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Opinion Texas AG Paxton’s shameful Uvalde cop-out: ‘God always has a plan’

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) awaits the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at Love Field in Dallas on June 28, 2020. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
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When thoughts and prayers seem inadequate in the wake of a tragedy, you can always blame God for what happened.

That would seem to be how Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sees it after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., took the lives of 19 children and two of their teachers. The carnage came just 10 days after a gunman with allegedly racist motives mowed down 10 shoppers and employees — all of them Black — in a Buffalo supermarket.

In a podcast interview recorded the day after the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School and unearthed last week by Salon, Paxton was asked by North Texas pastor Trey Graham what he might say to the victims’ families.

“I’d have to say, look, there’s always a plan. I believe God always has a plan,” the attorney general replied. “Life is short no matter what it is.”

It was all in God’s plan. That’s a suggestion we often hear from pious, well-meaning people when other words fail in the face of an unspeakable, inexplicable tragedy. The idea is that some day we will all understand that larger purpose of our suffering. It is meant to be a balm.

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But those words sound more like a shrug when an elected leader — and in this case, one who is his state’s top law enforcement officer — offers that as an explanation for a horror that was preventable and exacerbated by human error. Worse, it is a dereliction of responsibility and of the imperative to do something to prevent something like this from happening again, as it has happened over and over.

What Paxton doesn’t want to consider, he made clear, is that the events in Uvalde had anything to do with gun laws, which have been loosened considerably in Texas in recent years. He won’t countenance even proposals for a red-flag law allowing courts to order the seizure of guns from people deemed an imminent threat. That, he said, “becomes pretty risky for our freedom.” The only new gun measure he indicated he might support is one that requires schools to train and arm teachers to defend themselves in the classroom.

Graham also pressed Paxton on why mass shootings happen more often in Texas than in other states. (The Dallas Morning News notes that Texas leads the nation in the number of people killed in mass shootings since 2009, and is second only to Nevada in the number killed in a single episode.) “Part of it is we’re just a big state,” Paxton replied. It might just come down to “the law of averages,” he said, adding, “Other than that, I don’t really have an explanation.”

Paxton, it should be stressed, is a popular politician with Texas Republican voters, despite being indicted on felony securities fraud charges shortly after becoming attorney general in 2015 and more recently coming under an FBI investigation for allegations he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. (He has denied wrongdoing; his office also did not respond to my request for a comment for this column.)

On the day of the Uvalde shootings, Paxton easily won a GOP primary runoff, which is tantamount to reelection, against Land Commissioner George P. Bush, which may have brought an end to the Bush dynasty in the Lone Star State.

In the meantime, the intensity of emotion surrounding what happened in Uvalde may already be dying down. The last of the funerals, that of 11-year-old Layla Salazar, took place on Thursday. Television networks that swarmed the town have largely moved on. While a special committee of the Texas legislature is investigating what happened — and didn’t — in Uvalde, and has been charged with making recommendations for the future, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has resisted Democratic calls for a special session.

In Washington, the Senate left town Thursday for the weekend after bogging down over a bipartisan deal that aims to produce the first major expansion of gun laws in three decades. Their framework agreement was announced with great fanfare the weekend before, but fleshing out the details into actual legislative language that can clear the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the 50-50 Senate is turning out to be a difficult challenge.

Still, it is possible to hope that maybe this time will be different. That sensible and long-overdue gun reform might really be possible. That schools and stores and, yes, even houses of worship might no longer have to fear being chosen as the target of the next depraved person with access to firearms.

Or at least we can pray real change can happen. God willing.