After the horrendous murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Fox News reported that the gunman may have been an undocumented immigrant fleeing from Border Patrol agents, and Fox then offered a litany of preposterous ways to prevent this epidemic of senseless violence, including arming elementary school teachers and training teachers to respond better to violence. Anything to avoid the obvious solution: ban assault weapons and institute background checks and 14-day waiting periods for all other gun purchases. On the other hand, NBA coach Steve Kerr offered a powerful and angry plea for the U.S. Senate to finally pass HR 8, a bill that passed the House three years ago and countless mass shootings ago. HR 8 would require universal background checks. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut begged the U.S. Senate to do something, anything, to help prevent more senseless slaughter, getting down on his knees and asking Senators why they came to Washington if not to solve problems like this. Both Kerr’s and Murphy’s stirring speeches are provided below after a discussion of Fox and GOP responses. We also provide analysis by the ever astute Heather Cox Richardson who is so adept at zeroing in on the real history and the real story. We close with a portrait of what action looks like and its impact on the lives of thousands of Australians.
It is remarkable how differently people can interpret the same event. On Fox News, guest “expert” Judge Jeanine criticized people who are frightened of people with guns. “People today, many of them, are intimidated, they are triggered if there is someone with a gun,” she said in addressing the idea of armed guards at schools. “They are frightened. That’s this new narrative. When you see a gun you should be frightened instead of appreciating what they are doing for you.”
Judge Jeanine wasn’t the only Fox News personality to bash the idea that kids may be “triggered” by the presence of guns in schools. “Quite frankly, who cares how the kids feel?” one Fox host asked. Really?
From the Texas Attorney General, as reported in The Texas Tribune::
“I’d much rather have law abiding citizens armed and trained so that they can respond when something like this happens, because it’s not going to be the last time…We can potentially arm and train and prepare teachers and other administrators to respond quickly, because the reality is we don’t have the resources to have law enforcement at every school,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Newsmax.The Texas Tribune: “Top Texas Republicans resist gun control and push for more armed teachers and police at schools in wake of Uvalde shooting”
This sounds like transforming elementary schools into wild west shooting galleries, with still more guns to traumatize our youth and adults. Are we seriously asking 2nd grade teachers to be trained and armed to shoot at classroom intruders while their 9-year-old students dive for cover? Set aside for a moment that gun violence is not just a school problem, it is a societal one. Is this the most sensible solution that presumably intelligent leaders can offer? If that were not enough, this from G.O.P. Senator Ted Cruz:
“Inevitably when there’s a murder of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.”
Trying to politicize it? Sen. Cruz trivializes calls for meaningful legislation, labelling this effort a political act, while offering an entirely unsubstantiated assertion that limiting access to guns “doesn’t work.” Alert to Sen. Cruz: limiting access to firearms and requiring background checks actually do work, as research has demonstrated repeatedly and as Australia illustrates.
The Senate has been sitting on HR 8, a bill that passed in the House in 2019, dozens of mass shootings ago. HR 8 would require universal background checks. While politicians equivocated, it was up to a basketball coach to speak the truth
“I’m not going to talk about basketball…. Any basketball questions don’t matter…. Fourteen children were killed 400 miles from here, and a teacher, and in the last ten days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian churchgoers killed in Southern California, and now we have children murdered at school. WHEN ARE WE GONNA DO SOMETHING? I’m tired, I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families…. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. There’s 50 senators…who refuse to vote on HR 8, which is a background check rule that the House passed a couple years ago…. Ninety percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want…universal background checks…. We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote despite what we the American people want…because they want to hold onto their own power. It’s pathetic,” he said, walking out of the press conference.
Kerr offered an impassioned plea minutes before his team was to play an NBA playoff game. His mind was not on basketball. This is definitely worth watching as the quote above fails completely to convey the anger and passion expressed.
Where is there a similar sense of urgency about this continuing slaughter of innocent men, women, and children?
In addition to quoting Kerr and posting the video above, in her May 25 post Heather Cox Richardson brilliantly offered a detailed historical analysis of how we got from the framing of the constitution to today. She outlined how, in the 2nd Amendment, the Constitution’s framers were never intending to ensure individuals a constitutional right to bear arms, but rather to maintain an armed militia to protect us from foreign attacks. She outlines how until the 1970s ,even the NRA supported laws limiting gun sales to licensed sellers and supported background checks and 14-day waiting periods. From HCR:
The Second Amendment to the Constitution, on which modern-day arguments for widespread gun ownership rest, is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.“May 25″ post By Heather Cox Richardson
HCR went on to outline how courts in the 19th century did not view the 2nd Amendment as intended to guarantee individuals the right to bear arms. Indeed they didn’t consider individual gun ownership as “bearing arms” — that was a term reserved for military only.
As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane”…“May 25″ post By Heather Cox Richardson
HCR goes on:
Today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places. One is in 1871 with the establishment of the NRA.”“May 25″ post By Heather Cox Richardson
However, HCR is quick to point out that for its first 100 years, the NRA did not promote unrestricted sales of firearms, choosing to focus on cultivating support and training for marksmanship as a sport and as a means of preparing men for future foreign wars. What’s more, until 1970 the NRA was a steadfast supporter of strong gun regulation. From HCR:
In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons; prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children; to require all dealers to be licensed; and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade….
But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later it elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”
This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.”“May 25″ post By Heather Cox Richardson
GOP and some democrat politicians will assert that the problem is not a gun problem, but a mental health crisis or a failure to fully arm schools to protect our children. Politicians will point to anything but the obvious need to ban semi-automatic weapons and to pass background checks and other restrictions on gun sales and firearm possession. But the NY Times noted today in The Morning, “In every country, people get into arguments, hold racist views or suffer from mental health issues. But in the U.S., it is easier for those people to pick up a gun and shoot someone.”
