An 'unimaginable tragedy' in Uvalde, Texas
What is unimaginable about it?
Uvalde, Texas: 18 year-old gunman kills 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School
Senator John Cornyn, Republican representing Texas said of the Uvalde mass shooting:
I'm grateful to law enforcement and everyone who worked to stop the shooter, as well as the medical staff working now to prevent further loss of life. I join my fellow Texans in lifting up the entire Uvalde community during this unimaginable tragedy.
Senator Ted Cruz, the other Republican representing Texas:
Unspeakable, not Interminable.
Both Senators from Texas may genuinely have grieved; despite mass shootings averaging to almost 2 per day in 2021, elementary school children being slaughtered in the classroom is a horror difficult to ignore. The cynical take would be kids being killed in class is impossible to ignore (politically). As of May 2nd this year, there have been 213 mass shootings in 145 days in the United States. This particular horror is 1 out of 213 this year alone. Based on historical data from 2014-2020, there will be at least 150 more mass shootings in the United States before this year ends. And if last year was any indication of how 2022 will unfold, there will be almost 500 more mass shootings.
Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz praised first responders and on the surface (at least) are not numb to the incessant mindless killings, which have shown no sign of cessation in the US. But ‘unimaginable’? School shootings have been in the public consciousness since Columbine in 1999. What exactly couldn’t John Cornyn imagine?
Remarks from a few of their colleagues:
Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader and Republican representing Kentucky:
Horrified and heartbroken by reports of the disgusting violence directed at innocent schoolkids in Uvalde, Texas. The entire country is praying for the children, families, teachers, and staff and the first responders on the scene.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican representing Utah:
Grief overwhelms the soul. Children slaughtered. Lives extinguished. Parents' hearts wrenched. Incomprehensible. I offer prayer and condolence but know that it is grossly inadequate. We must find answers.
Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat representing West Virginia:
That makes no sense at all, why we can't do common-sense, common-sense things and try to prevent some of this from happening.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton:
Our elected leaders at the local, state and federal levels, regardless of party, must find common-sense ways to keep our children and communities safe. They can do so without touching the right to hunt, sport shoot, and keep guns for self-defense. Propaganda and paranoia have kept us from helping each other on this for too long. We can do - and be - better. The time to act is now.
Confusion. Praise for those responding to the interminable horrors. Common sense solutions which have no words or policy to be enacted. And, of course, prayers.
Horror without reason?
According to the most recent Small Firearms survey of global civilian firearms, there are 121 firearms for every 100 civilians in the United States. As of 2017 there were 325 million people living in the United States and nearly 400 million firearms - literally more guns than people.
Number 2 on that list - Yemen. War-torn and suffering untold horrors, Yemen reports to have nearly 53 firearms per 100 civilians. Less than half than the ‘greatest nation on Earth.’
One final statistic from that survey - “Using data from several different sources, at the end of 2017 there were approximately 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world’s 230 countries and territories.” Almost 50% of all global civilian-held firearms are in the United States, which represents less than 5% of the global human population.
To say there is no correlation between the number of guns in America and the extraordinary number of mass shootings is reminiscent of the tobacco and lung cancer (lack of scientific) correlation propaganda from decades ago.
Recommendations for how to address mass shootings are not new. And yes, this particular mass shooting may have occurred regardless of universal background checks, universal mental health care, a complete assault weapon ban and an end to the gun show loophole. Absent more ‘radical’ gun buyback programs and regular youth mental health screenings or a transformative cultural reckoning (e.g. reversing the 2nd Amendment similar to how the 21st Amendment nullified the ‘noble experiment’ prohibiting alcohol), mass shootings are here to stay in the United States. But the sheer number and utter devastation caused by mass shootings need not be so severe. And every single politician in Washington, D.C. knows it.
Dearth of political will:
Last night prior to the Golden State Warriors playing the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Texas in Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, Steve Kerr spoke honestly of what millions feel:
Many since have echoed themes Coach Kerr spoke with such raw emotion:
In the 2nd most important set of games in an NBA season, this issue matters more. The game is irrelevant. The nation is killing itself.
Americans cannot afford to be numb to these horrors.
The federal government can and must act.
Words alone for an incessant horror that need not be is a cruelty committed by those in power.
