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Gov. Abbott doesn’t want to make the killing of children a political issue. What is it then?

A majority of people in the U.S. would rather not have commonsense gun laws be politicized either, but the GOP has left us with no choice.

Nineteen children and two teachers, who started the day like any other, were gunned down Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It is the second deadliest school shooting, after Sandy Hook, this nation has seen. By Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by other state officials at a news conference to address the tragedy, managed to rub salt in the wounds of a nation trying to figure out how it is that, yet again, families in America are waking up without their children nestled in bed while lawmakers can’t seem to do anything to curb the rising gun violence.

Abbott made a plea at the news conference not to politicize the latest shooting, saying, “We need all Texans to in this one moment in time put aside their own agendas, think of somebody other than ourselves, think about the people who are hurt.” His comment came in response to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running against Abbott for governor, interrupting the news conference to rightly tell the governor that the shooting was “totally predictable” and would be on his hands until he chose to do something about it. 

The Republican Party and its leadership are doubling down on pro-gun rhetoric and are completely insensitive to what the rest of the country is feeling.

Indeed, with its allegiances lying with the gun lobby, the GOP has routinely gone against the will of most people in the U.S., who desperately want solutions to ending this horrific nightmare that seems to occur all too often. 

This year alone, according to data from EdWeek, there have been at least 27 shootings in K-12 schools nationwide, resulting in at least 27 deaths and 56 injuries. How could we not politicize this issue when it needs a political solution?

Yet the Republican Party and its leadership are doubling down on pro-gun rhetoric and are completely insensitive to what the rest of the country is feeling. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was standing behind Abbott at the news conference, responded to the tragedy by saying “you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. That doesn’t work. It’s not effective.” 

But there’s no question that lax Texas gun laws aren’t working. According to law enforcement officials, the Uvalde shooter legally purchased two assault-style rifles shortly after his 18th birthday because of a law that Texas has had in place for more than 60 years

Abbott brought up the long-standing law, seemingly as a way to downplay his part in creating the circumstances that contributed to this tragedy. But last year he signed seven — SEVEN — laws to expand gun rights in the state. Surrounded by National Rifle Association representatives at the time, he declared that “Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session.” 

This is after he promised to “take action to step up to make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas” during a news conference following the 2018 shooting at Sante Fe High School in Texas that left 10 children dead. These words have obviously fallen short. What’s more, the state experienced a handful of other mass shootings — in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in 2019 — but still moved forward with loosening its gun restrictions by approving measures like open carry without a permit. 

The sad reality is that our nation’s children are expected to be brave enough to get up and go to school every day.

Tell us again how we should not politicize this issue? Americans don’t want to politicize this issue, but that’s what the GOP has made the mere act of keeping the most innocent of us safe.

On Friday, the NRA is scheduled to hold its annual conference in Houston. Many lawmakers and high-level officials within the GOP are scheduled to attend and speak, including former President Donald Trump, Abbott and Cruz. Even after this horrible tragedy, both Abbott and Cruz won’t step down from their speaking roles, much less use their platform to tell the NRA that it needs to change. Instead, they push aside any calls to strengthen gun laws.

A recent poll from The University of Texas at Austin, 43 percent of Texans favor stricter gun laws and at the national level, a May poll from Morning Consult/Politico taken before Tuesday’s deadly shooting, found that 59 percent of Americans want Congress to pass gun control legislation, citing the issue as very or somewhat important to them. Furthermore, 34 percent said restrictions on gun ownership should be a top congressional focus.

What’s incredibly frustrating is that the House has passed legislation calling for commonsense gun reform, such as stricter and universal background checks through H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, but the Senate has failed to vote on it. To be clear, Democratic senators haven’t been completely blameless on this issue. For example, five Democrats were among the 46 senators who voted no on gun control in 2013, months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut. But if we want to focus on outliers here, consider that only four Republicans voted for that bill. 

Today, the most infuriating aspect of all of this is that for any meaningful legislative change, either Democrats must all agree to end the filibuster or Senate Republicans must start supporting gun control measures, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

While we could place blame at the feet of moderate Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia for not supporting ending the filibuster, the real issue is that Republicans are not willing to engage in meaningful conversations around ending gun violence. 

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If American voters are truly done with “thoughts and prayers,” they need to be done with the GOP and make that known at the ballot box in November. As Americans who care about the safety of our children, we have no choice but to raise our voices and politicize this issue because, indeed, our nation’s politicians are the only ones who can change the existing laws to make our country safer. The sad reality is that our nation’s children are expected to be brave enough to get up and go to school every day, but many of our nation’s politicians don’t have the spine to pass the gun control measures that will protect them.

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