It’s a common refrain we hear from “gun rights” advocates after mass shootings like the one that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Politicians such as Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz say we need to “harden schools” with increased security.
The NRA says we need to arm citizens so there’s a “good guy with a gun” to stop the shooter. Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott claims we need to focus on “mental health” rather than gun regulation.
But at Robb Elementary School, all these tired refrains failed.
First, the schools across the district in fact had been hardened, with $450,000 spent in just one school year from 2019-20 on monitoring and security services. There were four police officers paid by the district and security staff patrolling the doors, parking lots and campus perimeters.
They had implemented a “threat reporting system” for “students, parents, staff, and community members" to share information that deemed "troubling," include information "about weapons, threats, fights, drugs, self-harm, suicide or disclosures made that are concerning."
Students were regularly trained and drilled on lockdown, shelter and hold procedures. But no amount of hardening could prepare Robb elementary school to deal with a determined killer armed with an AR-15.
Second, there were also plenty of “good guys” there with guns. The local police accounts of what transpired are still evolving, with prior statements about their prompt actions since disproven and retracted.
But one thing is abundantly clear: Against a lone teen gunman armed with an assault style rifle, a whole squad of officers still took an hour to neutralize him.
Contrary to prior statements by officials, according to Victor Escalan, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the gunman initially walked in unobstructed and unconfronted, even though he was apparently outside the school firing shots for 12 minutes before going in through an unlocked door.
After two officers were shot and wounded, police at the scene decided to await the arrival of specially trained Border Patrol officers to finally storm through the classroom door an hour later. Whether they did the right thing or not by waiting, and whether lives could have been saved had they charged in sooner, remains highly disputed, and rightly so.
But if so many officers, who are armed and specially trained for this type of encounter, cannot stop this from happening and further cannot even act quickly to take out a shooter, the idea that armed teachers or hall monitors can and will do so instead is unrealistic in the extreme.
Finally, in his remarks following the shooting Governor Abbott pivoted away from gun regulation and predictably leaned into mental illness as the cause.
“We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health."
"Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge. Period."
"We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and to do something about it.”
But there was zero indication or record that the Uvalde killer suffered mental health problems or had a history of mental illness. Identifying these types of killers in advance of their rampages would be nearly futile, not to mention far less effective than simply making it much harder for them to purchase deadly assault weapons.
Further, under Abbott’s leadership the state of Texas actually has diverted funds away from mental health, with Texas ranking last in the country in providing access to mental health. The subject is simply a scapegoat for when a mass shooting occurs, and one that Governor Abbott has done nothing to improve in any event.
If Republican leaders had any interest whatsoever in addressing the underlying problem of gun violence and mass shootings in America, they would agree to the most basic, sensible and popular of measures, such as requiring universal background checks for the purchase of firearms.
Depending on the poll, some 80 to 90 percent of Americans favor this simple step.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act was proposed after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting left 26 dead almost a decade ago, and it finally passed the House in 2021. But even though it has a majority of 50 Democratic votes to pass it in the Senate, it still cannot overcome the Republican filibuster, where the bill lacks the support of even 10 GOP senators due to lobbying efforts and campaign funding by the NRA.
Hardening schools, arming teachers, and blaming mental illness won’t stop any of these mass shootings, as the grim body count of children and teachers in Uvalde just showed us plainly.
Yet the answer has long been staring us in the face: When mass murders took place in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, those nations moved quickly to ban firearms, and they haven’t had significant mass shootings since.
But unlike those countries, our system and our politicians are captive to a well-funded and extremist gun lobby. Congress managed to pass a ban on assault style weapons back in 1994, when 400,000 of these weapons were in circulation in America.
But that ban expired in 2004 and was not renewed. Today, there are 20 million AR-15 style assault weapons in our country.
And an 18 year old can buy such weapons readily, without any impediment at all.
We endure all this to protect a supposed Second Amendment right to bear arms that was a historic, massive fraud upon the American public by special interests and for 200 years never had anything to do with the right of private citizens to be armed to the teeth.
There is an old saying on gun rights advocates’ bumper stickers that reads, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
To this I would simply add, “Yes. People with guns.”