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AR-15 assault rifles on display in a gun store

A worker restocks AR-15 guns at Davidson Defense in Orem, Utah on March 20, 2020. - Gun stores in the US are reporting a surge in sales of firearms as coronavirus fears trigger personal safety concerns. (Photo: George Frey / AFP via Getty Images)

The Problem Is the Guns. The Guns. The Guns. The Guns.

It's not school security or mental illness or anything else—it’s just all the guns.

Chuck Idelson

If there’s one lesson we should draw from the horror at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tx, it's that we cannot rely just on school guards, calling 911, or tepid “solutions” by extremist politicians to safeguard our school children. Or to protect people in supermarkets, houses of worship, or any other public settings targeted for mass carnage.

In disastrous press conferences, Texas public safety officials struggled to explain the long law enforcement delay in responding, up to an hour while large numbers of officers were on scene before stopping the bloodletting. "They did contain him in the classroom," intoned Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "Contained" in that classroom, the shooter had all the time he needed to murder 19 children and two teachers.

There apparently was no armed guard on the premises when the gunman walked through the door. Would it have mattered? It didn't at the Tops Market May 14 in Buffalo when an overmatched armed security guard was killed by more heavily armed mass killer, in this case a white supremacist who drove 200 miles to terrorize a Black neighborhood.

At both the school and the grocery store, the real problem was not lack of a security guard or even the delay in police response. In Uvalde, "the first thing (the shooter) did when he turned 18" was to legally purchase two AR platform rifles, at a local federal firearms licensee and to buy 375 rounds of ammunition, just days earlier, reported Texas State Sen. John Whitmire.

He didn’t buy all that lethal hardware to hunt deer, he did it to slaughter human beings. Similarly, the Buffalo racist murderer bought the rifle used in his racist rampage—a Bushmaster XM-15—from an upstate New York gun dealer shortly after he turned 18. According to The Trace, which tracks gun violence, both teenage gunmen acquired their rifles legally, through federally licensed dealers. Both transfers were in compliance with state law. 

The U.S. did once have a ban on assault weapons, a 10-year law enacted in 1993 on a 95-4 vote in the Senate with the support of former Republican Presidents Ford, Reagan and the first President Bush. According to a 2004 report by the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice, the ban cut the number of gun crimes involving semi-automatic weapons by 17% in the six cities involved in the study. But as Republicans lurched further to the right on gun fanaticism, the bill was allowed to lapse, and efforts to revive it failed miserably, even after the 2018 bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Ct. that left 26 mostly small children dead.

As President Biden said on the night of the Uvalde massacre, "when we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled."

Gun lenient Texas has endured four mass shootings with 10 or more deaths since 2017. After one, when a 17-year-old student murdered eight classmates and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in the Houston metro area, far right Gov. Greg Abbott summoned a task force that drafted a 40-point “hardening” school safety plan as his way to avoid limits on gun proliferation, especially easy access to assault rifles.

The plan, approved by the legislature in 2019, was "not broadly implemented," the Washington Post reports. But Abbott was more successful in passing other laws to please the pro-gun violence crowd, including a bill last year permitting Texans to carry handguns without licenses or training while rebuffing any gun control proposals.

Not surprisingly, Abbott has been a little testy when pushed to explain this week why his approach has failed. He quickly seized on a favored trope of pro-gun politicians claiming the shooter had a "mental health challenge." The state, he insisted, needed to "do a better job with mental health," while curiously omitting his own action in April to axe $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs. And as NBC points out, Texas ranks 50th in the nation in access to mental health programs. Numerous gun control advocates, including Sen. Chris Murphy on the floor of the Senate this week, have also pointed out that many other countries in the world have mental illness without the mass shootings because they have actual gun safety laws.

When former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke confronted Abbott in his presser calling out his failures, he was denounced by others on the stage and rapidly whisked out of the room.

An even more prominent Texas gun violence apologist, Sen. Ted Cruz, had his own disquieting face off with a Sky News reporter who pointed out "Many people around the world just cannot fathom, 'Why only in America?' Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?" Another reporter piped in, "Why is America the only country that makes this kind of mass shooting?"

A rattled Cruz’ answer? "Why is it that people come from all over the world to America? Because it's the freest, most prosperous, safest country on earth."

But not so safe for the 21 young children and their teachers at Robb Elementary School, the 10 people at Tops Market, and all those victims of the more than 200 other mass shootings this year alone, so far and counting.

And counting.

Correction: An initial reference to automatic weapons has been changed to semi-automatic weapons.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Chuck Idelson

Chuck Idelson

Chuck Idelson is the Communications Senior Strategist for National Nurses United, the nation's largest union and professional organization of registered nurses with 175,000 members.

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