Two weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a California law that blocked anyone younger than 21 from buying a semiautomatic rifle. In a 2-to-1 decision, two Trump-appointed judges waxed poetic about the importance of allowing 18-year-olds to buy AR-15s. The current uber-right U.S. Supreme Court is highly likely to uphold this decision.
So no one should be surprised when an 18 year old, too young to lawfully buy alcohol, purchases two AR-15s as a birthday present to himself and kills, obliterating some beyond recognition, 19 small children and two teachers in Uvalde , Texas in the nation’s deadliest school shooting in almost ten years. Unless something dramatically changes, this carnage is likely to continue for at least a generation.
Congressional inaction after Sandy Hook signaled that dead toddlers are but an inconvenient cost of doing business the American Way. The Uvalde shooting was the 27th school shooting this year and the 119th since 2018. Other advanced democracies try to keep guns away from dangerous people; we have more guns than we have people. If more guns really mean less crime, why aren’t we the safest country on the planet. Why are our gun violence statistics such an international outlier?
Gun-loving Texans, it seems, don’t care where the slaughter happens, in a school, a church, a Walmart (23 people in 2019), on the highway, anywhere regular folks go. And Lone Star state politicians? Their default position is to play to their base and loosen already-weak regulations, even in face of ever-increasing gun violence and deaths. We learn a lot from a 2015 tweet in which Governor Greg Abbott complained he was embarrassed because Texas was just second in the nation for new gun sales, behind first-place California.
Texas may be the worst, but it’s not alone. Since Sandy Hook in 2013, there have been 3500 mass shootings. There have been 500 school shootings in the United States since 2008. States’ reluctance to act mirrors the repeated failure of Washington to pass even modest legislation strengthening background checks of would-be purchasers, including on the internet and at gun shows. President Biden’s deeply affecting cri de Coeur Tuesday evening was nastily derided on Fox News as a disgusting display of partisanship exploiting the tragic deaths of little children. This nation is in deep trouble.
Much of the problem rests with the Senate, where the Republican bloc opposes any gun safety measures. This, though up to 90 percent of Americans – gun owners and non-gun owners alike – favor reasonable regulations for background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable. Other measures making sense include red flag laws, limiting magazine size and barring military style weapons for civilian use. In the wake of Uvalde, a handful of Republicans are murmuring that they might be open to some of these safety measures, but don’t count on it.
Their public comments focus only on mental illness as the reason for so many shootings. Do they really think the United States has higher rates of mental illness than do other developed nations? The difference is the number of guns we have in circulation and the ease of obtaining them.
What is sick is how many politicians quaver in face of imagined (or real) single issue gun rights voters. National Rifle Association (NRA), now under attack financially and in the courts, has less power than in the past, but there are more gun zealots than NRA members. The NRA is scheduled to hold its convention in Texas next week, featuring GOP officials. (Gubernatorial candidate (Democrat) Beto O’Rourke has urged Abbott to cancel his plans to attend the gathering.) Irony Alert: NRA has announced audience members will not be permitted to carry guns during former President Trump’s address. I guess his right to life is more sacred than that of Texas schoolchildren.
Thanks to the NRA lobby and their fellow travelers, resistance to reasonable regulation of guns exceeds that of any other regulation. Just consider what we do to create minimum safety standards for drivers. They need to be a certain age, have a driver’s test, and abide by rules of the road. Federal rules dictate that manufacturers must incorporate safety equipment: seat belt, air bags, safety glass and more.
One recent study found that the U.S. accounts for 73 percent of mass shootings in developed nations. With an estimated 400 million guns in circulation in the U.S., 98 percent of them in civilian hands, the proliferation militates against the effectiveness of potential new laws, even if we could end or modify the filibuster and pass new laws. The anti-democratic structural bias of the Senate works against any legislative reform. And then the question is whether, if passed, such necessary laws would still be challenged up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, given its makeup, new laws would not likely pass judicial muster. In Scotland, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, gun massacres were followed by stringent restrictions and widespread public acceptance of changes to their longtime gun cultures. “Never again” meant something to them.
The Second Amendment is not an absolute, but too many read it as unrestricted. This outrageous impasse is unspeakably frustrating, and captured in this Christmas card and the following piece by poet Brian Bilston.