Bush's record? Look at Texas

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist, 3/29/2000

ast week was a scary peek into a George W. Bush White House. In Pasadena, Texas, a man came to a Wednesday night church service to ask an 18-year-old woman to be his girlfriend. The woman refused. The man stomped out of the church. He returned with a semiautomatic handgun.

He shot the woman, her mother, the pastor, and another man. The assailant then killed himself in the church parking lot.

It was the second Texas church shooting in six months. In September, also on a Wednesday night, a man went to a Baptist church in Fort Worth that was filled for a concert with hundreds of teenagers. Using two handguns, the man killed seven people, wounded seven more (paralyzing one), then killed himself.

Bush's response to the September massacre read like a cold fax from the National Rifle Association. The Fort Worth killer had purchased his guns legally at a flea market, even though he did not have a license to carry concealed weapons. An unmoved Bush said, ''I personally do not believe that registering every handgun in America is going to make America a safer place.''

The two church shootings, in so short a span, may be more than a coincidence in a state where guns are communion wine. Forget Bush's appeals to suburban white women by saying he would entertain gun modifications such as safety locks. Forget his momentary distance from the NRA's attack on President Clinton.

There are no modifications in Bush's support of handguns.

Bush was elected governor of Texas pledging to make concealed handguns legal in Texas. When he signed the bill in 1995, he said concealed handguns ''will make Texas safer.'' Last summer, he signed a bill that attempts to stop Texas cities from suing gun manufacturers. Bush aides called the lawsuits ''frivolous.''

The evidence points to a more dangerous Texas. From 1996 to 1998, according to the Violence Policy Center, a gun violence think tank, concealed handgun license holders in Texas were arrested for 2,080 crimes, including 15 charges of murder and attempted murder, 103 charges of assault with a deadly weapon, 442 charges of drunk driving, 100 charges of indecent sexual conduct, and 140 drug-related charges.

That is hardly frivolous. Bush has blamed church and school shootings on a ''wave of evil'' that can be solved with ''hopes and prayers'' for more ''love in society.'' It would never occur to a Bush White House how a wave of evil can become a terrible tsunami with a semiautomatic handgun.

Bush is probably hoping and praying that people missed the news on the health front. The Centers for Disease Control last week released a new national survey that found Texas to lead the nation in the percentage of people who lack health insurance.

The percentage of uninsured Texans, 24 percent, was double the US average. The percentage of uninsured Latinos was 45 percent, also double the national average, and significantly more than the other six states where Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the population.

This comes a year after another report by the nonpartisan Urban Institute found Texas lagging way behind the rest of the country in health insurance. The report found that 50 percent of low-income families had no health insurance compared to 37 percent nationally.

Oddly, one of the few positive categories that Texas was a leader in was prayer. Low-income families report more engagement in religious activities than the national average. But while the people of Texas pray, Bush has yet to make any sweeping proposals on how the poor will get health coverage.

Finally last week, the Texas comptroller announced that condoms will be among the over-the-counter health items that will be exempted from the state sales tax, along with diapers, aspirin, suntan oil, deodorants, cough drops, contact lens solutions, and wheelchairs.

This prompted Bush to complain. Never mind that using condoms probably saves more lives and saves more young lives from being economically ruined than all of the over-the-counter products in the drug store put together - through preventing HIV transmission and unwanted pregnancies. ''The governor never wanted condoms to be exempt,'' said Bush spokesman Mike Jones.

Bush said he would not fight the exemption for condoms, but for him to single out condoms for political derision, given how much he otherwise champions massive tax cuts for Americans, certainly should make the prochoice crowd nervous as to what this man would do with Supreme Court appointments.

Bush says he should be president based on his record in Texas. On violence, the uninsured, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy, his solutions are simple: hope, prayer, abstinence, and concealed handguns. The federal government would be so concealed a weapon, its power would never be used.

We elect presidents to build dams against waves of evil. Bush sounds as if he would pray peacefully in the White House, as a tsunami of semiautomatic blood crashes onto the Rose Garden.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.