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Another school shooting. Another mass murder of innocent children. They were elementary school kids this time. There were 18 children killed—so far—this time.
The fact that I can say “this time” is enraging, but that’s the routine nature of mass shootings in the U.S. It happened in Texas this time. At least three adults were killed this time. The shooter was a teenager this time.
The details this time may be different than the last time and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that. But there’s one thing all mass shootings have in common. No, it’s not mental illness. It’s not racism or misogyny or religious extremism. It’s not bad parenting or violent video games or lack of religion.
Some of those things have been factors in some shootings, but the single common denominator in every mass shooting is guns. That’s not a secret. It’s not controversial. It’s fact. The only thing all mass shootings have in common is guns.
Other countries have guns, but the United States has a lot more and it’s not even close. The U.S. is the only country in the world that has more guns than people (a whopping 120 guns for every 100 people). The next highest country for gun ownership (the Falkland Islands) has half the per capita gun numbers we have.
Not only do we have far more guns than anywhere else, but we have relatively few federal laws regulating those guns. We have state laws, but they vary widely and that makes a difference—so much so that research shows some states are negatively impacted by neighboring states’ lax gun laws.
(And yes, there is a correlation between gun death rates and gun laws—states with stricter laws have lower gun death rates and vice versa. These stats are easy to look up and they’re also gathered in this article and in this article.)
However, I know from writing about this topic for years that facts and stats don’t seem to matter. Nothing seems to matter—that was clear after first graders were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary and Congress did nothing. We see shooting after shooting and nothing changes.
It’s exhausting and baffling, which is the energy Senator Chris Murphy brought to the Senate floor shortly after the news of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting broke. Murphy represented the district where the Sandy Hook shooting took place in 2012 and has advocated for Congress to take up gun legislation for years. In this speech to his Senate colleagues, he channeled the emotions of millions of Americans who are begging for lawmakers to do something.
The “code word” that the kids who survived Sandy Hook had to use to help them get through the memories and trauma of what they experienced is just too much.
“Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority if your answer is that, as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing? What are we doing? Why are you here, if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”
Murphy asked the questions so many of us want to scream at Congress after each mass shooting. The majority of Americans support commonsense gun legislation. Certain gun laws, such as universal background checks, have the support of 83% of Americans.
Murphy’s plea to “find a path forward here” may be fruitless, but it’s right. Congress needs to act. State laws are not effective when an issue affects the whole country and state borders are just imaginary lines on a map.
Lawmakers in Texas, which tops all states for gun ownership, recently relaxed the state’s already loose gun laws to allow anyone 21 and older to carry a gun without a permit and without any training. Texas leadership has bragged about its gun culture and taken pride in “protecting the Second Amendment,” despite there being nothing in that amendment that prohibits the regulation of firearms.
When some states want to live in the Wild West, with a firearm free-for-all and baseless claims that a “good guy with a gun” will solve our gun violence problem, we need sensible people to at least attempt to protect America from its worst instincts. It is entirely possible to have the right to gun ownership and also have sensible gun laws and anyone who says otherwise is full of it. We have plenty of examples of it in countries around the world, as well as in states within our own country.
What we can’t continue to do is nothing, because it’s obviously not working.