Ross Ramsey is the executive editor and co-founder of the Texas Tribune.
Add my hometown of El Paso to the list that, in Texas alone, includes Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe — places where people were shot where they went to pray, shop and go to school. I can’t think of another situation where we would not do something together about wolves roving among us.
This has been going on long enough for what seems like every American to have a local version, and new locations — Hello, Dayton — are added quickly. The wolves are everywhere, as much a seemingly accepted part of modern life as automobile deaths and opioid overdoses — dangers with solutions apparently beyond the political skills of the people we elect to office. Running for office seems to erase reason from the smart and capable characters we send to places such as Austin and Washington. They forget about the wolves.
The alleged El Paso shooter — after just hours, he was no longer the “latest” shooter — appears on first impression to be a loser enthralled by racist hate, emboldened by crass public officials and outfitted by toothless gun laws that don’t make sense to anyone outside of our American cultural bubble.
If we decided that every misanthrope in the nation should be armed and dangerous, we could do it with the gun laws we already have. Texas is an open-carry state, where anyone with an easily obtained state license can walk around like the lead in a Quentin Tarantino movie. For long guns, no license is required.
Guns are part of Texas lore and remain a leg of the partisan iconography after years of “God, guns and gays” political campaigns that worshiped the first, bowed to the second and cursed the third. It was mostly Republican but not entirely. On the first day of dove-hunting season in 1994, then-Gov. Ann Richards (D) and her opponent, Republican George W. Bush, took crews of political reporters out to watch them shoot birds. She missed three times, but the results were more embarrassing for Bush, who shot a killdeer instead of a dove. The candidate is supposed to know how to handle a gun, and Bush did okay with that. But it cost him $130 for shooting the wrong kind of bird.
Voters didn’t mind. He had his mythology right, as did Richards, though she did lose the election.
A quarter-century later, the current class of Texas politicians handles things a bit differently — like when Sen. Ted Cruz cooked “machine-gun bacon” in a campaign video by wrapping it around the barrel of a gun, firing the gun for a few minutes and then eating the bacon.
Or in the way lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) steered the conversation toward mental-health issues and away from gun control issues after last year’s shootings in Sutherland Springs and in Santa Fe.
Attention to mental health is sorely lacking in Texas. Devoting more money and attention to that ought to be a bipartisan idea. “Red-flag” laws seem like a great idea every time there’s a new mass murder, and voters happen to think it’s a good idea, too: Why not take guns away — temporarily, even — from people who are exhibiting signs that they shouldn’t have access to deadly weapons?
Like the man who, police say, walked into the El Paso Walmart on Saturday, shooting nearly four dozen weekend shoppers, killing 20.
But Texas lawmakers haven’t been willing to enact a red-flag law. In May 2018, Abbott was open to the idea. “Properly designed, emergency risk protective orders could identify those intent on violence from firearms, but in a way that preserves fundamental rights under the Second Amendment,” he wrote in a paper on school safety. He backed off pretty rapidly, saying it was just something to consider — not something he was endorsing. Several weeks later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick dispatched the idea. “Regarding the topic of ‘red flag’ laws, which was discussed today in the select committee, I have never supported these policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate,” Patrick said after a hearing on the subject.
The shootings appall those lawmakers, but so do the solutions. Meanwhile, the wolves are roving, and we’re not doing a lot to keep the predators at bay.