After Santa Fe HS Shooting, Texas Lawmakers Have “Focused on Anything But Guns”

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We look at the latest in a series of deadly mass shootings at U.S. schools: Friday morning in Texas, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered Santa Fe High School and shot dead 10 people—eight fellow students and two teachers. He used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father to carry out the murders. Ahead of the attack, Pagourtzis posted on his Facebook page a picture of a T-shirt he wore Friday that read “Born to Kill.” Some Texas officials responded to Friday’s shooting with calls for prayers and blamed abortion and violent video games. The incoming National Rifle Association president, Oliver North, blamed Ritalin for school shootings. We get an update from Kolten Parker of The Texas Observer and Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we look at the latest in a long series of deadly mass shootings at schools in the United States. The latest took place Friday morning, just after 7:30 a.m. Texas time, when a student entered his Santa Fe High School, outside of Houston, wearing a trench coat, and shot dead 10 people—eight fellow students and two teachers. Seventeen-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis used a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver taken from his father to carry out the attack, which officials said he planned to end by committing suicide, but instead he surrendered to police. Authorities say he also reportedly planted various types of explosives in a home and a car. He’s being held without bond on charges of capital murder. One Santa Fe High School student told local station ABC13 she wasn’t surprised by the mass shooting at her school.

FOTI KALLERGIS: Was there a part of you that was like, “This isn’t real. This would not happen in my school”?

PAIGE CURRY: No, there wasn’t.

FOTI KALLERGIS: Why so?

PAIGE CURRY: It’s been happening everywhere. I felt—I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too. So, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised. I was just scared.

AMY GOODMAN: The Santa Fe school district reportedly had an active-shooter plan, two armed police officers at the high school, and had voted last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program. Ahead of the attack, Pagourtzis posted on his Facebook page a T-shirt that read “Born to Kill,” as well as images of his trench coat and an explanation of its decorations, noting that “Hammer and Sickle=Rebellion,” “Rising Sun=Kamikaze Tactics,” “Iron Cross=Bravery,” and “Baphomet=Evil.”

On Sunday, the National Rifle Association’s incoming president, Oliver North, blamed Ritalin for school shootings. Some Texas officials responded to Friday’s shooting with calls for prayers, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz. This prompted a reaction from at least one Santa Fe High School student on Twitter, who responded to Cruz, writing, quote, “as a sfhs tudent, all i can ask you to do is vote for gun reform. you have the power to help prevent these things. thank you for your prayers, but we need action as well.”

Meanwhile, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said the Santa Fe school shooting may have been enabled by Texas’ schools having too many entrances and exits. He spoke at a news conference with Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Cruz.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: We may have to look at the design of our schools, moving forward, and retrofitting schools that are already built. And what I mean by that is, there are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses in Texas. Over 8,000 campuses. There aren’t enough people to put a guard at every entrance and exit. You would be talking 25,000, 30,000, 40,000 people. But if we can protect a large office building or a courthouse or any major facility, maybe we need to look at limiting the entrance and the exits into our schools, so that we can have law enforcement looking at the people who come in one or two entrances. Schools may have to have their start day, not all students show up at once, so that we don’t have every student—there are 1,400 students at this school—trying to get in the door at once. We’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to think out of the box.

AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick also blamed abortion. His comments drew ridicule from some critics, but he stood by his comments Sunday during an interview on ABC’s This Week.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: We have to think out of the box, George. We can stagger our start time. Let school—let kids get to school a little earlier. Let us keep eyes on them. You know, the Israelis believe in—in detect and deter and deny. We don’t do a very good job of that in our schools.

AMY GOODMAN: In the same program, ABC got response to Patrick’s comments from Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

FRED GUTTENBERG: I think those are the most idiotic comments I’ve ever heard regarding gun safety. Let me be clear: He should be removed from office for his failure to want to protect the citizens of Texas. To hear him continue to make the argument, after 10 people died in his state, that guns are not the issue is simply a crock.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as The Washington Post reports that 2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than soldiers around the world, U.S. soldiers. This is in part because of the 17 people killed in February in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, among other massacres. March for Our Lives, the group founded by Parkland students who organized nationwide protests in March, tweeted support for the Santa Fe High School students, saying, “This is not the price of freedom. This is the most fatal shooting since the one at our school and tragedies like this will continue to happen unless action is taken,” unquote.

Meanwhile, high school students in Washington, D.C., entered the U.S. Capitol building Friday to demand House Speaker Paul Ryan pass gun reform legislation. Several of the students were arrested.

STUDENT: We’re here because we want to see Paul Ryan allow the vote to pass, because, as you guys saw today, 10—upwards of 10 people have been murdered like animals—have been murdered like animals in their own schoolroom, and this is unacceptable. This happens every single day. And we shouldn’t have to go to school worried that we’re going to have to bury our friends or that our friends are going to have to bury us.

