Almost exactly 10 years after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut took the lives of 26 children and educators, another young man has killed 21 in a school in Uvalde, a small city west of San Antonio, Texas. This time, an 18-year-old, who on his birthday recently bought two assault rifles over a local shop counter without background checks, committed the second worst school killing on record in the US. It came just 10 days after a racially motivated killer laid waste to a shopping mall in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people.
The murders came as the FBI released new data on the broader phenomenon of mass shootings. It identified 61 “active shooter” attacks in 2021 that killed 103 people and injured 130 others. From 1966 to 2019, 77 per cent of mass shooters obtained the weapons they used in their crimes through legal purchases.
As a clearly shaken President Joe Biden reminded the American public on Tuesday night, this is a distinctly American phenomenon. Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 900 incidents of gunfire reported on school grounds. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” he pleaded, calling on legislators to finally “stand up to the gun lobby”.
After Sandy Hook, Biden was charged by President Barack Obama with steering ambitious gun-control legislation through the Senate but he failed in the face of united Republican resistance.
The Republicans are marshalled effectively by the National Rifle Association, which holds its annual convention in Texas – of all places – on Friday. Among those to address it will be former president Donald Trump and far-right acolytes state governor Greg Abbott and state Senator Ted Cruz, who on Tuesday blamed Democrats for the massacre. “From past experience one of the most effective tools for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement” on school grounds, Cruz claimed.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton was also quick to suggest that having “teachers and other administrators who have gone through training and who are armed” would save lives. And Dan Patrick, the state lieutenant governor, called for more school security. “We have to harden these targets so no one can get in, ever, except through one entrance,” he said.
Although Democrats have moved to accelerate consideration of so-called red-flag legislation to require background checks on gun purchases, supported in some recent polls by up to 90 per cent of voters, the prospect of overcoming the Senate 60-vote filibuster threshold is virtually ruled out. And heading shortly for the overwhelmingly pro-gun supreme court are a number of cases which could even see the court liberalise access. This bizarre American exceptionalism continues, and so innocent people continue to die.