At a town hall in Dallas, gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke heard everything: chants, clapping, and even tears. The town hall, coming six days after the tragic shooting in Uvalde which killed 19 children and 2 teachers, was a chance for O’Rourke to not only outline some concrete plans to curb gun violence, but to sharply rebuke Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP for failing to expand healthcare, and particularly mental health services for Texans.
O’Rourke was introduced by retiring Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Judge Jenkins proudly described O’Rourke’s confrontation with Abbott and other Republican leaders in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting which elicited a strong standing ovation from the crowd.
After he took the microphone, O’Rourke quickly shifted into a somber reflection of Uvalde. He briefly talked about the past week with his own three children, before recounting his time with the family of Alithea Ramirez, a 10-year-old who was killed in the shooting. Alithea was an artist, and her home was decorated with many of her paintings and drawings. There were even still balloons in the home after her recent tenth birthday.
O’Rourke met with Alithea’s parents, and her mother Jess conveyed how they do not want such a tragedy to befall upon another family. “I thought about that accountability that’s now on me, that’s now on all of us to fulfill her wishes and to make sure that we do everything in our power to prevent another mother from feeling exactly how Jess feels at this moment,” said O’Rourke.
O’Rourke also took the town hall as an opportunity to differentiate himself from Abbott, who he said has done nothing to prevent gun violence in Texas except to offer “thoughts and prayers.” As governor, Abbott has championed and signed multiple bills that make it easier to purchase firearms in the state. “Since Greg Abbott has been governor the average number of kids killed by gunfire in Texas has doubled in the state of Texas,” said O’Rourke.
O’Rourke then outlined several steps that Texas could take to curb gun violence, including universal background checks and red flag laws. O’Rourke noted that the shooter in Midland-Odessa in 2019 would have been prevented from buying an AR-15 had a red flag law been in place since his mother was concerned about his mental state.
Texas Republicans refusing to protect children was the theme of O’Rourke’s event. And while Abbott and other Texas Republicans claim mental health is a mitigating factor for shootings, O’Rourke pointed out that Texas is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. As a result, Texas ranks fiftieth in access to mental health care services.
After he finished his speech, O’Rourke fielded questions from the audience, which included people impacted by gun violence. A volunteer with Dallas Moms Demand Action told O’Rourke that she lost her son to everyday gun violence and asked what can be done to prevent future tragedies. While O’Rourke acknowledged it would be impossible to eliminate all gun violence in the state, he still pledged to take any action possible which could prevent further grief or heartbreak for families. “As long as we can do some good, let’s get it done,” he said.
Original photo: Erik Drost / Wikimedia Commons