Above: Crystal Harris, George Guerrero, and Curtis Patterson light candles in the shape of a cross on the grounds of the University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, to remember those who were killed in a shooting Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, two state troopers pulled over a man in Midland, Texas, for apparently failing to use his turn signal. The driver grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the patrolmen, officials said, wounding one of them. From there, the man went on what the New York Times described as a “drive-by mass shooting,” driving through Midland and neighboring Odessa, firing at people in their cars, on the streets, and outside stores.
By the end, the man had killed seven people and injured more than 20. The mass shooting happened exactly four weeks after the massacre in El Paso and one day before a series of new gun laws went into effect that relax restrictions on when and where gun owners can carry firearms. The state has been home to four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the country.
As the calls for gun control grew louder, just as they have after each high-profile mass shooting, Texas state Representative Matt Schaefer, a right-wing Tea Partier who hails from Louie Gohmert-land, took the opportunity to defiantly declare on social media that he would not be doing anything to change gun laws.
“‘Do something!’ is the statement we keep hearing. As an elected official with a vote in Austin, let me tell you what I am NOT going to do. I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans. Period. None of these so-called gun-control solutions will work to stop a person with evil intent,” Schaefer wrote hours after the shooting.
He continued: “I say NO to ‘red flag’ pre-crime laws. NO to universal background checks. NO to bans on AR-15s, or high capacity magazines. NO to mandatory gun buybacks. What can we do? YES to praying for victims. YES to praying for protection. YES to praying that God would transform the hearts of people with evil intent. YES to fathers not leaving their wives and children. YES to discipline in the homes. YES to supporting our public schools. YES to giving every law-abiding single mom the right to carry a handgun to protect her and her kids without permission from the state, and the same for all other law-abiding Texans of age. YES to your God-given, constitutionally protected rights. YES to God, and NO to more government intrusions.”
His comments went viral, drewnationalcoverage, and sparked widespread condemnation from gun reform advocates around the country, including actress and liberal activist Alyssa Milano. “Can someone cite which passage of the Bible God states it is a god-given right to own a gun?” she tweeted in response to Schaefer. This prompted Senator Ted Cruz to fire off an extended tweetstorm in defense of Schaefer.
It’s not all that surprising that right-wing conservatives like Schaefer and Cruz would, in the wake of a mass shooting, assert that gun control is not only unconstitutional, but sacrilegious.
This is, after all, the party line of the Texas GOP.
As religious scholar and Observer contributor David Brockman has previously reported, the Texas GOP’s views on guns are rooted in the religious right’s enthusiastic embrace of Christian Americanism—a radical theological strain that espouses the belief that the Founding Fathers explicitly shaped the United States in the vision of the Bible. The Second Amendment, as one Texas pastor put it, enshrines the “biblical right of self-defense” from any illegal forces, including “your own government.”
Therefore, mass shootings are seen as the result of inherent moral failings—like video games, overmedication, Godless public schools—whereas the tools of mass shootings—high-powered semi-automatic rifles, high-capacity magazines, high-caliber hollow point bullets—serve a higher purpose and are to be defended at all costs.
As Governor Greg Abbott said at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas last year, “The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away, the answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.” His campaign ran a Facebook ad in 2013 with the words “Two things that every American should know how to use” on top of a handgun and a Bible, followed by “Neither of which are taught in schools.”
“The more we talk about gun regulation, the more people are gonna die,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at a gun-rights panel during the 2018 Texas Republican Party convention. At that same event, Chip Roy, who would soon be elected to Congress, attributed school shootings to “core cultural problems” and “cultural rot.”
“You don’t need a hotline, you need teachers that are looking into the child if the child has problems, has a nuclear family that’s intact,” he said at the panel. Overmedication and social media addiction only worsened the problem, Roy said. “We cannot allow this debate to be centered on our God-given right” to self-defense, he concluded.
In the last session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers enacted a series of firearm laws. They bolstered the rights of gun owners to carry weapons in churches and in disaster zones, lifted the cap on the number of school employees who can be deputized as pistol-packing school marshals, and allocated millions of dollars to “harden” entrance points of Texas schools, all while ignoring legislation calling for basic gun safety, storage, and access reforms.
Officials have since found that the shooter in Midland and Odessa failed a criminal background check due to a “mental health issue” when trying to buy a firearm in 2014. However, he was able to evade a federal background check by purchasing the assault-style rifle used in the shooting from a private seller—a glaring weakness in federal gun regulation known as the “gun show loophole.”
The day after the shooting in Midland and Odessa, Governor Abbott flew out to West Texas and declared at a press conference: “We know that words alone are inadequate. Words must be met with action.”
But Abbott and his party’s adherence to the God and guns doctrine leaves little reason to believe that any “action” will be meaningful. On Wednesday morning, 61 Texas House Democrats demanded that Abbott call a special session to address gun violence. “We agree with your comments at Sunday’s press conference that the status quo is unacceptable,” the members said in a statement.
For once, Abbott’s office was quick to respond. His spokesperson took a swipe at House Democrats, who had held a series of press conferences around the state, saying that “If Democrats really want to change the law, they need to stop talking to cameras and start talking to colleagues in the Capitol to reach consensus.”
The spokesperson insisted that the governor is still considering all options on the table but wasn’t interested in a “helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines.”
That’s pretty rich coming from a governor who called a special session to vote on a bill that set to dictate bathroom rules for kids in Texas schools.