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Column: California is a role model on gun control, but it’ll take Texas incompetence to expand it

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Gov. Gavin Newsom loves to hold up California as an example of why Republicans should get off their collective, NRA-addled duffs and help Democrats overhaul the nation’s gun laws.

And with good reason. Our unflinching commitment to gun control has put California among the states with the lowest rates of dying by a bullet, down 10% since 2005.

“California leads this national conversation,” Newsom insisted this week. “When California moves, other states move in the same direction.”

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And yet, I suspect that if any state can finally persuade congressional Republicans — and their constituents — to back a deal that, say, bans high-capacity magazines or strengthens background checks, it won’t be role-model California.

It’ll be incompetent Texas.

We’re getting a real-time demonstration of the many dangers of gun culture, propped up by a patriarchy of cowboy-hatted police officers and politicians and carried out in a state that prides itself on the normalcy of gunslinging.

Just think about all we’ve witnessed since Tuesday.

An angry 18-year-old walked into an elementary school with a high-powered rifle in the small town of Uvalde just days before summer break. In minutes, he slaughtered 19 students and two teachers.

It is bad enough that the gunman, identified by authorities as Salvador Ramos, was able to easily and legally acquire the rifle he used.

Now we know that after he shot his grandmother in the face and stole and crashed her truck outside Robb Elementary School, he shot at two people across the street. Then he shot at the school.

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Rather than being confronted by a school resource officer, as authorities initially reported, Ramos hopped a fence meant to keep shooters like him out and walked into the parking lot and into the school through an open door. Then he walked around for a while, going down hallways. He entered an empty classroom before finally finding one full of students.

“He walked in unobstructed,” Victor Escalon Jr., a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said during a 15-minute news conference Thursday. “He was not confronted by anybody.”

Meanwhile, outside, a police officer responding to a 911 call drove right by Ramos.

The incompetence gets worse.

Minutes later, officers with the Uvalde Police Department entered the school and shot at Ramos. Ramos shot back. The officers didn’t press forward, though, even when backup arrived.

“At that point, if they proceeded any further not knowing where the suspect was at, they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed, and that gunman would have had an opportunity to kill other people inside that school,” Chris Olivarez, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, told CNN on Thursday.

Inside, children ducking bullets were calling 911 for help.

Outside, instead of entering the school as shots were still being fired, officers decided to shove and handcuff parents who were trying to save their children — even drawing weapons on them.

One mother of a second- and third-grader told the Wall Street Journal that after demanding that officers go inside instead of milling about outside, she was put in handcuffs for interfering in an active investigation. She got free, though, dashed into the school and ran out with her kids.

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Once a tactical team with Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement finally arrived, local police wouldn’t let them inside the school.

It took more than an hour for Ramos to be killed, and only then by a Border Patrol agent who drove to the school on his day off.

“Obviously, based on the information we have, there were children in that classroom that were still at risk,” Steven C. McCraw, director and colonel of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said during a news conference Friday. “From the benefit of hindsight where I’m sitting now, of course it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision. Period.”

Everything that could have gone wrong seemed to go wrong.

Like many Americans, I was still learning the names and faces of the children and teachers who were gunned down when President Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order to “deliver the most significant police reform in decades.”

It was the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the timing seemed awkward, even forced.

With Vice President Kamala Harris and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), an L.A. mayoral candidate, looking on, Biden called the executive order “a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation. To address profound fear and trauma — exhaustion — that particularly Black Americans have experienced for generations.”

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More transparency and more accountability from police are what all Americans need, especially in this era of mass shootings.

It’s easy to dismiss what happened in Uvalde as the incompetence of one law enforcement agency in one small town. To deem as a one-off the tall tales told by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the “amazing courage” of police “running toward gunfire,” as well as the shifting stories told by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

But this is far from the first mass shooting in which the good guys with guns have seemed scared to go after the bad guys with guns and later tried to save face. And as long as congressional Republicans, through their inaction, continue to allow unfettered access to high-powered rifles that can slaughter dozens in minutes, it probably won’t be the last.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Abbott promised that new laws would be passed in Texas as a result of the shooting, though he downplayed the need for background checks for firearm purchases.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said.

Abbott also called for a full investigation into what really happened Tuesday at Robb Elementary School.

Ultimately, the answer is gun culture. If this bungling can happen in Texas, the red state of holster-wearing suburbanites and swaggering lawmen in cowboy hats, it can and will happen anywhere.

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