In the hours after a deadly shooting at a southeast Texas high school left at least 10 dead and 10 more wounded, a familiar debate began to emerge — pitting the state’s top Republican leaders against some of the Democrats vying to take their spots in this year’s elections.
As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, along with many of the state’s other Republican political leaders, sent his “thoughts and prayers” to the families of those injured and killed, state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, tweeted, “Y’all been sending thoughts and prayers for two freaking decades now.”
“Time to try something new,” Wu said.
That something new could be born out of roundtable discussions Gov. Greg Abbott has announced will begin next week to tackle the challenge of school shootings. Speaking into a cluster of microphones Friday afternoon at a press conference outside Santa Fe High School, where authorities say 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis shot students and staff with a shotgun and a .38 revolver, Abbott said that he had already been preparing to release several new proposals for gun laws in Texas.
Now, he said, he will begin meeting with stakeholders to propose “swift solutions to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”
"We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said. “It's time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”
As he detailed those plans, Abbott indicated a willingness to examine the state’s gun laws without giving any indication that he’s considering any radical changes. Proposing relatively uncontroversial measures like “speeding up background checks” and keeping guns out of the hands of people “who pose immediate danger,” the governor emphasized that Texas politicians must weigh every possible strategy for preventing gun violence in schools.
To that end, he said, the new discussion groups should include two members from each chamber of the state Legislature, as well as teachers, concerned parents, victims of November’s deadly shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs — “as well as those who believe in making sure gun rights are protected.”
State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a separate press conference Friday that he and his colleagues welcome that discussion, noting that they have "been waiting to have it for a long time."
"However, we have a responsibility also to act," Turner said, flanked by over a dozen other House Democrats. He went on to say Texas should pass universal background checks, require the reporting of stolen guns and begin a "safe gun storage campaign."
Democrats already in office were hardly the only ones weighing in on policy in the wake of the tragedy Friday. As soon as reports of the shooting began to surface, politicians and hopefuls running in next week’s May 22 runoff election began to speak out about policy solutions and the failures they attribute to current state leaders.
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso congressman running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this fall, emailed supporters Friday afternoon a long list of specific policy ideas — everything from funding federal research on gun violence to improving campus safety to implementing "red flag" laws, which allow local officials to seize an individual's weapons when they appear to present an imminent threat of violence.
"We can meet silence with action," O'Rourke wrote. "Tragedy with common purpose. The disagreements with compromise and consensus that allow us to do better — not perfect, not your ideal, not my ideal, but better than what we have today. Shouldn't be too much to ask for the kids who died today, for the kids too scared to go to school on Monday, should it?"
Democrat Mike Collier, a longshot candidate for lieutenant governor, convened a hasty press conference in downtown Houston where he blasted Abbott and incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick because, he said, they “consistently do nothing” to seriously address gun violence in schools.
"I’ve listened to their remarks today, and all I hear is talk," Collier said. "Talk is cheap. What we need is action."
Collier called on Abbott to immediately name a "public school safety czar" and equip that person with "extraordinary resources" to tackle the issue. Collier also demanded that Abbott convene a special session of the Legislature to "develop a comprehensive plan for school safety."
And both Democratic candidates for governor, who are battling in next week’s runoff to take on Abbott this fall, had immediate, harsh words for Texas’ handling of gun violence.
Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County Sheriff who took first place in the March 6 primary, said “enough is enough.”
"We will act to make change,” Valdez said in a statement. “There is no other option."
Her opponent, Houston businessman Andrew White, pledged to roll out a plan to prevent school shootings soon, “but not today” — leaving him little time to pitch his proposal before the Tuesday runoff that will decide whether he moves on to vie with Abbott in the general election.
Meanwhile, Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor, focused on school facilities in his remarks. Standing alongside Abbott on Friday, Patrick said schools have “too many entrances and too many exits” — far too many doors to guard.
“We may have to look at the design of our schools moving forward,” Patrick said. “We’re gonna have to be creative.”
Collier characterized that policy pitch as a refusal “to address this issue honestly.”
“That’s almost a useless statement,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.