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Panicking Over Paper Cuts

The hysteria over Governor Greg Abbott’s joke at a gun range is ridiculous.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the newly opened The Range in South Austin Friday, May 26, 2017.
(Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott set off a firestorm of controversy yesterday when he bodyslammed a reporter and broke his glasses…

Just kidding. That, of course, was Montana’s new Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte. (Yeah, yeah, allegedly bodyslammed.)

Let’s try this again. Abbott caused a scandal when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of Congress Avenue and not lose supporters…

No, no. That was President Donald Trump, who made a similar claim about being able to shoot someone in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue.

The actual cause for yesterday’s kerfuffle: Abbott waved around a scary-looking piece of paper.

On Friday, Abbott visited an indoor shooting range in South Austin to celebrate the signing of Senate Bill 16, which reduces the fees for handgun licenses, and as the Austin American-Statesman reported:

Abbott proved a good shot and, proudly displaying the target showing his marksmanship, the governor joked, according to the Texas Tribune reporter and photographer who were within earshot, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”

In other words, Abbott acted like pretty much every single person who shoots a gun at a piece of paper and gets a nice grouping: waved it around and joked about intimidating the other people who are there. I’ve done it myself: after a morning shooting at a friend’s place in Florida a few years ago, I posted a photo of the target and joked that my guy friends were “all scared of me now.” Was I planning to shoot any of them? Of course not.

Abbott was never planning to shoot anyone either, but that hasn’t prevented a flood of hysterical articles bemoaning the governor’s “threat.” Here at Texas Monthly, Mimi Swartz worried about threats against journalists and pondered whether she could “depend on Abbott” to keep her safe. Ken Herman at the Statesman acknowledged that he knew Abbott was joking, but also wrote, “there’s nothing funny about threatened gun or physical violence against [journalists].”

Again, however, Abbott was not threatening anyone, and the members of the Texas political press corps know they faced no danger at all, except perhaps an inadvertent paper cut.

Quorum Report Editor Scott Braddock observed that there might be extra sensitivity lately because of Trump’s comments and the recent incident in Montana, but he scoffed at the idea that Abbott presented any danger.

“I can’t think of any Texas politician on either side of the aisle who I’m afraid would assault me—and I’m tough on them,” he said. When asked specifically if he worried about Abbott, Braddock gave an emphatic, “No. That’s easy.”

Another reporter who was present at the range with Abbott yesterday shared Braddock’s certainty: “No, I do not believe the governor is interested in physically hurting reporters in any way.”

Yet another member of the political press corps, who asked not to be named, said that it was possible a Texas elected official would physically assault a reporter, but “not any of the top three” and “absolutely not, never” Abbott.

There just simply isn’t a logical way to argue that any reporter in this state fears being shot or otherwise attacked by Abbott, especially among those who have covered him for years. You won’t find anyone who can argue with a straight face that he would ever act in such a way.

When Abbott tweeted the Gonzales flag and its “Come and Take It” motto in January 2016 in response to the Obama administration’s planned gun control efforts, he never actually pointed a cannon at President Obama.

And in June 2015, when Abbott wanted to celebrate signing the open carry and campus carry bills, he celebrated exactly the same way he did yesterday: by going to a shooting range, this time in Pflugerville. Back then, he also displayed his target sheet with another nice grouping to the reporters present, and they somehow all survived the experience—no one even got a paper cut.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.

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  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    So as a reporter you’re okay with someone shoving a gun in your face for doing your job? Okay. Sure.

    • bnuckols

      Can’t you read?

  • Jed

    i like how we can be confident that there are three elected officials in texas won’t shoot you. but not four.

    for the benefit of the writer, the fact that you threaten your friends and they apparently enjoy it really has little to do with what would be appropriate behavior for a governor.

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  • Jed

    duterte, the dictator, is reported to have “joked” to his soldiers about their opportunities to commit rape while the country is under martial law.

    is that a ridiculous paper cut, too? are the women of the philippines just another bunch of snowflakes?

  • Jill Clark

    Bringing up the threats and assaults of other Republicans is not the way to make the case that Abbott’s “jokes” are benign.

  • crazyworld

    This is bullcrap. I’m sick of these cowardly men who make threats, veiled or otherwise, and then pretend it was just a joke or that the other side is too sensitive. That is exactly what bullies do. They clearly want to intimidate, or harm, reporters who are doing their job. Abbott himself may not intend to harm a reporter but his comments give cover to less stable or angrier people who do. Decent men and women should stop enabling this sickness.

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  • If we can all agree that there are whack jobs out there, even allegedly innocuous comments made by gov’t officials about shooting reporters, can cause some warped lunatics (right or left extremists and/or folks with mental illness) to go into unhinged mode. Hey, we just saw what Gianforte did. That was assault — no if’s, and’s or but’s — no excusing. Unfortunately it’s the reality that we’re living in where words do matter.

    Note: I’m neither a Rep or Dem. I vote based on issues. #CountryOverParty

  • Let’s do a little though experiment here: If you take out “reporters” and replace it with, say “Mexicans” or “women” or “queers” or any other group, is it just a joke? Or, say, if President Obama had said something similar but used “Christians” instead of “reporters”, would that have been OK?

    If you’re OK with Abbot’s joke, but these other variants seem over the line or distasteful, then you’re not OK with the joke, you’re OK with the target.

  • Beegowl

    No one thinks Abbott is going to shoot reporters. By scoffing sarcastically at the scaredy cats who are afraid of getting shot, the writer obfuscates a legitimate concern. Abbott, an experienced politician, knows that his words are subject to parsing. His statement is one that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, he knew it when he said it. It’s calculated to appeal to and give legitimacy to the open carry segment of his supporters while denying any harm was done. We’re seeing a lot of this strategy these days, from all levels of.government who support Trump and his anti-democracy authoritarians.