Just when you thought U.S. politics couldn’t get any more absurd.
A press conference about the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history erupted into a profanity-laced shouting match on Wednesday.
The outburst started when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke stood up in the front row and demanded that Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott take some kind of meaningful action about school shootings.
A crew of middle-aged Texans hulking around Abbott on stage then proceeded to shout O’Rourke down, while security escorted him out of the room.
But not before several spicy phrases were exchanged.
“The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing,” O’Rourke said, waving an accusatory finger at the assembled state leaders. “This is totally predictable.”
“Sit down and don’t play this stunt,” said GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was standing behind Abbott on the stage.
O’Rourke did not sit down. Instead, the exchange only got saltier.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, who had been sitting behind Abbott, turned the volume up further: “Sir, you’re out of line! Sir, you are out of line!”
McLaughlin continued: “I can’t believe you’re a sick son of a bitch that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue!”
“This is on you,” O’Rourke retorted to the group. “Until you choose to do something different, this will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed, just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”
“It’s on assholes like you,” McLaughlin thundered back. “Why don’t you get out of here?”
And with that, O’Rourke ambled out of the auditorium, while onlookers gawked and made incomprehensible outbursts about the Constitution’s First Amendment protections of freedom of speech, although what they said could not be readily understood.
O’Rourke’s stance on gun restrictions is well known. In a debate during his failed 2020 presidential run, O’Rourke gave a famously full-throated defense of his plan to buy back assault rifles, saying: “Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
After O’Rourke left, Abbott boasted about signing 17 laws that he claimed had increased the security of schools. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested a further safety precaution might be to limit the number of doors on schools—to keep would-be shooters fumbling around for an entrance, and supposedly give law enforcement a few more precious moments to stop them.
The assembled leaders of Texas spoke a lot about God and mental health, said the whole thing could have been worse, and added they didn’t think any new legislation to make it harder to purchase powerful assault rifles might make a difference.
The shooter purchased an AR-15-style assault rifle legally last week, shortly after his 18th birthday. On Tuesday, he used it to shoot his own grandmother, before killing 19 children and two teachers in the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.