On Tuesday evening, as I was still trying to digest the ghastly news of the Uvalde school massacre, I received an automated e-mail alert from the Sacramento City Unified School District announcing that a second-grade student at an elementary school on the south side of town had brought a loaded gun to school and had hidden it in his desk.
The district’s e-mail continued: “Let’s work together and use this incident as a reminder of the importance of ‘See something, say something.’ As you hug your child tighter tonight, we encourage you to remind them that when they see a threat or a potentially dangerous situation, they must tell a trusted member of their school community.”
That advice is a little bit better than nothing, but it’s a whole lot worse than where we need to be as a country. After all, it places a rather huge burden of responsibility on gap-toothed young kids who should be thinking about how they’ll spend their tooth fairy money, or where they can go swimming as the summer weather sets in, rather than worrying about whether a classmate is bringing a loaded weapon to school.
California, at least, has put in the time and effort to enact meaningful gun-control interventions in recent years. These include waiting periods for those purchasing guns, limits on rifles, and a safety certificate requirement—issued after a person passes a test written by the Department of Justice on gun safety—before someone can buy a handgun.
This week, with a Friday deadline looming for California’s two legislative houses to pass bills introduced during the current legislative session, state politicians have been debating a series of additional measures. Among them: banning gun shows on state property, mandating that gun stores have digital video surveillance systems, and, perhaps most consequential of all, allowing victims of gun violence, as well as other individuals, to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons, as well as some other weapons, for up to $10,000 each.
This latter bill, pushed by Governor Gavin Newsom, is modeled on Texas’s anti-abortion bill, which does an end-run around abortion protections (those that remain for the next few weeks, at least) by farming out enforcement to private individuals. If and when it passes, it could end up being as much of a game-changer vis-à-vis the sale of assault weapons as the Texas abortion law has proven to be regarding abortion rights.
Contrast that with the stampede in much of the country toward ever more “freedoms” to own deadly weapons—to carry them either in the open or concealed, and to do so without so much as a permit, let alone a background check, and at younger and younger ages.
In Texas, for instance, the state’s leaders have stymied efforts to enact “red flag” laws, designed to remove guns from people deemed a threat, and they have rejected laws requiring any background checks on gun purchasers. In response to a spate of mass shootings in 2019, the legislature’s only real response was to pass a blitheringly stupid bill making it easier to arm schoolteachers.
Meanwhile, the state has long allowed 18-year-olds to buy rifles—and, as of last year, it allows some 18-year-olds to qualify to buy handguns and to carry those weapons in public places without a license. The shooter in Tuesday’s Uvalde massacre reportedly bought his weapons to celebrate his 18th birthday last month.
This is a place, mind you, where you have to be 21 to buy alcohol—because, among other things, it’s thought that teenagers are more likely to drink and then to drive. As of 2019, you also have to be 21 to buy cigarettes in the Lone Star state, presumably because people younger than that are thought not to have the good judgment to understand the health consequences of smoking. You have to be 21 to enter a casino; again, presumably based on the assumption that teen minds aren’t mature enough to know when to stop when it comes to games of chance. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott signed a law mandating that strip club employees and patrons be at least 21 years of age. But almost all regulations are off when it comes to guns.
On Tuesday evening, as children’s bodies were still being identified, Texas’s craven, bigoted, and, frankly, desperately unintelligent governor announced that the Uvalde killings were “incomprehensible.”
There’s nothing “incomprehensible” about it. In the same way that if you make it easy for teens to drink and drive, some will, so, if you make it spectacularly easy for people to buy high-powered, military-grade weaponry, some individuals will go on killing sprees. And if you make it easier for teenagers to buy guns than to buy alcohol or cigarettes, or to gamble or visit a strip club, every so often one of those teens will do something entirely diabolical with their deadly new toys.
As of May 23, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated that 258 children had been killed in the three months of war in Ukraine, although it cautioned that the true number could be much higher. Each one of those deaths is a vast crime, and each merits the world’s attention.
But what about the staggering number of children lost to senseless gun violence here in the US? Since the start of the year, the Gun Violence Archive has tabulated the deaths by gun violence of 140 children aged 0 to 11, and 509 aged 12 to 17. Nearly 1,600 more children have been injured by guns.
Year in, year out, thousands of American children die or are maimed at the hands of shooters, their communities accumulating the kinds of trauma we see—and are horrified by—in overseas war zones. And yet GOP politicians continue to march largely in lockstep with the most extreme wing of the “pro-gun” lobby.
The day this column comes out, Friday, ex-president Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and other luminaries of the authoritarian, paramilitary-sympathizing hard right, will be in Houston. They will be there not to talk about how to reduce gun violence in a country saturated with the blood of innocents but to cozy up to the noxious National Rifle Association at its annual leadership summit. I’m sure they will give out a whole bunch more “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the Uvalde massacre. Those thoughts and prayers will be worth about as much as a fistful of German marks at the peak of hyperinflation in 1923.