Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic presidential candidate, was ejected from a press conference addressing the shooting at a school in Uvalde after interrupting Texas governor Greg Abbott and accusing the Republican leader of not doing enough to stop gun violence.
In a sign of the fraught atmosphere around gun control in the US, O’Rourke approached the stage where Abbott was in the process of inviting lieutenant governor Dan Patrick to speak about Tuesday’s shooting and began directly addressing the assembled politicians and leading enforcement officers.
“You are doing nothing”, said O’Rourke — who is the current Democratic candidate running for Texas governor — of Abbott’s approach to addressing this kind of gun crime. “This is totally predictable.”
“This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen,” O’Rourke said after being removed from the front of the room. “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.”
Some attendees yelled “go home”, while others said “let him speak” and questioned “what about the First Amendment?”
Before the interruption, Abbott said “all Texans must come together and support the families who have been affected by this tragedy”. He added that he had been told by law enforcement officers following Tuesday’s shooting that the community had a problem with mental illness, but that the shooter had no known history of mental health problems.
Following O’Rourke’s ejection, Patrick said there would be “plenty of time” later to analyse and discuss the issues. “This is not a partisan issue. This is not a political issue. This is an unimaginable moment that will impact the lives of those who lost their children,” he said.
The press conference came as the leading Democrat in the US Senate began the process to hold votes on two bills to tighten America’s gun laws following the mass shooting at a Texas school on Tuesday, but warned they were unlikely to pass in the face of Republican opposition.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, has begun the so-called “Rule 14” process, paving the way to bring the bills to a vote as soon as this week. The measures, which have already passed the House of Representatives, would force those looking to buy guns at gun shows or on the internet to undergo background checks, and would give the FBI more time to investigate potential purchasers.
Schumer warned on Wednesday however that he was reluctant to push ahead with such a vote unless it had a chance of success, in a sign of how powerless Congress is to act on such a divisive issue.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Schumer said: “My Republican colleagues can work with us now. I know this is a slim prospect — very slim, all too slim. We’ve been burnt so many times before. But this is so important.”
He added: “There are some who want this body to quickly vote on sensible gun safety legislation . . . I believe that accountability votes are important, But sadly, this isn’t a case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand. They know.”
Nineteen children and two adults died in the shooting, which police said was carried out by an 18-year old gunman. Another 18-year-old male has been charged with killing 10 people in a shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, less than two weeks ago.
US President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday night to condemn the attacks and implore Republicans to back tighter gun control. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with this?” Biden said.
Previous attempts to enforce tighter background controls have stalled in the Senate after failing to secure enough support to bypass a filibuster, which requires 60 votes in a chamber split 50-50 along party lines.
Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said he would schedule a hearing on gun violence, but not until after this weekend’s Memorial day break.
Senate Republicans have already suggested they are unlikely to change their votes this time. Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, on Tuesday accused Democrats of trying to politicise the issue and called instead for armed law enforcement officers to be deployed in schools.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Mitch McConnell, the most senior Republican in the chamber, did not mention the possibility of tighter gun laws. Instead he quoted the Bible, saying: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.”