It’s been a week since the horror that overtook our neighboring community of Uvalde, and the horror still lingers. How can anyone of us put this mass shooting away, the very thought of those nineteen innocents and their two teachers reminding us that they could have been our own.
And now the controversies arise, regarding the role that law enforcement played, might have played, should have played. However, we need to focus on another issue, one that has actually played a role in these mass tragedies since they began to infect our country. That issue is the claim made by Governor Abbott when he appeared on the scene, claiming that this tragedy, once again, needed to be laid at the feet of the mentally ill.
Last Wednesday, he said the Uvalde shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health.” Yet just one month earlier, on April 22, he had slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.
His overt lack of concern for the mental health of all of us should come as no surprise, given the chronic lack of support provided by the state for mental health services in Texas and the equally distressing consequences.
For example: In Texas, 3.3 million adults, one out of nine, suffered mental illness between 2017 -2018, and nearly 840,000 of them reported unmet needs. Advocates recommend at least 50 psychiatric hospitals per 100,000 population; yet Texas has fewer than eight. Our own Webb County community, with a population of over 274,847 has only three psychiatrists listed as providing services. And Texas ranks last out of all fifty states and the District of Columbia for over all access to mental health care. This last black mark is one that has been ours for decades. As far back as 2011, Texas on the Brink, a compilation of interstate rankings by the Legislative Study Group in the Texas House, showed that Texas ranked dead last in per capita state funding for mental health services.
Add more injury to this dangerous state of affairs, Uvalde County, mostly rural where one fifth of its 25,456 mostly Latino residents live in poverty, state funds budgeted for “health and welfare” ranged from $2.8-$3.8 million.
Let me be clear. I do not deny that the young man who committed this horrendous act of violence was driven by motives far beyond reason. What I protest is this governor’s refusal to listen to his community, the grand majority of Texans firmly in favor of reasonable gun control measures. There are reams of data out there of the multiple attempts that Democrats in our state legislature, even bi-partisan Congressmen, have proposed reasonable, research-based gun control measures, only to be stranded and/or defeated by their GOP counterparts.
And, yes, absolutely, Texas needs to do far more for those who are mentally ill, but if anyone carries responsibility for this dearth of services, it actually is the majority that controls our State Government. What I find offensive is Governor Abbott’s management by crisis ploy, laying the blame for the Uvalde tragedy on his assumption that the shooter was mentally ill, period, end of discussion.
Had reasonable gun control measures been in place, as they have been proposed over and over again, this eighteen year old would not have been able to purchase two weapons of mass destruction. And yes, if much needed mental health services had been available, perhaps his mental state might have been recognized and addressed.
But neither were reasonable gun control measures available in our state, now considered the gun capital of the world, nor were much needed mental health services available. Both of these years ago, as well as now, the responsibility of the State of Texas and the governor who pledged to serve all of us.
I am reminded of a proverb familiar, perhaps, to all of us: “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me; Fool me three times, shame on all of us.” And now, with our children massacred in their school rooms, it’s gone on far enough, much too far.
Any sane, informed and compassionate person should realize that it is long past time for our legislators to act responsibly, in this case on measures in support of much needed mental health services for our Texas Communities. And… at this point, even more urgent, our Texas legislators must act immediately to address this gun crisis that has infected all of our communities. Governor Abbott: heed the request from our state legislators, especially our own SD 21 Senator Judith Zaffirini, who for decades has been a powerful advocate for persons living with mental illness, today serving as Vice Chair of the Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety..
Governor Abbott, call an immediate emergency legislative session to remedy this crisis!
Sylvia Bruni, County Chair-Webb County Democratic Party