keeps saying ‘thoughts and prayers,’” she said. “They have it in their power to safeguard Texans at schools and churches and grocery stores and concerts, and they don’t.”
But conservatives view O’Rourke’s interruption as highly inappropriate. Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu said it wasn’t the time or place to argue politics about firearms.
“They have it in their power to safeguard Texans at schools and churches and grocery stores and concerts, and they don’t.” – Kathleen Thompson, Dallas County Democratic Partytweet this
Wednesday’s press conference was meant to give the public information and comfort grieving families, Stoddard-Hajdu said. There needs to be more of an effort to protect our schools, she argued, adding that the $40 billion Congress approved to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia would have been better spent on improving school safety.
“We should be able to take steps to make sure that our children are as secure in their schools as we are in an airport,” she said.
Many Texas Republican lawmakers accept substantial financial contributions from gun rights groups.
Cruz has raked in the most funds out of the entire 117th Congress with more than $442,000, according to OpenSecrets.org. Sen. John Cornyn came in third, having accepted more than $340,000. Congressmen Pete Sessions and Dan Crenshaw also rank in the Top 20.
Last month, NPR reported that the No. 1 cause of death among kids in 2020 was guns. Firearm fatalities spiked nearly 30% for young people ages 1 to 19.
Meanwhile, Abbott is scheduled to speak at Friday's National Rifle Association convention in Houston, joining Cruz and former President Donald Trump.
Following the massacre, political groups were quick to cast blame. Ed Espinoza, president of Progress Texas, issued a statement condemning what he views as state lawmakers’ inaction.
“If Gov. Abbott wants to make the 2022 election about crime, perhaps he can start by addressing gun crime,” he said. “Kids are dead again because Republicans in Texas and across the nation refuse to take action to protect them. Nothing will change until those in power do.”