Why Greg Abbott’s response to the latest Texas mass shooting shouldn’t come as a surprise

When five people were shot dead in their home over a noise complaint, Greg Abbott labelled the victims ‘illegal immigrants’. True to form with past shootings in his state, he made no mention of the role his own lax gun laws may have played. Rachel Sharp reports

Wednesday 03 May 2023 13:07 BST

Another mass shooting in Texas.

More innocent lives lost.

And another shock-stirring response from Governor Greg Abbott.

On Friday, five people – including a nine-year-old boy – were shot dead in a horror attack at a home in Cleveland.

Around 15 family members, friends and godparents had gathered together to prepare for a church event when neighbour Francisco Oropesa allegedly stormed into the home with an AR-15-style rifle.

Going room to room, the 38-year-old suspect gunned down anyone in his path.

Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, her nine-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and José Jonathan Cásarez, 18, were killed in the shooting.

Two of the women died after they threw their bodies over small children to protect them from the gunfire.

In the eyes of their alleged killer, the victims’ crime was asking him if he could stop shooting his firearm so close to their home while their baby was trying to sleep.

But in his initial response to the shooting, Governor Abbott pointed out something else entirely, describing the victims as “illegal immigrants”.

Silence and a photo of a pet dog

It took two days for the Republican governor to even acknowledge the latest mass shooting in his state – which came less than a year after 21 young students and teachers were murdered in a massacre in Uvalde.

On Saturday, while the Cleveland community and devastated families grieved and a huge manhunt was launched to find the killer, Mr Abbott took to Instagram to post a photo of his pet dog.

“All smiles for the weekend,” he wrote.

On Sunday, he finally broke his silence over the shooting in a statement where he announced his office was contributing a $50,000 reward to catch the suspect.

Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her nine-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman
Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her nine-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman (Family handout)

But in the statement, he also chose to label the five people killed not as victims but “illegal immigrants”.

“Announcing a $50K reward for a @TxDPS top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants Friday night. I also directed #OperationLoneStar to be on the lookout for the criminal and any attempts to flee the country,” he said on Twitter.

The following day, Mr Abbott was forced to walk back his comment after it turned out it was not even a factual statement.

“We’ve since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally,” Mr Abbott’s spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement on Monday.

“We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal.”

Mr Abbott’s silence and then perceived anti-immigrant rhetoric sparked an instant backlash from public figures, gun control activists and immigration advocates.

“It’s below the dignity of the governor to impugn the victims of a mass shooting about their legal status,” Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told NBC News.

“All of the victims are Latino and so is the suspected gunman. This is a tragedy that involves another serial killing and a weapon for war that was used in the killing. That’s the issue, not the legal status of the victims.”

But the criticism may have little effect on Mr Abbott.

After all, he has been here many times before.

Mass shootings under Abbott’s watch

It was November 2017 – two years into his first term – when 26 people were murdered and another 20 wounded when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire during Sunday service at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

Just six months later in May 2018, a 17-year-old student killed eight classmates and two students at Santa Fe High School.

One year later in August 2019, a domestic terrorist attack at a Walmart in El Paso left 23 shoppers and store workers dead and dozens more injured.

Then, on 24 May 2022, 19 students aged just nine to 11 and two teachers were shot dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by an 18-year-old gunman who had legally bought an AR-15-style rifle in the state just days after his birthday.

A vigil held for the nine-year-old boy Daniel who died on Friday
A vigil held for the nine-year-old boy Daniel who died on Friday (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In total, Texas has been rocked by at least six major mass shootings under Mr Abbott’s watch, according to a Texas Tribune database.

And, after each, he has come under fire for inaction.

Mr Abbott’s response – or lackthereof – was especially audible after Uvalde.

As the nation reeled from one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, the governor continued with his plans to attend a campaign fundraiser that same day.

Records show he spent three hours at the event, drumming up up to $50,000 in donations for his re-election campaign.

When he finally addressed the horror attack the next day, he infamously told the community that had just lost 21 members that “it could have been worse”.

He then appeared – via pre-recorded video message – at the NRA convention that weekend where he claimed gun safety laws have no impact on reducing gun violence.

He then failed to attend any of the victims’ funerals.

And he refused the pleas of the grieving families and state lawmakers to call a legislative session to even discuss the possibility of introducing gun safety measures in the state.

Anti-immigration rhetoric

Following the Uvalde massacre, gun control advocates suggested that Mr Abbott’s ongoing anti-immigration rhetoric may have contributed to his unwillingness to take action.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, former US Representative for Florida and senior adviser for gun control advocacy organisation Giffords, told The Independent in September that his response revealed a “discrimination” towards the low-income, Hispanic community situated close to the US-Mexico border.

“Uvalde is a predominantly Hispanic community and I wonder if his response would have been different if the community was of a higher income bracket and more representative of his base,” she said.

She added: “Is it because of the colour of their skin and their appearance that Republicans have completely dismissed one of the most disgusting tragedies where children were massacred?”

Each of the five victims killed last week were Honduran nationals.

Critics say Mr Abbott’s first comments about that shooting make it clear he is trying to make the massacre about immigration.

In his only statement to date, he referred to both the victims and the suspect in terms of what he believed to be their immigration status.

Mr Oropesa was described as a “fugitive who is in the country illegally” while his alleged victims were labelled “illegal immigrants”.

The state’s access to firearms – including the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack – didn’t feature at all in his comments.

The reality is that it has become increasingly easy for people to get their hands on guns in Texas in recent years – in large part thanks to Mr Abbott.

Lax gun laws

Less than one year before Uvalde, in June 2021, the Texas governor signed a bill into law allowing Texans without a licence to open carry handguns.

At the bill signing was NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA president Carolyn Meadows.

Mr Abbott – and the Texas GOP – have long enjoyed a cosy relationship with the gun lobby group and this relationship appears to play a major part in the unwillingness to enact gun safety measures.

From 2017 to 2022, the NRA spent more than $2m lobbying Texas state lawmakers, data from Open Secrets reveals.

Ahead of his gubernatorial reelection race in the November midterms, data compiled by Giffords shows that Mr Abbott received $20,700 in career gun lobby contributions – one of the highest of all candidates in gubernatorial races.

So long as he keeps that cosy relationship with the NRA, it seems unlikely Mr Abbott will take action – or even give a more meaningful response – to the constant cycle of mass shootings and gun violence in his state.

Children play outside the scene of the mass shooting in Cleveland
Children play outside the scene of the mass shooting in Cleveland (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

As Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told The Independent in September: “He’s been through this many times.

“As Texas governor, he’s had about 10 mass shootings and each time there are calls for dramatic action and he’s dealt with calls in a particular way which is concluding that he’s not going to take significant action so there’s no need to go through the pretence.”

It’s now five days since the latest horror mass shooting in Texas.

Children have been left to grow up without their mothers, fathers without their sons.

And the governor who made it easier for people to buy firearms in Texas is yet to visit any of the victims’ families.

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