On Tuesday, a man opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a town near the Mexican border with a majority Latino population. Nineteen of those killed were children under the age of 10, and two adults were also shot.
Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas named the suspect Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old male who investigators have found acted alone, using a handgun, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a bullet proof vest, and high-capacity magazines.
So far, little is known about Ramos, other than that he may have been a high school student in the area of Uvalde. Ramos is suspected of shooting his grandmother before the rampage. Uvalde Chief of Police Pete Arredondo said Ramos abandoned a vehicle before entering the school to open fire at 11:32am local time on Tuesday.
Ramos was then killed by US Border Patrol who were nearby when the shooting began. Two border agents shot in the exchange with the gunman are now in a stable condition in hospital.
Aftermath and Victims
The Uvalde Memorial Hospital posted that 13 children had been taken to hospital, and that a 60-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl were in a critical condition.
Family members gathered outside the school to hear the devastating news that their children had been killed. Others were asked to give DNA samples to help identify some of the young victims, and a small vigil was held near the school for the attack’s victims and survivors.
The US media has now named several victims. These include Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier Lopez, Eliahana Cruz Torres, all aged 10, and Uziyah Garcia, aged eight. Eva Mireles, a teacher at the school and a mother was also shot, aged 44.
Amerie’s father Angel told ABC news:
“My little love is now flying high with the angels above. Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them.”
Hal Harrell, superintendent of the school district, ended the school year early in the wake of the atrocious shooting.
“Back to back” shootings
This event occurs only 10 days after a gun attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, New York on May 14. Remarkably, the perpetrator was also an 18-year-old male, wearing body armour and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gunman shot 13 people, 11 of whom were black, whilst broadcasting the attack on social media.
The attack has been labeled a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. The Uvalde and Buffalo shootings add to a list of US mass shootings that have grown considerably in the US over the past few years, often associated with white supremacist extremism.
The statistics: More shootings than ever
Education Week has been tracking school shootings since 2018. The organisation counts shootings where a firearm was discharged and where any person apart from the shooter suffers a bullet wound as a result. Such events that take place on school property, or bus, are thus school shootings.
In 2021 alone, Education Weekly found that there were 34 school shootings, such as the shooting in Oxford, Michigan in November. In 2020, there were 10 shootings and in 2019 and 2018 there were 24 respectively. Now in 2022, there have already been 27 school shootings: We’re not even half-way through the year, and there have been more shootings than ever in the past.
It is unfathomable that these numbers of school shootings are only a fraction of the mass shootings that frequently occur in the US. The Gun Violence Archive collects data on these figures. As of Tuesday, the organisation had totaled 213 mass shootings in 2022, where a mass shooting is an incident where 4+ people are shot or killed. This means 1.46 shootings a day.
The severity of gun issues is unique to the US
The Uvalde shooting is an abhorrent and shocking event. Yet, the sad reality is that this event is familiar in America. US school shootings have become so commonplace that part of the school curriculum involves school children routinely rehearsing what to do if a shooter enters the school, and CDC found that guns have overtaken car crashes as the leading cause of death for US children and teenagers in 2020.
Whilst school shootings do happen around the world, shootings are most widespread in the United States, but progress on gun reform is restricted for various reasons:
– the ease of acquiring firearms and more lax legislation than other nations;
– a culture where gun ownership is a right with claims that it is embedded in the US constitution;
– the firearm industry and pro-gun lobby mean guns are financially and politically ingrained in the US;
– societal issues that facilitate the emergence of mass shooters.
Because gun legislation is handled at the local and state level the US has a piecemeal approach to gun control that means guns can be smuggled with no checkpoints between those States with tough (or tougher) gun laws and those without. A lack of strict legislation on background checks then means that the US has a huge volume of guns available to people who they should not be.
There is also a significant aspect of US culture which makes it difficult for views on gun control to be changed even despite multiple events like the Uvalde shooting. The US constitution inscribes “the right to keep and bear arms” in the second amendment, and in doing so protects gun usage and ignores the extensive damage it causes.
This constitutional upholding means people claim that guns are a “right” to protect one’s freedom, an idea mostly upheld by conservative, pro-gun citizens who are mostly Republican, as the Republican party has historically protected the second amendment.
The firearm industry and pro-gun lobby
America’s firearm industry is very important in its national economy, and firearm manufacturers and arms dealers have far greater interest vested in the industry and consequently little concern for the public good.
The firearm market was worth $15 billion in 2020, a 2.3% increase from 2015. With such levels of monetary gain in the gun industry, incentives to uphold the second amendment could be just as much for financial gain as for upholding historical values.
Also involved in the campaign to protect gun rights is the gun lobby: The National Rifle Association (NRA) has a significant hold on political lobbying in the US. The NRA can use its staggering budget to influence Congress members on gun policy, spending about $200 million per year.
An organisation with such power in the government, which lobbies heavily against gun control and claims to believe that more guns make the US safer, is a very difficult hurdle in the way of stricter gun control.
Societal issues that facilitate (often young men) becoming mass shooters
On Monday, an FBI report found that “active shooter” rampage attacks have doubled since the Coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.
This is caused by a convergence of factors. Namely, gun purchases increased hugely as COVID was seen to threaten the ‘American psyche’, the feeling that something dangerous that was out of one’s control bred reactions desiring control and security. This was partly a fear of the unknown but also the feeling of unrest and tension from a mistrust in the government and police.
