Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke hosted a town hall in Dallas on Wednesday to offer his plans to “protect Texas kids.” It was the first of a series of forums O’Rourke has scheduled over the topic. He will be in Austin on Friday and in San Antonio on Saturday.
Around 750 people were at the forum on Wednesday afternoon at the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center Gymnasium in the Red Bird area of Dallas.
O’Rourke spoke about meeting with the parents of Alithia Ramirez just days after the 10-year-old girl was murdered in her classroom at Robb Elementary School. Alithia’s mother asked O’Rourke to do two things: remember her daughter’s name and ensure that no mother would feel the way she was feeling after her daughter’s death.
“I thought about that accountability that’s now on me, that’s now on all of us, to fulfill her wishes,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke criticized Governor Greg Abbott for how Abbott has handled guns after mass shootings in the state.
“You cannot address gun violence without addressing guns,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke also indicated he supports ending the sale of “assault-style rifles” and buybacks but says he would start with issues where there is more common ground, such as universal background checks, red-flag laws, and safe-storage laws.
“These are places where gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans, Democrats, independents alike are on the same page,” he said.
O’Rourke then passed the microphone to Shaquana Persley, whose 13-year-old daughter, Shavon Randle, was kidnapped and shot to death in 2017.
“Shavon was my baby girl,” Persley said. “These guns, oh my God, y’all. It played a big part in this whole situation. We just gotta find a way, y’all. We all are at stake here.”
Aside from the topic of gun violence, O’Rourke’s campaign also criticized Abbott’s handling of last year’s winter storm and the state’s foster care system.
“On Abbott’s watch, Texas has experienced six mass shootings, hundreds of kids in Texas’ worsening foster care system have died or been trafficked in state care, and the state’s deadly power grid failure left children to freeze to death,” the O’Rourke campaign said in a statement announcing this week’s series of forums.
“Additionally, Texas leads the nation in the number of children living in poverty, as well as the number of uninsured children who are unable to see a doctor or receive mental health care of any kind,” he added.
Hours before O’Rourke’s town hall, Abbott took actions of his own.
Abbott sent a letter to the Texas School Safety Center director, ordering an immediate comprehensive school safety review to ensure proper procedures are being followed at all public schools to maximize safety.
“I am charging the TxSSC, in coordination with the TEA, to develop and implement a plan to conduct random inspections to assess access control measures of Texas school districts. Among other reviews, your team should begin conducting in-person, unannounced, random intruder detection audits on school districts.”
He added that he wants the final report of findings sent to him and the Texas Legislature by October 1.
Abbott also sent a letter to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, requesting they each form a special legislative committee to make recommendations to prevent future school shootings.
Abbott wrote the committees should focus on school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety.
“As Texans mourn the tragedy that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde last week, we as a state must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence,” he wrote.
Other high-profile politicians have weighed in on the issue.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “If we’re going to save these kids and stop mass shootings from occurring, we have to have people that are prepared and trained to react appropriately and quickly.”
He continued, “A gun law would not have made a difference for him. He was willing to kill people. That’s a violation of law. He didn’t care about that.”
Ted Cruz tweeted, “What inevitably stops these horrific crimes: Armed good guys stopping armed bad guys.”