Thursday’s New York Times presented photos of the nineteen fourth graders and two teachers gunned down at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. As happened a decade ago after the Connecticut school shooting that killed an even larger number of first graders, calculated disinformation immediately began circulating on the Internet claiming that it was a “false flag” event staged by paid actors and that the eighteen-year-old shooter was an undocumented immigrant. Both rumors are absolutely false. Sadly, such manufactured reports demonstrate the lengths to which opponents of gun safety regulations and other provocateurs will go to distract the public and seek to lessen the impact of this horrible event (Hsu, Frenkel, and Thompson, 2022). I invite you to look at the photos of these child-victims. Absolutely nothing should be able to lessen our empathic anguish at the pain they experienced, the eternal grieving of their families, and the loss to American society of the positive contributions that they were otherwise destined to make.
This week’s tragic event calls our attention to the news media’s temporary focus on the scourge of gun violence. We should take note of the information produced at this moment before national attention moves again to other issues. This shooting will likely recede in our memories as a “routine” American event, like so many other mass shootings that came before—and the others that will inevitably afflict us in the future without strong action from political leaders right now.
Shockingly, but not surprisingly, firearms have now surpassed motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of death for American children ages one to nineteen. Only one-third of these deaths are from suicides amid a disturbing rise in homicides affecting children (Keating, 2022; Owens, 2022). How could there be a more striking indicator that firearms are too easily accessible in the United States? As the trend line for firearms deaths of children moves higher, is there some level of gun homicides affecting children that would finally move those who actively block sensible gun laws to join the effort to reduce, rather than increase, the risks of gun violence?
The United States is unique for having a powerful political party that—for ideological, political, and financial reasons—appears committed to maximizing the presence of guns throughout society and coldly tolerating any level of bloodshed and death that will result from that commitment. In other countries, as noted in current news stories, swift action was taken in the aftermath of mass shootings that demonstrably reduced the likelihood of future mass shootings (Cassidy, 2022; Fisher, 2022).
A few examples:
- Australia: Twenty-five years ago, after a mass shooting that killed three dozen people, semi-automatic and pump action firearms were banned and the government bought back such weapons in people’s possession. In the quarter-century since that event, there have only been three mass shootings in which four or more people were killed.
- Great Britain: After a mass shooting at a school, there was a ban on semi-automatic weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines were prohibited, a waiting period was imposed for gun purchases, and a limit was imposed on kinds of handguns available to the public. Mass shootings are extraordinarily rare in that country, occurring only every few years.
- New Zealand: After an extremist killed fifty worshipers at a mosque in 2019, the country immediately banned military-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Laws and cultural traditions in the United States are different than in those countries, including the fact that over 400 million firearms are already in civilian hands here. We cannot do everything that other countries have done. However, there are things we can do, especially with respect to:
- the types of weapons and ammunition available to the public
- temporarily removing weapons from people experiencing personal crisis
- requiring safe storage of firearms
- examining whether teenagers too young to legally purchase a beer should be able to purchase weapons of war, as the Texas shooter did immediately after his eighteenth birthday.
One writer speculated that the Texas shooting might be different by spurring some political leaders who currently block sensible gun laws in Congress to actually move forward with legislation for strengthened background checks, safe storage laws, or a federal extreme risk protection order law (Treene, 2022). This speculation is based partly on the significant negative attention directed at the members of Congress scheduled to speak at the National Rifle Association convention set to start in Texas in the immediate aftermath of the nearby school shooting as well as the publicity directed at those same members for the large campaign contributions they accept from the gun lobby. Any successful congressional enactments would require the agreement of sixty senators in order to overcome the filibuster’s blockade of action on sensible gun laws.
With respect to such speculation, put me in the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Too many mass shootings in the past decade have failed to move those who actively block efforts to reduce the risk and harm of gun violence. However, this speculation reminds us that the legislative arena may present possibilities for beneficial action. Our election year of 2022 presents a moment in which focused commitment by voters could produce change, especially in Michigan where new districts drawn by the bipartisan commission may break the stranglehold on power that has previously been created by partisan gerrymandering. If there is one message to convey to your friends and neighbors—and yourself: Now is the time to prioritize the effort to reduce gun violence in examining candidates’ positions on gun issues and deciding how to cast one’s vote. Go to today’s New York Times and look again at the Texas fourth graders’ faces. No one should need more inspiration and motivation than seeing those faces and knowing, with certainty, that more children will needlessly suffer the same fate if we do not seize the opportunity to choose elected officials who will take swift action to save lives.
Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President
Cassidy, John. “How to Prevent Gun Massacres? Look Around the World,” The New Yorker, May 26, 2022 (newyorker.com).
Fisher, Max. “Other Countries Had Mass Shootings. Then They Changed Their Gun Laws,” New York Times, May 25, 2022 (nytimes.com).
Hsu, Tiffany, Sheera Frenkel, and Stuart Thompson. “Debunking 3 Viral Rumors About the Texas Shooting,” New York Times, May 25, 2022 (nytimes.com).
Keating, Dan. “Guns Killed More Youngsters Than Cars For the First Time in 2020,” Washington Post, May 25, 2022 (washingtonpost.com).
Owens, Caitlin. “Guns Have Become the Leading Cause of Death for American Kids,” AXIOS news service, May 26, 2022 (axios.com).
Treene, Alayna. “Why This Time Could Be Different,” AXIOS news service, May 25, 2022 (axios.com).