How the Texas GOP fuels anti-government paranoia

Second Amendment supporter and gun enthusiast Derek Ringley displays an unloaded pistol that was being sold in an impromptu auction across the street from a...
Second Amendment supporter and gun enthusiast Derek Ringley displays an unloaded pistol that was being sold in an impromptu auction across the street from a...
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A recent poll showed broad support nationwide for banning assault rifles. Only one demographic stood opposed: white men who didn’t finish college.

Texas Republican leaders who have degrees but pretend otherwise ably represent these uneducated white men. As Barack Obama spoke to the country about the need for common-sense gun safety in his second inaugural address today, Texas Republican leaders are leading from behind—in the polls, at least. Despite a national consensus in favor of banning assault weapons, outlawing high-capacity magazines, and closing the gun show loophole, our Republican leaders are standing in the doors of Texas shooting ranges, daring Obama to send in the troops. So far, this is just a metaphor.

A Dallas state representative promised to file a bill allowing teachers to pack heat in public schools. And in the state where Charles Whitman invented college mass shootings, a state senator offered a bill allowing college students to have guns on campus because, he said, “Law enforcement does a wonderful job, but they cannot personally protect 50,000 students.”

Texas has enough guns for every man, woman and child to have a couple each. Being a liberal means owning only one gun. When Texas installed metal detectors at the state capitol after a shooting, they allowed people with concealed handgun licenses to bypass security lines. So these bills expanding gun rights are mainstream.

But where Texas Republicans really make their mark is anti-government paranoia. Attorney General Greg Abbott ran web ads inviting “law-abiding New York gun owners” to move to Texas to avoid having to follow that state’s new gun law.   And former vagrant and current congressman Steve Stockman was such an embarrassment that voters fired him in 1996 after one term. He won a new term in November and recently threatened to impeach Obama if he used executive powers for gun control. This kind of crazy is the new normal.

Freshman state Rep. Steve Toth, a Woodlands Republican, rose to prominence recently when he proposed throwing federal agents in state prison if they dared enforce any new anti-gun laws. “It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama,” said Toth, who recently took an oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States … so help me God.”

Toth addressed the rally at the capitol on Gun Appreciation Day. Five people were injured by accidental shootings at three other Gun Appreciation Day events around the country, but in Austin the only violence was done to reason and good taste. “The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them,” said Toth, pulling off the neat trick of using the worst possible post-Newtown image while also acting concerned for children’s safety.

Sen. Ted Cruz put an Orwellian flourish on “Meet the Press” when he said, “There actually isn’t the so-called ‘gun show loophole.’ That doesn’t exist. Any licensed firearm dealer who sells at a gun show has to have a background check.”

True, any licensed firearm dealer at a gun show must conduct a background check, but a quarter of the sellers at gun shows are private citizens who do no background checks. And thanks to Craigslist, the entire world’s an unregulated gun show where private gun sales make up 40% of all firearm transactions.

When Obama proposed sweeping gun safety laws, Gov. Rick Perry responded with all the dignity due to a man who jogs with a laser-sighted Ruger loaded with hollow-point bullets to shoot snakes, saying the post-Newtown gun-safety push “disgusts me, personally.”

Perry suggested a private-sector solution: “There is evil prowling in the world—it shows up in our movies, video games and online fascinations, and finds its way into vulnerable hearts and minds,” he said. “As a free people, let us choose what kind of people we will be. Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help. Above all, let us pray for our children.”

Not all Texans are 2nd Amendment absolutists who believe that the solution to mass shootings is more guns. By focusing their efforts on what uneducated white men want, our Republican leaders are making us look like unthinkingly pro-gun cowboys who don’t care that our children are just as vulnerable as kids in Newtown were. An armed security guard hired after the Sandy Hook shooting made the news when he left his loaded handgun in a student bathroom.