Amnesty International identified the real ways in which we could reduce gun violence in America. From Amnesty Interrnational:
A firearms licence should be subject to certain criteria being met. For example, the applicant should undergo a comprehensive background check to identify any risk factors, such as prior criminal record – especially for violent behaviour in the home or community; history of gender-based, sexual or domestic violence; and history of problematic use of drugs/alcohol, emotional issues, mental health conditions and other circumstances which heighten the risks of the harm to self or others using firearms. Gun licences should be time-limited and training on how to use the weapon should be mandatory. The number and type of weapons that an individual can possess should also be strictly limited in line with the principles of necessity and credible justification.
Firearms and ammunition which represent an unacceptable level of risk to public safety, including those likely to cause excessive or unintended injury, such as fully automatic firearms, semi-automatic assault rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and semi-automatic submachine-guns, must be prohibited for use by private individuals.
Initiatives should focus on those at most risk of perpetrating and being victims of gun violence – often young males growing up in deprived urban neighborhoods.
Long-term, adequately funded, evidence-based projects, tailored towards specific social, economic and cultural contexts, and working in partnership with the affected communities, are needed to achieve sustained reductions in firearm violence.Amnesty International: “Gun Violence The Facts“
The youth who committed this atrocity was just 18 years old, had dropped out of high school and purchased the AR15 on his 18th birthday with no background check, nothing. Had he sought a driver’s license at 16, he would have had to pass a driver’s training course and subsequent driving test. But to buy an assault weapon, he only needed money.
Sen. Murphy captured the situation perfectly:
“This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids as I have had to do about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America. And it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue,” Murphy said.
Just how uniquely American are mass shootings? See the graph below from today’s NY Times.
But most firearm deaths are not the result of mass shootings, as “The Morning” points out:
|The majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides. Nearly half were homicides that occurred outside mass shootings; they are more typical acts of violence on streets and in homes (and most involve handguns). Mass shootings were responsible for less than 2 percent of last year’s gun deaths.|
|Stricter gun laws could also reduce the more common gun deaths. It all comes down to the same problem: More guns equal more gun deaths, whether a gang shootout in California, a suicide in Wyoming or a school shooting in Texas.|
On Wednesday, Sen. Chris Murphy, offered a passionate plea on the Senate floor:
Wednesday morning a Democratic state legislator wrote me this note: “I promise I’ll do what I can to fight environmental racism and climate change, protect pregnant people’s rights, manage life amidst COVID, and protect our children from gun violence. The 2023 session is coming and we can continue to fight for our families.” I asked if she would introduce legislation to require background checks and a 14-day waiting period before you can purchase a gun in NM. She responded that she would lead on that or follow however Miranda Viscoli, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, indicated. Retake has reached out to Miranda and we will talk soon. But I am squarely with Steve Kerr: no more moments of silence and flags at half mast. We need to insist on action from our state legislature in 2023, or vote them out of office in 2024.
Australia: What Action Looks Like
This morning, in “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted,” Vox reported on how, over 15 years ago, Australia reacted to a horrific mass shooting by taking bipartisan action, and the action was not some piecemeal approach.
To set the stage, on April 28, 1996, a 28-year-old man with a troubled past named Martin Bryant walked into a cafe in Port Arthur, a tourist town on the island of Tasmania, and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. He killed 35 people and wounded another 28. From Vox:
Australia’s prime minister at the time, John Howard, had taken office just six weeks earlier at the head of a center-right coalition. He quickly drew a very clear conclusion from the Port Arthur killing: Australia had too many guns, and they were too easy to get.
“I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people,” Howard wrote in a 2013 op-ed for the New York Times. “I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Howard persuaded both his coalition and Australia’s states (the country has a federal system) to agree to a sweeping, nationwide reform of gun laws. The so-called National Firearms Agreement (NFA), drafted the month after the shooting, sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms in Australia. It also established a registry of all guns owned in the country, among other measures, and required a permit for all new firearm purchases.
One of the most significant provisions of the NFA was a flat-out ban on certain kinds of guns, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. But there were already a number of such guns in circulation in Australia, and the NFA required getting them off the streets.
Australia solved this problem by introducing a mandatory buyback: Australia’s states would take away all guns that had just been declared illegal. In exchange, they’d pay the guns’ owners a fair price, set by a national committee using market value as a benchmark, to compensate for the loss of their property. The NFA also offered legal amnesty for anyone who handed in illegally owned guns, though they weren’t compensated.Vox: “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted.“
And It Worked.
A comprehensive, independent review of the policy, was stunning. From Vox:
In 2011, Harvard’s David Hemenway and Mary Vriniotis reviewed the research on Australia’s suicide and homicide rate after the NFA. Their conclusion was clear: “The NFA seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.” What they found is a decline in both suicide and homicide rates after the NFA. The average firearm suicide rate in Australia in the seven years after the bill declined by 57 percent compared with the seven years prior. The average firearm homicide rate went down by about 42 percent.Vox: “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted.“
So substantive reform is possible if the shock and revulsion felt immediately after one of these horrific slaughters results in concerted, meaningful action instead of only moments of silence and excuses. And meaningful gun violence prevention can save lives.
Retake will be tracking closely what kind of substantive gun violence prevention legislation begins to form in advance of the 2023 session. And who is supporting it and who isn’t.
In solidarity and anger,
Paul & Roxanne
P.S. Hold on to your anger. We can’t get used to this.