For any Amendment to pass into law, two-thirds of the Senate need to vote Yea. And that happened in 1865 when slavery was abolished; it happened in 1919 when voting could no longer be denied based on sex; and it happened in 1933 when Congress realized the 18th Amendment banning alcohol was a mistake. An Amendment may not be needed to address mass shootings, but after the most divided moment America has ever witnessed - the Civil War which remains the bloodiest war in US history - bipartisan legislation was passed (repeatedly) to permanently address what are ultimately cultural issues. Human beings cannot and should never be allowed to own another human being. Women, by being born women, cannot be denied the rights afforded to male citizens. And though poverty, violence and corruption were and continue to be serious societal issues, the temperance movement did not address any substantively by pushing Congress to ban alcohol sales.
Today, any and all cultural issues serve to reinforce the positions of those in power because advocating partisan positions on wedge issues is incentivized and not heeding the needs of the public does not rouse fear among elected officials whose positions are supposed to be dependent on the public’s support.
The entire Republican Senate will likely vote against any gun reform legislation. Though potential 2024 presidential candidate Mitt Romney said of Uvalde “I offer prayer and condolence but know that it is grossly inadequate. We must find answers,” there is little indication he will ‘think outside the box’ in proposing meaningful legislation his Republican colleagues will support with their votes. As of this post’s writing, Governor DeSantis of Florida, who is second to only Trump in likelihood of being the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, has said nothing publicly I could find regarding the Uvalde school shooting. And former President Trump plans to attend the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas this Friday.
During the Trump presidency, the Federal Commission on School Safety was established and released a 180-page report signed off by then Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. The two main highlights from the report (in my opinion):
“The federal government can play a role in enhancing safety in schools. However, state legislators should work with local school leaders, teachers, parents, and students themselves to address their own unique challenges and develop their own specific solutions.”
“Ultimately, ensuring the safety of our children begins within ourselves, at the kitchen table, in houses of worship, and in community centers. The recommendations within this report do not and cannot supplant the role families have in our culture and in the lives of children. Our country’s moral fabric needs more threads of love, empathy, and connection.”
On the official School Safety website, their timeline features 3 events - the commission being established, the report being released and the website launch. The website launch was the last milestone!
What about Democratic Presidents?
I purposefully did not include remarks from current President Joe Biden or former President Barack Obama. Though Obama while in office issued Executive Actions to supplant Congressional inaction on gun reform legislation post-Sandy Hook and the Biden administration has launched a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, both fell short of the key political action which could have empowered Democrats in the White House - ending the filibuster.
Many articles have been written about the 'myth’ that was the two-year supermajority Obama had in 2009 and 2010; specifically at no point in his presidency did Obama have 60 sitting and voting members of the Senate. Yet, each Democratic President had enough Senate votes in their first two years in office to weaken the existing filibuster so new legislation can pass.
Barack Obama as Senator representing Illinois in 2005 said of the filibuster:
What (the American people) do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.
But if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody’s best interest, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.
Then, as President, he approved of the rule change that reduced the threshold to only 51 Senate approval votes needed for executive and judicial nominees. (And even that rule change was so narrow it didn’t apply to Supreme Court nominees, which fucked Obama at the end of his second term in office.)
As President, Biden has been thwarted by Senators Sinema and Manchin from his own party. Neither will vote to change the filibuster.
Senator Sinema representing Arizona said earlier this year:
American politics are cyclical, and the granting of power in Washington, D.C., is exchanged regularly by the voters from one party to another. What is the legislative filibuster other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators representing a broader cross section of Americans, a guardrail inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds the Senate majority but which in reality ensures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process.
Senator Manchin said:
Allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel onto the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart – especially when one party controls both Congress and the White House. As such, and as I have said many times before, I will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.
Biden was elected to office, partially because he was able to work across the aisle; and yet he cannot get any Republican Senator to support ending the filibuster, and he can’t get his entire political party in the Senate to support him.
Senator Mitch McConnell said of Sinema’s position on the filibuster:
She literally saved the Senate as an institution. It was an act of conspicuous political courage.
So much courage. Another act of courage, courtesy of Politico:
A spokesperson for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another slated NRA convention speaker, said the lawmaker had already notified the gun group he would not be attending. “Prior to the tragedy today in Uvalde we had already informed the NRA he would not be able to speak due to [an] unexpected change in his schedule,” Cornyn spokesperson Drew Brandewie said. “He now has to be in D.C. for personal reasons on Friday.”
Personal reasons. The mass shooting had zero bearing on whether the Senator from Texas would speak to the lobby credited with blocking any and all gun reform legislation.
And for those who believe the public’s opinion should matter in a democracy, the most recent Gallup poll on guns in America asked, “In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now?” - more than half responded more strict.
*This post has been edited to correct the year of Senator Barack Obama’s comment on the filibuster and extra text from his remarks added.
..to learn more about Guns in America: