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A broken country’s broken heart: Tempers flare in Texas, Congress after mass shooting

‘This is on you until you choose to do something different’

A well-known political renegade confronted the governor of Texas on Wednesday, jabbing an angry, accusatory finger at the political establishment he said is the reason Americans are once again grappling with the aftermath of another deadly school shooting.

Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman and presidential hopeful who is now aiming to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott, interrupted a news conference in Uvalde, Tex., where state officials were briefing reporters on the previous day’s unspeakable tragedy.

“This is on you until you choose to do something different,” O’Rourke said over the din of camera shutters and the angry shouts of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who accused him of being “out of line and an embarrassment.”

“This will continue to happen,” O’Rourke continued. “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.”

Nineteen preteen students and two teachers were gunned down in a classroom by an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle, which he used to shoot his own grandmother before heading to the school, Abbott said.

The attack came less than two weeks after a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. And it echoed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 children and six adults. It stands to this day as a monument to a divided country’s inability to protect its own people.

It also laid bare one of the most persistent chasms in American life in the 21st century: the gulf between those willing to defend their right to bear arms at any cost, and those who insist the cost is already too great.

That chasm was on clear display Wednesday in Uvalde.

“There are family members who are crying as we speak; there are family members whose hearts are broken,” Abbott said as O’Rourke was escorted out of the auditorium.

“There’s no words that anybody shouting can come up here and do anything to heal those broken hearts.”

Tensions were also running high in Washington, D.C., where it was mostly Democrats who turned out for Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Steven Dettelbach to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives.

If confirmed, Dettelbach would be the first permanent appointee to the position in seven years, a delay largely attributable to tensions between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to firearms.

One of the few Republicans on hand, Utah’s Mike Lee, went so far as to accuse gun-control advocates of trying to capitalize on the Uvalde tragedy as a fundraising opportunity.

“The left once again is calling for more gun control,” Lee said. “They want to crack down on law-abiding Americans and federal firearms licensees who want to follow the law, instead of armed criminals.”

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy promptly accused Lee of blaming the victims, “not the person who’s able to walk in and buy a weapon that should be used in a war zone, not in a school zone.”

“The kind of weapons being used by the Russians in Ukraine have no place in school,” he said. “It’s not the time to blame the victims. It’s time to blame those who sell weapons of war this way.”

President Joe Biden said much the same thing later in the day during an appearance at the White House.

“Where’s the backbone?” he said. “Where’s the courage to stand up to a very powerful lobby?”

In Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Tuesday as a “terrible, terrible day,” the conversation also quickly pivoted to what the government has done to date and will do going forward to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“As a parent, I’m going to have to go home to my kids, including my eight-year-old, and talk to them again about the inexplicable school shooting that we saw in the United States,” Trudeau said Wednesday in Saskatoon.

“I think of the trauma that community is going through. I think of a shock that Americans and indeed people all around the world are facing right now, and yet another incredibly senseless, violent act in innocent communities, in schools.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press