On May 24, there was yet another mass shooting at a school in the United States of America. This time, it was an elementary school in Uvalde town, near San Antonio, Texas. The gunman was a teenager who first shot his grandmother (who survived), then went on to fire at atleast 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School; he was killed during exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers.
This is not a one-off incident; it is part of a series of mass shootings in the US, and the worst since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people. Then, 20 of the victims were children and six were adult staff members.
In 1999, when the Columbine High School massacre took place, it was seen as a watershed moment in the US – the worst mass shooting at a school in the country’s history. Now, it ranks fourth. The three school shootings to surpass its death toll of 13 – 12 students, one teacher – have all taken place within the last decade: 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary attack, in which a gunman killed 26 children and school staff; the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 people; and now the Robb Elementary School assault in Uvalde, Texas.
Why do such mass shooting events keep happening in the US and what prevents the self-proclaimed ‘greatest’ nation on the planet from stopping them? First off, mass public shootings are defined as incidents in which four or more victims are murdered, with at least one of those homicides taking place in a public location and with no connection to underlying criminal activity, such as gangs or drugs.
In a vast majority of these shootings, the perpetrators have been men and so, calling them ‘gunmen’ would be accurate. What these gunmen had in common was their delusional (albeit aspirational) notions of ‘white supremacy’, hate-driven actions, a manifesto of their twisted beliefs that they left behind and the ability to legally purchase guns. Some are also reported to be dealing with mental health issues.
After so many repeats of the same pattern of violence, one would be inclined to expect the law enforcement agencies to take steps to monitor, screen and pre-empt such actions. That, however, is glaringly missing.
One of the reasons for these recurring events is the ease with which teenagers can purchase weapons. It is pertinent to mention here that the ideology behind, inclination towards, motivation for and execution of such acts may be out of the control of the administration but stopping the procurement of weapons/firearms/handguns without due process and effective checks is very firmly in the hands of law-enforcing agencies.
In the US, one can literally walk into a gun store and walk out armed to the teeth. In Texas, in particular, gun control laws are among the least restrictive in the U.S. and the state does not have a waiting period for gun purchases.
This is in sharp contrast to the seeming anarchy perceived to be prevalent in much of South Asia, including India, where obtaining arms legally is thankfully still a laborious and long drawn-out process.
Meanwhile, once each preventable mass shooting is over, a tragic cadence becomes audible in American life. It moves to the rhythm of allegations being levelled against the influence of the gun lobby — National Rifle Association (NRA) — and the unyielding opposition of gun control by almost all Republicans. The NRA actively gives money for building and maintaining gun ranges. Its lobbying budget, including official and unofficial spends, runs into tens of millions of dollars every year. The group’s membership is highly engaged politically, and considered to be a solid vote bank focused on a single issue that Republican politicians seek to tap.
Non-plussed ordinary citizens and dispirited gun-control advocates can do little more than point fingers at the NRA and the GOP’s policies regarding gun control. It is estimated that U.S. civilians own 393 million firearms and that 35% to 42% of the households in the country have at least one gun. The U.S. has by far the highest estimated number of guns per capita in the world, at 120.5 guns for every 100 people.
In 2017, the US had a population of 326,474,000. That year, the estimated number of firearms in civilian possession was 393,347,000. There were 1,073,743 registered firearms and 392,273,257 estimated to be unregistered. A simple calculation will reveal the stark fact that there are more weapons than people in this so-called ‘First World’ country and ‘greatest democracy’ in the world.
While the common sense approach suggests severely limiting the ability of young people, people with mental health issues or those with a history of engagement with law enforcement to access firearms and weapons, the ground reality is that in the US it is simply too cheap and too easy to obtain a weapon, no questions asked.
The gun manufacturers seem too powerful and too entrenched to be take head-on, by any administration, even that helmed by Democrats. The NRA has, for decades put up a fierce, determined opposition to any effort to reduce access to lethal weapons. So much so that the Uvalde, Texas shooting prompted US President Joe Biden to ask, in seeming despair, “As a nation, we have to ask when in God’s name we’re going to stand up to the gun lobby, when in God’s name we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done.”
He also said, poignantly, “I had hoped when I became president I would not have to do this — again,” with longtime teacher first lady Jill Biden at his side. “Another massacre. Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school. Beautiful, innocent second, third and fourth graders. And how many scores of little children who witnessed what happened — see their friends die, as if they’re in a battlefield, for God’s sake. They’ll live with it the rest of their lives.”