AMY GOODMAN: The children were carrying signs that said “Allow the Vote.”

Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called for Texas to take a moment of silence at 10 a.m. to honor the memory of the victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting. The school will be closed Monday and Tuesday. At a major award ceremony, Kelly Clarkson, a native of Texas, said she wasn’t going to honor a moment of silence last night at the ceremony; instead, she said, we need action.

When we come back, we’ll host a roundtable discussion with Texas Observer's Kolten Parker and Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense, along with The Intercept's Murtaza Hussain on the Pakistani exchange student who was among the dead. She was the first funeral—hers was the first funeral yesterday. We’ll also talk with Soraya Chemaly of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project about how the high school shooter may have targeted a female student he had aggressively pursued for months. He killed that student. This is Democracy Now! Back in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road” by Shelby Lynne. For our radio listeners, we just showed the video images of the 10 people the high school shooter killed at Santa Fe High School in Texas—eight students and two teachers. I’m Amy Goodman. Yes, today we’re looking at the latest in a long series of deadly mass shootings at schools in the United States. The latest one took place just Friday morning, when Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered his Santa Fe High School, outside Houston, Texas, wearing a trench coat and shot dead 10 people—eight fellow students and two teachers. He used a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver taken from his father to carry out the attack, which officials said he had planned to end by committing suicide, but instead surrendered to police. This is Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick speaking to ABC News about the cause of Friday’s shooting.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and, particularly, violent video games, which now outsell movies and music. Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, may have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of video, violent games.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the lieutenant governor of Texas.

For more, we’re joined in our roundtable discussion by four people. We’re going to begin in Austin, Texas, with The Texas Observer’s Kolten Parker and Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense.

Kolten, you’ve been covering this extensively throughout the weekend. Can you talk about what we know at this point, who the shooter is, what exactly happened, who was killed, and then the state’s response?

KOLTEN PARKER: Sure. I think around 7:30 Friday morning, the attacker made his way into the school. What I’ve read is that he fired, you know, through the art room’s door, entered in. Students tried to hide, tried to get out, wasn’t able to. Eventually, despite there being two school resource officers who were armed and at least one coming to try to stop the shooter, he was able to kill 10 people—students and teachers—and injure about 13 others.

I started to hear about the shooting maybe an hour after the shots rang out on Friday morning. And it was immediately clear, you know, 10 or 15 minutes, that it wasn’t a false alarm or anything like that. It was pretty early on that there was reports of victims being out. And for a few hours maybe, there wasn’t much of a response from officials, as everybody was trying to sort of put two and two together to figure out what was going on. But then, throughout the day on Friday, it started with a press conference around 1:30 p.m., about six hours after the shooting occurred, with the lieutenant governor, or Dan Patrick; the governor, Greg Abbott; and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, which you just referenced in the opener.

And I think, generally, you know, the response has not—you know, as you guys mentioned, has, at least in Texas, focused pretty much on anything but guns: you know, school safety, culture, abortion even. You know, we have a runoff election coming up on Tuesday. Dan Patrick is very, you know, well versed in politics, and that’s how he got to where he is today. And so, I think his natural reaction with anything is to play politics, and I think that’s what we saw with this situation here.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters his team is examining various methods to boost school security.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: I personally have spoken to more than a hundred people from the Santa Fe area. And I consistently get the same solution offered up, and that is better security at our schools, better control of ingress and egress from schools, and perhaps metal detectors. I don’t know if that’s the solution or not, but these are all the kinds of things that need to be put on the table.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaking Sunday. This is Governor Abbott addressing the National Rifle Association, the NRA, annual meeting that was just recently held in Dallas.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: Someone said that the problem is not guns, the problem is hearts without God. It’s homes without discipline. It’s communities without values. In this country, we have a core value that our nation is founded on, and that core value is our United States Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Governor Abbott addressing the NRA convention. Kolten Parker, I mean, you’ve covered the gun issue for like five years in Texas. You were at the NRA convention. President Bush [sic] and Vice President Pence also addressed the convention.

KOLTEN PARKER: Yeah. It was sort of surreal on Friday to remember, just two or three weeks ago—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean President Trump.

KOLTEN PARKER: Sure—two or three weeks ago, being in Dallas and listening to—starting from Trump through Abbott through Cruz—Patrick wasn’t there, but everybody basically made the same point, which was that the only change in gun laws needs to be to expand access to guns, and, beyond that, that it’s more of a culture problem in America, and, specifically with Abbott, you know, the quote right there, that it’s hearts without God, not guns. So I think, to Abbott’s credit, he came out on Friday and specifically said, I think after getting some criticism online, that we need to do more than pray. But I think time will tell, you know, what that actually looks like in Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the new National Rifle Association president, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, that central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, helping the Reagan administration circumvent Congress to secretly sell arms to Iran and use the money paid back to them to fund the U.S.-backed Contras in Nicaragua. North has also been a Fox News contributor. Speaking Sunday on Fox News, the NRA President-elect North blamed a culture of violence and Ritalin for the shooting.