As referenced in Biden’s statement that the fact that “An 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two weapons is just wrong…it’s just sick”, the young age of the shooters in Buffalo and in Uvalde is remarkable, and a stark reminder that these events are also a societal failure.
The long time period of increasing work from home and sporadic lockdowns bred “lonerism”, a state of isolation, of feeling alone that causes people to feel they are social outcasts; and it is also a result of people spending increasingly more time on the internet. The sites which can inspire such extreme violence are often found in dark corners of the internet where lonely young men may easily end up.
Could the back-to-back Uvalde and Buffalo shootings be the impetus for much-needed gun law reform?
On Tuesday night, an anguished President Joe Biden delivered an urgent call for restrictions on firearms to be introduced from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, just back from his trip to Asia that he took just after traveling to Buffalo to meet with victims’ families.
Saying he was “sick and tired”, Biden pleaded for action on gun violence and blamed firearm manufacturers and the gun lobby for having blocked progressive legislation up until now. Joe Biden has suffered the losses of two of his own children (although not to gun violence) and spoke emotionally of the grief of losing children
“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away, there’s a hollowness in your chest. You feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out.”
In the past, when Biden was Obama’s vice-president, his efforts to curb gun violence which included giving anti-violence groups $5 billion were stalled due to Republican opposition, which explains his building frustration in his questioning:
“As a nation we have to ask, when in God’s name, are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name are we going to do what in our gut we know needs to be done”.
He added that 10 years since Sandy Hook, “there have been over 900 incidents of gunfire reported on school grounds”. He rallied: “We have to act, and don’t tell me we can’t have an Impact on this carnage”, also referencing the traumatic effects of witnessing a mass shooting
Biden admitted that although it would be impossible to prevent every tragedy, “common-sense gun laws work,” as could be observed when the assault weapon ban saw mass shootings go down, and then triple when the ban expired.
Another issue he highlighted is the gun manufacturing industry which has made the assault weapon market a high-profit industry, which means people are tied to the industry’s financial gain, making any reform well-nigh impossible.
JUST IN: Pres. Biden: "I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour…to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act" on gun reform measures. https://t.co/YnJgFCnfWJ pic.twitter.com/BbMhfNLHS4
— ABC News (@ABC) March 23, 2021
The Senate meeting on Tuesday – possibilities for action but also much opposition
Late Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer set in motion possible action on two House-passed bills to expand federally required background checks for gun purchases.
However, the issue is incredibly divisive in America; and although the recent incidents have reignited debate over guns in the US, a resolution is still far off. There is no sure sign that Democrats are closer to passing tighter gun control legislation, and some Republicans have accused them of using this to further their own objectives in view of the upcoming midterms.
Biden’s calls for gun measures were booed at a campaign event in Georgia, and on Tuesday, Senator of Texas Ted Cruz rejected calls for gun control. Cruz argued that “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.” Cruz is notoriously close to NRA interests, and is happy to use the gun lobby argument that the only thing that can “stop a bad guy with a gun” is a “good guy with a gun”, an extraordinarily specious argument and the obvious basis for starting Far-West style street wars.
Barack Obama, ex-US president, issued a statement highlighting the disruptive role of the gun lobby and Republicans in gun reform:
“Nearly ten years after Sandy Hook—and ten days after Buffalo—our country is paralysed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies”.
Obama himself (and Biden at the time) experienced the difficulty of passing substantial gun violence legislation after his legislation to strengthen background checks on firearm purchases after Sandy Hook in 2012 collapsed when it couldn’t meet the threshold needed to advance.
Speaking in the Senate House on Tuesday, Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, famous for having held a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor after Sandy Hook, once again begged his colleagues to pass gun control legislation, ending with a plea to “Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely”
“Why are you here?!"
A furious Sen. Chris Murphy demands answers from senators following Texas school shooting.
“Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate…if your answer, is as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives—we do nothing?” pic.twitter.com/9fkJ13vWGd
— ABC News (@ABC) May 24, 2022
Powerfully, Murphy asked his colleagues why they even bother running for office if they’re “going to stand by and do nothing.” Murphy said that he would reach out to Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and Texas’ other Republican Senator Ted Cruz to find an agreement.
Although Cruz issued a statement calling the Uvalde shooting “a dark day. We’re all completely sickened and heartbroken”, Cruz could scupper Murphy’s plans for change as he continues to actively support guns and the NRA. This sense of gridlock echoes Joe Manchin, Democratic Senator for West Virginia’s statement that “We’re just pushing on people who just won’t budge on anything”, although Manchin is known for his conservatism.
As America’s gun problem is so tied to its economy, gun reforms are complicated, and should affect the gun lobby and its financial prowess to be successful. Culturally too, the right to bear arms must be separated from the idea of personal freedom for gun reforms to be passed. These are great challenges in US society.
Further issues arise from politicians who actively work with the gun lobby, such as Ted Cruz. The Republican party is pro-gun, and so their continuing support is only indicative of how polarised US citizens are on this matter, and that any progress towards reform is likely to be frustrating and definitely slow.
Although it may seem unlikely that great progress will be made, gun reform is needed now more urgently than ever.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Gun Reform Protest. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.