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Beto O'Rourke's outburst at Abbott's news conference shows the spine Democrats need

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Americans witnessed something rare in Texas on Wednesday: a Democrat with a spine.

Gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke showed up at news conference about the horrific Robb Elementary School shooting and confronted Gov. Greg Abbott. He busted right into the middle of the briefing – decorum be damned – and said what a whole lot of Americans would like to say: “You’re doing nothing. You’re offering us nothing.”

He was, of course, shouted down.

One man on the stage angrily hollered: “I can’t believe you’re a sick son of a bitch who would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke interrupts a news conference held by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on May 25, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke interrupts a news conference held by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on May 25, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas.

He was whisked away with urgency, but not before creating a moment that resonated with those of us who know full well that politicians at that press conference – like Abbott  and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz – have bent over backward to loosen or block gun regulations and fight against things like Medicaid expansion, which would give people greater access to mental health care. Politicians who themselves routinely pull outrageous political stunts – like Cruz cooking bacon on a hot rifle or Abbott putting migrants on buses to Washington, D.C. – to make a point.

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Necessary urgency for the moment

Was O’Rourke’s viral outburst also political stunt? Absolutely.

Was it wrong to do that at a news conference the day after at least 19 children and two adults were gunned down at an elementary school? Some will say it absolutely was, and I can understand that perspective. But I was glad to see it, particularly on a day when Democratic Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin told reporters that no gun control measures would be taken up in the Senate until after Memorial Day. As if now is not the time for a bit of urgency.

Why do mass shootings keep happening? Because this is what we've allowed America to become.

A prayer vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
A prayer vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

We only made it 10 days after the Buffalo grocery store massacre in New York before the Uvalde elementary school shooting happened in Texas. And Democrats are comfortable saying, “Well, we’ve got the long weekend coming up, so we’ll just hold off on things for now”?

I’ll take O’Rourke making a righteous scene at a press conference over that ineffectual frittering any day.

My son never came home from Sandy Hook. My heart bleeds for Texas as I relive Dylan's murder.

Later, outside the event, O’Rourke continued talking about Abbott’s gun policies, his voice rising to a yell: “He has refused to support a ban on AR-15s and AK-47s. This 18-year-old who just turned 18 bought an AR-15 (style) and took it into an elementary school and shot kids in the face and killed them. Why are we letting this happen in this country? Why is this happening in this state? Year after year, city after city. This is on all of us if we do not do something.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

My response to that was: Yes. Thank you. More of this, please. More of this passion. More of this in-your-face resistance to people who respond to mass shootings by denying that America has a serious gun problem.

Could we prioritize lives over picnics?

We aren’t going to stop all gun violence. Ever. But we know full well the reasonable and broadly popular steps that can be taken to help make Americans, and American children most importantly, safer: universal background checks; an assault rifle ban; a federal red flag law; a liability insurance requirement for gun owners; a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Why won't most Republicans try to fix the gun problem? Will voters ever care?

I’d love to live in a country where we could all sit down and hash this whole gun thing out like reasonable people. But we don’t live in that country, and I don’t imagine we will as long as the National Rifle Association is lining the pockets of politicians who gladly blame mass shootings on everything but guns.

Like it or not, for people on my side of the fence, O’Rourke’s outburst was a refreshing display of chutzpah.

We need leaders unafraid to take a stand, not leaders who figure they can worry about such things after they’ve enjoyed their Memorial Day picnics.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook: facebook.com/RexIsAJerk

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Marc Murphy/Contributing cartoonist for The Courier Journal
Marc Murphy/Contributing cartoonist for The Courier Journal

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beto O'Rourke was right to confront Gov. Greg Abbott on Texas shooting