Ten days after the Buffalo, New York shooting (ten dead), ten years after the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School (26 killed, including 20 children), Americans are once again mourning innocent victims of gun violence. An 18-year-old man killed at least 19 children and two adults on Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a town between San Antonio and the Rio Grande. Police then killed the gunman. It was a native of that town who, according to the governor, probably shot his grandmother first and then went to school, just as the killer went to Sandy Hook after killing his mother.
In the hours that followed, the rituals America has become more accustomed to than any other nation in the world: a governor urging the residents of his state to “support one another,” a president quoting from the Bible, progressive politicians pointing to the lurid ease with which would-be killers in the US can obtain a firearm, Fox News that says progressive politicians are “abusing the mass shootings to demand better gun control and attack Republicans.”
And with that, the countdown to the next shooting begins. The website gunviolencearchive.org counted fifteen in the ten days between Buffalo and Uvalde — the definition being four or more people injured or killed at once by a firearm. In his speech in response to Tuesday’s attack President Biden said in the decade since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been more than 900 reported incidents of shooting into a school. “As a country we have to ask ourselves: when the hell are we going to do something against the gun lobby?”
‘Are we taking care of our children?’
Biden’s despair echoes his predecessor, President Obama, who at the wake for the victims of Sandy Hook wondered if the country was fulfilling what every responsible parent sees as their first duty: taking care of your children. “Can we as a nation honestly say that we are protecting our children, all our children, from suffering?” He had thought about it and the answer was no. “We cannot tolerate this any longer. These tragedies must end. And to do that, we have to change.”
Nine hundred firearms incidents in schools later, two presidents later, ruled by Democratic or Republican majorities, Americans still have to give the same answer to Obama’s question. The same Republican governor who mourned with the victims Tuesday will give a speech this weekend at the NRA gun lobby congress in Houston, Texas.
Until the 1960s, the NRA as an organization contributed ideas to political proposals to regulate gun ownership. Since then, it has become a lobby that sees any proposal to that effect as a way to undermine the Second Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment regulates the right to bear arms. It is commonly referred to as “a God-given right” by Republican politicians.
The same Republican governor who mourned with the victims Tuesday will give a speech this weekend at the NRA gun lobby congress in Houston, Texas.
Their views on this may be fueled by generous donations from the NRA, but that makes little difference to their persuasiveness. Gun ownership is one of the themes that has solidified and hardened into dogma in polarized American society. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, widely regarded as a serious Republican presidential candidate, has pledged to enact a law before the end of his term that would allow citizens to legally carry a gun, even if they are unlicensed.
The constitutional text on gun ownership is ambivalent. Whether or not a comma is read in the one sentence that is long in the amendment determines the difference between a right to firearms possession for a “well-regulated militia” and for all Americans. In 2008, the Supreme Court decided by a 5 to 4 majority: Every American has the constitutional right to own a firearm. The Supreme Court’s answer to the follow-up question posed in the case is expected before this summer New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett: Can the owner of a firearm carry it in any public place? Also in a park? Also in a playground? With the current conservative majority of the Court (6 to 3), the answer seems to be simple.
American rituals also include the hope that this sad disaster will eventually lead to the realization that something must change—the insight Obama and Biden so desperately appealed to. The New York Times last week interviewed Democratic politician Chris Murphy, Senator in Connecticut, the state where the Sandy Hook school is located. The trigger was the shooting in Buffalo and the mild surprise that President Biden in his response had not called for Congress to finally have good legislation on gun control. Biden admitted afterwards that he would have liked to say it, but that he knew it would be “very difficult” to get parliament moving. (Tuesday, the president said, “It’s time — for those of us who are slowing down or blocking logical gun laws, to know that we won’t forget.”)
So Senator Murphy, unaware of Tuesday’s shooting, was not optimistic that the 10 deaths in Buffalo could change gun ownership fundamentalists. “There are few revelations in Washington.” Sixty votes are needed in the Senate. The proponents of any form of control over the sale, possession and carrying of firearms have few more than fifty.
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