Outrage, helplessness after US mass school shooting in Texas
At the end of the school year, as many children were completing the last days of their first in-person grade since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago, an 18-year-old gunman went to an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and killed 19 children and two teachers, making it the second deadliest school shooting in US history.
This is far from an isolated incident. Mass shootings, defined as four or more deaths per incident, occur in the US at a rate of more than one a day.
Since 1970, there have been more than 1,300 school shootings, with the rate increasing in recent years, only dropping with the one to two years of remote schooling during the pandemic and picked back up with in-person learning.
An American phenomenon
What makes this unique is that among wealthy countries, it only happens on a regular basis in the United States (violence against schoolchildren is also high in some impoverished countries, such as Afghanistan and parts of Africa and Central America).
"This is a uniquely American phenomenon that we're experiencing," Alexandra Filindra, associate professor of political science and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The New Arab. "Basically, countries that have strong gun laws that are highly regulated have a lot fewer shootings."
This phenomenon, in addition to a deeply ingrained gun culture, Filindra says, is tied to the availability of guns and high private inventory, both enabled by lax laws and regulations.
In the US, among states with lax gun laws such as Texas, guns can be easily purchased on the spot with no training or certification required, and "ghost guns" that are made from online instructions using 3D printers are increasingly common. The country's gun inventory, estimated at around 400 million (nearly 100 million more than the entire population, including children), is difficult to verify due to a lack of sales tracking.
A national gun culture
It is difficult to overstate the depth of American gun culture. Guns are an important part of the country's origin narrative, second in the constitution's amendments only after freedom of speech, stemming from a part of the cowboy mythology of expanding westward and a general symbol of individual freedom, particularly when it comes to defending property.
"It's so essential to the national identity for so many people, it's reached the status of a belief system," Abigail Vegter, assistant professor of political science at Berry College, told TNA. "There are some national traditions that have attained the status of a religious belief system."
"The second amendment is like that. Guns are at the core of some people's understanding of the United States, and they double down on that identity. With gun policies, they say: where is the line going to be drawn?" she said.
Also at the core of this culture is masculinity, specifically white masculinity, which is the profile of the country's majority of mass shooters.
"Mass shootings can't be disconnected from masculinity politics," Susan Liebell, a professor of political science at St. Joseph University, told TNA. "Ads aimed at young men. All of shooters fit a particular profile."
State and federal gun laws
Gun safety laws are often difficult to pass due to federal protections of gun owners' rights, which are likely to remain in place with the current senate make-up, which would require either 10 Republicans to join 50 Democrats to pass gun reform legislation or an end to the filibuster.
Moreover, with no restrictions on interstate commerce of guns, having strict gun laws in one state does not necessarily provide protection from what’s allowed in other states.
In Texas, with some of the loosest gun restriction laws in the country, Governor Greg Abbot hailed last year a 2021 permitless carry law as the "biggest and best" gun law of that year that "instilled freedom" in Texas. He is scheduled to speak at this weekend's National Rifle Association convention.
If anything, gun laws could become more lax, given a pending Supreme Court case. Gun policy experts are closely watching New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, which has its roots in the 1911 Sullivan Act, making the possession of a handgun without a permit a crime, and concealed carry permits are decided by local law enforcement.
In this current case, a New York resident claimed that he had the right to defend himself against neighbourhood thieves and argued that the state's denial of his application for a concealed carry license violated his second amendment rights. This case will be decided by the current conservative-majority Supreme Court, and could open the door for more rights for gun owners.
"With this ruling, we're looking at the Supreme Court taking away power from New York state," said Liebell.
Few reasons for optimism about future shootings
As for the rights of regular people going about their daily lives, whether it's going to school, their house of worship, the supermarket, or any other public space, there appears to be little hope in the near future.
Filindra expects to see more mass shootings in the coming months and years, combined with more restrictions and security in public spaces.
"Our public institutions will resemble prisons to protect children from violence," she said. "Any public-facing institution like supermarkets and stores will end up imposing these indignities on citizens for their protection. Then it becomes very problematic when it's legal for people to carry guns in these institutions. It will be intrusive for everyone and it will be expensive."
For gun reform to pass, she believes, Republican legislators will need to be convinced to vote for safety regulations, an unlikelier scenario.
"We need to provide an understanding that gun ownership has to go hand and hand w responsibility and certain restrictions for the public good. It's not just individual rights that are important, it's also for the public good," she said. "Unless we can find a way to engage with Republican voters, nothing will change."