Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tried to comfort Texans on Wednesday, one day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in the state’s deadliest school shooting, by telling them that “it could have been worse.”
Abbott said at a press conference that Texans need “love” and mental health care after an 18-year-old gunman went on a shooting rampage at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.
“All Texans must come together and support the families who have been affected by this horrific tragedy,” he said. “What they need now more than ever is our love. What they need is uplifting from all of our fellow Texans and all of our fellow Americans.”
“The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” Abbott said. “The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do: They showed amazing courage by running toward gun fire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives.”
The lone gunman, who authorities said purchased two firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition last week ahead of the attack, was briefly stopped by responding law enforcement after arriving outside the school. He exchanged gunfire with the officers but was still able to enter a fourth-grade classroom, barricade the door, and continue shooting.
When it comes to stopping or slowing future violent acts, Abbott said, the focus should not be on gun control. Instead, he said he wants to make sure “that everybody in this community has the access they need, for as long as they need it, to address the mental, emotional health care needs that they have.”
However, he also said he would not reconsider accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid to address the issue.
Abbott said 18-year-olds in Texas have been able to buy guns for 60 years. He also dismissed the relevancy of prior school shootings in his state, saying that “for the majority of those 60 years we do not have school shootings.”
In 2018, a 17-year-old gunman fatally shot 10 people and wounded 13 others at a high school in Santa Fe. Another shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2020 killed 23 people and wounded 23 others, and a mass shooting in Midland and Odessa killed seven people and injured more than 20 others in 2019.
At the time of the Santa Fe attack, Abbott pledged to work with state legislators to look into solutions to gun violence. He went on to sign laws that would boost mental health resources and give teachers more access to guns on public school campuses.
Although Abbott made it clear that his office’s focus will not be on gun restrictions in the wake of Tuesday’s tragedy, lawmakers in other states have vowed to clamp down.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said Wednesday that she wants to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle in her state from 18 to 21. The gunman in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo earlier this month was also 18 and purchased an AR-15; 10 people were killed and three others were wounded.
Abbott dismissed other states’ gun laws when asked about them.
“I hate to say it, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said. “If you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.”