Texas keeps on burying kids from gun violence — while Republicans fight among themselves

There was a time when Texas was famous for the line Col. William Travis drew in the sand at the Alamo. The mission was surrounded by Mexican soldiers. Travis had been informed by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna that if he didn’t surrender the Alamo, all of Travis’ soldiers would be killed. Travis drew his sword and dragged it through the sand to make his famous line. His men could choose to surrender and leave the Alamo and their lives would be spared, or they could cross the line, remain with him at the Alamo and defend the honor of Texas to the death. Legend has it that all but one of Travis’ men crossed the line and fought to defend the Alamo to the death.

The line in the sand for the state of Texas today is where you stand on gun violence and no one has crossed it to defend the citizens of Texas against the mass murderers who have taken the lives of 17 Texas citizens so far this year: five killed in a family’s home in Cleveland on April 28; eight killed outside a shopping mall in Allen on May 6; and on Tuesday of this week, four family members killed in Texarkana by their 18-year-old son and brother. A year ago this week, 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde by another 18-year-old with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, the same weapon used in Cleveland and Allen.

Texas is way ahead of the rest of the nation this year when it comes to gun violence, according to figures from the Gun Violence Archive. As of May 8, Texas had 17 mass shootings this year; the national average for other states was 4.04. At least 214 people have been killed by firearms in Texas; the national average is 292. Texas has had three mass murders this year; the national average is 0.42. Thirteen children under the age of 11 have been killed in Texas this year; the national average for that age group is 1.83. Fifty-six teenagers between 12 and 17 have been killed this year in Texas; the national average for that age group is 10.52.

Texas has some of the loosest gun laws in the country. Many states ban the sale of rifles like the AR-15 to people between the ages of 18 and 20. Not Texas. The AR-15 rifle used by the 18-year-old murderer in Uvalde was bought legally just before he went to Robb Elementary School and killed 19 children and two teachers. In 2021, the Texas legislature passed and Gov. Gregg Abbott signed a “constitutional carry” bill that allows anyone to carry a concealed weapon pretty much anywhere they want, because Texas also passed laws allowing firearms on state college campuses. Abbott recently refused to propose a bill limiting the sale of AR-15 rifles to those under 21, telling reporters it “would be unconstitutional.” Many other states have exactly that law.

With hundreds of Texans dying every year from gun violence, with the number of mass killings and mass shootings significantly higher than most states in the country, with little children under age six among the dead in three recent mass murders, you would think that the Texas legislature and the governor would be trying to pass at least some law or laws that would help protect innocent people from the murderers among them. You would be wrong.

With hundreds of Texans dying every year from gun violence, you might think the Republicans who run the state would do something to protect innocent people. You would be wrong.

What has the Texas legislature been doing since the mass killings in Cleveland and Allen and Texarkana? In a state with one-party rule – Republicans control the state House and state Senate, and hold the governorship,  lieutenant-governorship and the state attorney general’s office – the party in charge have been squabbling. And what have they been squabbling about? Well, on Wednesday, the day after the 18-year-old in Texarkana killed his entire family, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of being drunk as he presided over the state’s lower legislative body during a late-night session last Friday. Paxton made the accusation as a legislative committee, the Committee on General Investigating, was sitting to consider allegations against Paxton for firing members of his staff who accused him of criminal acts in office as well as breaches of ethical rules.

Attorneys for the committee met on Wednesday to hear witnesses and consider written and electronic evidence that Paxton had accepted gifts and other remittances from a major political donor in return for favors regarding real estate deals the donor was involved in. When members of his office filed whistleblower complaints against Paxton, he fired them. When the whistleblowers sued him for improper termination, Paxton sought to use $3 million in state tax money to settle the lawsuit.

On Thursday, the Republican-dominated investigative committee voted to recommend articles of impeachment against Paxton. Attorneys for the committee told reporters that evidence they had accumulated would be sufficient to bring at least a dozen criminal charges against him. That committee cannot charge Paxton criminally, but among the crimes cited by the lawyers were using his office in an official capacity to benefit the donor, harassing and oppressing members of his own staff, securities fraud and making false statements to investigators. The allegations include a charge that Paxton turned over an FBI investigative file related to his friend and donor, and also used state funds to hire a lawyer to do work that benefited the donor.

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Paxton has been under state indictment for crimes he allegedly committed while a member of the state House in 2011. Those indictments were handed down after he assumed office as attorney general in 2015, and Paxton has resisted them ever since. In fact, he has been reelected twice since he was indicted, which gives you some idea of the stranglehold the Republican Party has on Texas politics.

Late on Thursday, the General Investigating Committee voted 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton, including disregarding official duties, bribery, making false statements, misappropriation of public funds, dereliction of official duties and obstruction of justice.

As I write this on Friday, the Texas House has scheduled a vote on the articles of impeachment against Paxton for Saturday. If the vote is successful, Paxton would become just the third official impeached in Texas history. Under Texas law, he would be removed from office pending a trial on the charges and vote in the state Senate. State law allows the House to keep working on the impeachment after the legislative session ends on Monday. But the law also permits the House to call itself back into session at will, and the state Senate has the same option. So Paxton’s impeachment could continue despite the end of the legislative session.

An Associated Press report on the fight within the Texas Republican Party called the speed with which the state house has proceeded “dizzying.” At this writing, conservatives in the party, including Paxton’s own wife — who holds a Senate seat and will presumably vote in her husband’s trial when it is considered by that body, are standing by Paxton, although some of his support is slowly bleeding away. The chairman of the state Republican Party, Matt Rinaldi, called the impeachment a “sham” and called on the senate to vote to retain Paxton in office.

Here’s where it gets interesting, even fun. Rinaldi targeted Speaker Phelan as a “liberal” trying to wrest control of the party from conservatives. Rinaldi implied that the voters of Texas had already spoken, re-electing Paxton in 2022, and what was going on was “a liberal speaker trying to undermine his conservative adversaries.”

Texas Republicans have started calling each other “liberals” — in a state whose gun laws have been rolled back to the 18th century, when it was part of Spanish-ruled Mexico.

The gradations of “liberal” and “conservative” among Texas Republicans appear to be unique to the state. Paxton has accused Phelan of “slow-walking” new gun legislation that would further loosen any restrictions still remaining on guns in the state. A case brought in Texas has already overturned the state’s law banning ownership of firearms by spouses accused or even convicted of domestic violence. The arch-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the law because there were no laws against domestic violence at the time the Second Amendment was written in 1791, and therefore could have been no laws restricting the sale or use of firearms by persons who committed domestic violence. The decision essentially returns state law to the 1700s — when Texas was still part of Spanish-ruled Mexico — when it comes to domestic violence and the regulation of firearms.

One major flashpoint in the internecine warfare within the Texas Republican Party is, of course, Donald Trump. Paxton has been a strong Trump supporter and has vowed to support him in 2024. Phelan has been less supportive of Trump and has been described in press reports as “a moderating influence” in the party.

Nobody in the Texas Republican Party, however, is “moderate” enough to stand up for the rights of the citizens of Texas to be safe in their own homes, schools, shopping malls and Walmart stores. That’s where freedom stands in Texas today. You’re free to go out and buy an AR-15 and all the ammunition you can carry, even when you’re too young to buy a drink in a bar, but you’re not free go to school or to the mall or to a church or even to sit in your home watching television without being shot and killed. That’s a line in the sand which neither faction in the Texas Republican Party is willing to cross.

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