Reviews | Abbott promises to change after a school shooting. We have heard this before.

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Ten days after the February 14, 2018, mass shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) was in Washington for a meeting annual governors meeting and, like just about everyone in the country, was trying to find a cause for hope.

“The shooting of kids at school – I just think a lot of times in life there’s an event that’s a catalyst for change, and I think it’s going to be a catalyst for change,” Abbott told my colleague Dan Balz and me. “I really think there will be changes and improvements in how we approach this issue in the future.”

Three months before the governor spoke to us that day, in Abbott State, a man armed with an AR-15 type rifle entered a Baptist church during Sunday worship in the rural town of Sutherland Springs and had shot 700 revolutions in 11 minutes, killing 26 people. Another three months later, eight students and two teachers would be shot and killed at Santa Fe High School near Houston. The alleged shooter, a 17-year-old boy allegedly used a shotgun and pistol legally owned by his fatherwas later declared mentally incapable to stand trial.

Now, after last week’s horrific massacre of 19 children and two teachers in another Texas town, Abbott is once again speaking out about lessons learned and changes to come. “Do we expect any laws to come out of this devastating crime?” he said Friday, three days after the carnage at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. “The answer is absolutely yes.”

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But it’s hard to believe that a lot of things will be different this time around, especially in my home state of Texas. Officials talk about what they usually do: “strengthen” schools, improve mental health care, strengthen law enforcement. All of that would help, but it’s not enough.

Abbott noted that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and added, “We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job of mental health.” He said much the same thing during our 2018 interview, saying, “It’s time to tackle the hard solution and that’s sanity.” But four years later, with Abbott in his eighth year as governor, Texas ranks behind the 50 states and the District of Columbia in access to mental health services, according to advocacy group Mental Health America.

As for the “hardening” of schools through measures such as restricting the number of entries and installing bulletproof doors and glass – a case often advanced by those who want to deflect the conversation from stricter gun laws on fire – Texas has done it before. Or so it claimed, with a 2019 School Safety Act that allocated $100 million for such purposes. As the Texas Tribune notedthe Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District received a $69,000 grant through this act to improve the physical security of its schools.

The Tribune, quoting an expert, noted that “the majority of public schools in the United States are already implementing the security measures most often promoted by officials, including locked doors to the outside and into classrooms. class, active shooter shots and security cameras”. Even so, there were shortcomings at Uvalde – an exit door held open by a teacher, the inability of law enforcement to quickly rush into the classroom where the shooter was – that showed how security protocols and systems can be undermined by human error.

It’s also fair to wonder how committed Texas really is to these ideas, which come up as talking points whenever a shooting tragedy occurs. The Lone Star State has long been ranked near the bottom of the nation when it comes to how much he spends on public schools, and he is no more generous when it comes to the money it would take to turn them into the kind of fortresses that many conservatives claim they should be. Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, told me that the state fund allocation for school safety is only $9.72 per student per year. And in recent years, Texas voters have grown increasingly resistant to bond measures, which would be needed to fund major physical improvements to school buildings.

Pretty much off the table, politically speaking, does a lot about guns. After the Santa Fe school shooting, Abbott asked the Texas legislature to “investigate the possibility” of a “red flag” law allowing the courts to order the seizure of firearms from people considered to be an imminent threat. When state legislators even reluctant to consider the possibilityAbbott backed off.

Even harder would be to make it harder for an 18-year-old in Texas to buy assault rifles – as the Uvalde shooter did just days after his birthday.

After the 2018 Parkland Massacre, a place once known as “Gunshine State” enacted new gun restrictions, including raising the age at which one can be purchased to 21. But Abbott said Texas is different from Florida. The future governor received his first .22-caliber rifle when he was 12 or 13, he recalls, and grew up in an area where high school kids typically walked around with gun racks in their pickup trucks. “It’s part of the Texas culture. Children get shotguns as gifts at Christmas to go hunting or for their birthdays or whatever,” he said. “I don’t see that changing in Texas.”

Having grown up in an extended family of gun owners in Texas myself, I don’t either – at least not soon. As children, my own sons shot at targets under the watchful eye of my uncle. But there’s a big difference between the rite of passage experience in which a youngster gets his own gun to go deer hunting with his grandfather, and a struggling teenager buying a weapon of war. Surely there must come a day when even Texans can recognize him.

The country will inevitably move on as Uvalde fades from the daily news, until there is another Uvalde or Parkland or Sutherland Springs. Then we will once again hear politicians promising how this time things will change. The truth is that there will never be a single cure for the disease of gun violence in this country. That’s why it’s high time leaders like Greg Abbott stop repeating the same tired tropes and start acting on multiple fronts at once.


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