UVALDE, Texas ― In a stunning moment on Wednesday, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) confronted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) over gun control policy at a press conference where officials were giving updates on the mass shooting at an Uvalde elementary school.
“You’re doing nothing. You’re all doing nothing,” O’Rourke told the officials assembled on the stage.
One of them repeatedly shouted back, “Sir, you are out of line!”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) told O’Rourke he was “an embarrassment.”
An 18-year-old ran into Robb Elementary School in the small west Texas town on Tuesday, killing 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15 rifle. Seventeen more were injured, Abbott said earlier at the press conference. The man, who was killed by responding officers, had shot his grandmother in the face before driving over to the school. He posted his intentions to Facebook shortly before the rampage, Abbott said.
As Abbott finished his remarks and introduced Patrick, O’Rourke approached the stage to interrupt. His initial remarks were drowned out by crosstalk from different attendees ― some cheering him and many others jeering.
O’Rourke made a clear comment directed at Abbott while law enforcement moved to escort him out.
“This is on you,” O’Rourke said. “Until you choose to do something different, this will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”
Cody Ytuarte, a carpenter visiting family affected by the shooting, was standing near O’Rourke. He interjected: “This is propaganda, bro. Get out of here. You’re trash, man.”
As O’Rourke exited, some of his supporters chanted, “Let him speak!” One person asked, “How about the First Amendment?”
The Republican elected officials at the dais criticized O’Rourke with varying degrees of subtlety once he was out of the room.
“There will be plenty of time to discuss and analyze what happened yesterday,” Patrick said.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) concurred. “Mayor, I’m sorry you had to witness that outburst,” Phelan said to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. “Now is not the time to politicize pain and suffering.”
In his initial remarks, Abbott had acknowledged that “people are rightfully angry about what’s happened,” but he did not offer gun policy solutions. “Now more than ever,” Abbott said, what the Uvalde community needs “is our love.”
“What they need is uplifting from all of our fellow Texans and all of our fellow Americans,” the governor said. “And let me emphasize something that I know you all know, but the reality is as horrible as what happened, it could’ve been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do.”
Abbott called for better mental health care in the west Texas region. But when asked by a reporter whether he would reconsider accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid to that end, he said no.
Patrick similarly suggested there was little policy action that could be taken, saying, “Evil will always walk among us.”
“In times like this, I’ve seen it ... in these other shootings, Sutherland Springs, El Paso, Odessa, Santa Fe, it’s God that brings a community together,” he added, referencing previous mass shootings in the state. “It’s God that heals a community.”
Following the outburst, Abbott criticized the relatively strict gun control policies of states with the nation’s largest cities, including California, Illinois and New York.
“There are, quote, real gun laws in Chicago,” Abbott said, then claimed that such measures do not work. “Hate to say this, but there are more people who were shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas.”
Chicago has strict gun control laws, but nearby states like Indiana do not, which allows people to easily access weapons.
Outside the venue, O’Rourke continued his call for stronger gun control measures and better access to mental health care.
“Now is the time to stop the next shooting,” he said. “Right after Santa Fe High School was the time to stop the next shooting. Right after El Paso was the time to stop the next shooting. Right after Midland-Odessa was the time to stop the next shooting.”
“In each case, we say, ‘This isn’t the time,’” he said. “Now is the time.”
After the press conference, HuffPost caught up with Ytuarte, the man who accused O’Rourke of disseminating propaganda.
“In the moment in which a tragedy is being addressed so recently, to come in and act in that way, is pure propaganda,” Ytuarte said when asked to explain his remarks.
He said he was nonetheless happy to discuss stricter school safety precautions, because “it is a much more logical approach than trying to control the gun ownership of every citizen.”
There were signs that even some local residents who agreed with O’Rourke preferred a less confrontational approach than the one O’Rourke employed.
“They’re not strict with the background checks,” said Cris Vazquez, a Republican schoolteacher who supports tightening those checks.
But Vazquez disapproved of how O’Rourke delivered his message.
“It’s just disrespectful to do an outburst like that ― as a professional running for public office,” she said.