OLIVER NORTH: The problem that we’ve got is we’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease. And the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence. They’ve been drugged in many cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male. And they’re young teenagers in most cases. And they’ve come through a culture where violence is commonplace. All we need to do is turn on the TV, go to a movie. If you look at what has happened to the young people, many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into this conversation Ed Scruggs, the vice chair and spokesperson for Texas Gun Sense. If you can respond to, well, first and foremost, what happened on Friday morning at Santa Fe High School, just outside Houston, the casualties right now, 10 dead—two teachers, eight students—and then the response since, all the people we’ve just been listening to?

ED SCRUGGS: Well, my initial response, and I believe the response of many across the state: anger. I can’t really say I’m shocked. Earlier in the program, there was a reference to a clip of a young lady at Santa Fe High School saying she wasn’t shocked. She almost expected it would happen. I think I was here with you on this program back in November, after Sutherland Springs, and we talked about the enormous death toll and what might happen after that in—relating to gun violence within the state of Texas. Basically, back then, our state leaders said nothing. Our governor didn’t say much. Dan Patrick didn’t even say much. And so, when I saw the reports coming over social media on Friday, my initial hope was: OK, perhaps this is a false alarm. We’ve had several close calls recently, which I’m not sure people realize. In Illinois last week, a young man was stopped by a resource officer before he could open fire. I was hoping it would be something along that line. But Kolten was right: It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be a false alarm. And I went into a meeting for one hour, and when I came out, the death toll was eight to 10. My just initial response was anger, with a little disgust.

My view, I think the view of our organization and millions of people across this street—or, across the state, these are all preventable deaths. Almost every death by gun violence is preventable. But these mass shootings, these school shootings are preventable. The state has neglected focusing on them for far too long. And I still think, even after Sutherland Springs, there were people here who thought we were immune to something like this happening. And I really don’t understand why it’s part of a cultural aspect of Texas. Because we have an established gun culture here, I think people believe they’re protected from this. The school had two armed resource officers, so it was not a gun-free zone. People just did not think this would happen. And yet it did.

I think the state’s response since then has been, on one hand, very problematic, with some of the comments you recently played here, and also a little bit of positivity and hope. I think for the governor to come out and make the statement that we need to do more than thoughts and prayers is actually progress, because he rarely says very little about these incidents. And it shows that the events of recent months, the March for Our Lives, the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the incredible response to the March for Our Lives here in Austin—we had 20,000 people march on the Capitol—I think it has made a slight impact. At least they had to acknowledge that. And his statement was a roundabout way of admitting that, yes, Texas has a serious gun problem, and it has a threat to its security.

Now, in terms of dealing with the threat, I think they’re looking at it in a very mono-focused way, looking at just school security. Dan Patrick actually has some points when he’s talking about entrance and exits to schools. It is a big security problem in Texas. But where I think the criticism comes in is that it appears to be all he’s saying that we need to do, and that’s just incorrect. The gun problem here goes way beyond just school shootings, in a number of mass murder-suicides. We had one earlier last week in Ponder, Texas, near Denton, five people killed in a vicious murder-suicide involving an ex-husband, three young children, his ex-wife and a boyfriend. He then turned the gun on himself. And we were just beginning to try to focus on that, when the shooting in Santa Fe occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about the link between mass shootings and violence against women in a moment. But I wanted to turn to the police chief of Houston. Houston is largely a Democratic urban area of Texas versus the more conservative rural and suburban ones. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to Friday’s shooting by calling for new gun control measures and metal detectors in schools. The Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, also spoke out against political inaction on gun control.

POLICE CHIEF ART ACEVEDO: We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people that are doing nothing, that are elected, into the hands of the people, to see that the will of the people in this country is actually carried out. … And this one specifically, one of the things that we need to consider is, if you have firearms in your home and you do not secure them and you don’t secure them in a manner that can preclude someone from grabbing them and taking them and carrying out this carnage, that there is a criminal liability that it attaches.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo. Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense, can you talk about the legislation you’re supporting in Texas and what kind of opposition you face? And will—do you think that will change after this?

ED SCRUGGS: Well, I do want to quickly mention Art Acevedo. He used to be the chief of police here in Austin, where I live. I count him as a friend, a very brave spokesman. And I think what you hear coming out of Houston from the mayor and the police chief, it illustrates a cultural divide that is growing in Texas between urban areas and rural areas. And you see it on display right there: Art Acevedo, somewhat blunt, but very to the point and matter-of-fact about, “Hey, this is what we need to do.” So I think that that will have an impact in coming years.

But in terms of legislation, our organization has been just working to get into the doors of lawmakers the last four to six years. And we’re realistic about what we face here, but there are some areas of common ground that we should be able to reach, if we could sit down today. And those would be improving safe storage, gun safety education—which was a factor in this event, no question about that—also improving background checks, red flag laws—similar to what was passed in Florida after Parkland—and also doing more to streamline laws regarding the confiscation of weapons and taking them from the hands of abusive spouses. The law here is very, very vague. We have received bipartisan support in private conversations on those issues. We just have an intractable, entrenched political system in our Legislature. It was mentioned earlier, our electoral system here, the majority-Republican control and gerrymandering of districts, etc. The NRA is extremely powerful in the Legislature. They don’t spend a lot of money, because they don’t have to, because, really, they’re playing on the NRA’s playing field in many ways. And so, lawmakers are basically terrified of being primaried. And so it is hard to get any gun legislation, no matter how commonsense it may be or how good of an idea it is, to actually get it moving.

But what we’re hopeful of is that as these terrible incidents continue—and they will continue—that eventually the pressure is going to mount, and we will see some movement. I think public opinion—we have seen some movement here in Texas. A Quinnipiac poll about three weeks ago, Texas-specific poll, showed that 55 percent of Texans supported stricter gun laws. And that was a 14-point margin over those who did not. A majority of Texans favored a federal ban on assault-style weapons. We haven’t seen that before. And 94 percent of Texans favored background checks for all gun buyers. This puts us in the league with a lot—most other states. It shows that the events, I think, of recent months have had an impact on public opinion. And something tells me somewhere that Greg Abbott may have seen that poll. But it’s not just public opinion in the state. It’s who votes in the state and where they vote. And that makes it much more complicated than it might be in some other states.

AMY GOODMAN: Kolten Parker of The Texas Observer, you wrote a piece after the NRA convention about Governor Greg Abbott there at the convention saying, “The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.” And you also have been closely following Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, who blamed abortion and other issues for this massacre. Can you talk about his power and his power base within the Legislature? He could be Texas’s next governor, is that right?

KOLTEN PARKER: Sure. I mean, I think if you ask him, he would say that he’s focused on being the lieutenant governor. He’s said as much in the past. But where he sits, he controls—basically, he’s the president of the Senate. And, you know, the way that Texas’s government is set up, in some ways, he’s as powerful, if not more, than the governor at times. And he’s also, you know, very skillful at politics. He comes from Houston. He was a shock jock, a conservative radio host, before he got into politics. He came into the Senate as somebody who was making a lot of noise as a freshman, causing a lot of hype around himself. And as soon as he became lieutenant governor, things began to change—

AMY GOODMAN: He got a—Kolten, he got a vasectomy on the air?

KOLTEN PARKER: Yeah, he got a vasectomy on the air, which is sort of one thing that gets mentioned in stories now. There’s a lot of other things that he did to sort of—I mean, it was something that he was—you know, in an objective way, he’s a skillful speaker and politician. And so, things like that lead into his tenure as lieutenant governor.

He changed rules in the Senate that had long been traditional to keep sort of the balance of power between the majority party and the minority party. Last session, he was extremely vocal on the bathroom bill, which was an anti-trans measure that took up much of the oxygen of the Legislature. You know, there wasn’t much time for guns last session, if there was any appetite anyways, because most of the session was spent talking about the bathroom bill.

In Texas, we have a part-time Legislature. They meet for about six months every other year. The next time that they will meet is—begins this coming January. And I think we’ll see a lot of this discussion now and, you know, theoretically, the discussion that will happen at these roundtables that Governor Abbott has called for this week. I think, you know, it’s a long time before the session starts. So, depending on what happens from now until then, if more shootings occur, and what happens in the midterm general election this November, I think, will determine how much of an appetite there is at the Capitol. But I think one thing that you already see playing out is that Dan Patrick is going to take the far-right side of things like usual. It sounds like he’s in agreeance with the incoming NRA president that this is not a gun issue, that this is a culture issue. Abortion is, you know, largely inaccessible in Texas now, so it’s sort of interesting to hear Patrick blame violence in Texas on something that they’ve been so adamant about getting rid of in the state. But again, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, and we’re going to start off our next segment by talking about Sabika Aziz Sheikh. She is the Pakistani high school exchange student who died in the killing on Friday. Hers was the first funeral yesterday. Her family from Pakistan couldn’t come. They will hold a funeral in Pakistan. We’ve been speaking with Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense and Kolten Parker of The Texas Observer, who’s covered the gun issue and many other issues in Texas for years. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “The Times They Are a-Changin’” performed by Jennifer Hudson at the March for Our Lives against gun violence in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

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