Maeve Higgins: What are US politicians doing about gun violence?

As an immigrant to the US, gun violence is the most painful and difficult phenomenon to understand
Maeve Higgins: What are US politicians doing about gun violence?

Esmeralda Bravo, 63, sheds tears while holding a photo of her granddaughter, Nevaeh, one of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims, during a prayer vigil in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old shot his grandmother and then drove to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

He crashed his truck outside the school, went inside, and killed nineteen children and two adults.

There have been twenty-seven school shootings in 21 weeks in America. 

Earlier this month, another gunman killed ten people in a racist attack in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. 

The day after this latest massacre, emotions ran high across Texas, and across the country, as they should. 

The prominent Democrat Beto O'Rourke crashed a press conference about the shooting where he challenged Texas Governor Greg Abbott from the floor, shouting, "The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing."

As an immigrant to the US, gun violence is the most painful and difficult phenomenon to understand. 

We all live with this awful drumbeat of horror that accompanies our day-to-day lives, softer or louder, depending on what state we live in and its gun laws. 

President Biden pointed out that this is the only country where these mass shootings happen regularly, asking, "When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God's name are we going to do what has to be done? Why are we willing to live with this carnage?" 

So, what are our politicians doing about gun violence?

Beto O'Rourke is set to run against Abbott in November's midterm elections, but he is incorrect when he accuses the Governor of "doing nothing" about gun violence. 

In Texas, Republican leaders like Governor Abbott have been very busy these past few years as gun violence and mass shooters mushroom out of the darkness. 

These lawmakers have been expanding gun rights, with The Guardian US reporting that Abbott has signed nearly two dozen laws providing more access to guns, quoting him as saying the measure "instilled freedom in the Lone Star State." 

These Republicans are paying lip service to the tragedy, calling it intolerable, but the words are empty when their actions are simply business as usual. 

Along with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Abbott is due to speak at the National Rifle Association's meeting in Houston this coming weekend. 

So is Donald Trump. 

Pressured to leave the press conference by security guards amidst competing shouts from the gathered Republicans, O'Rourke continued to speak to the media outside the building. 

"I could care less whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent to stand up right now for yourself, for your kids, for our families, and to stop the next shooting."

The worst idea I've heard about how to stop the next shooting came from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on the far-right network Newsmax on Tuesday evening. 

In a familiar Republican refrain, he suggested that arming teachers and school employees would be good. 

So to deal with the terror of gun violence in school, he called for more guns in school. 

This is where I start to drift, far away. 

I cannot make any sense of this unhinged argument that Paxton and many others make again and again, seemingly in good faith. 

He went on to say that there is no point in making any changes to gun control laws. 

"People that are shooting people, that are killing kids, they're not following murder laws. They're not going to follow gun laws," Paxton told the network. 

The New York Times reports that "The evidence is overwhelming that overall more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries. 

"One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a gun in the house was associated with an increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also apparently by homicide." 

When the Attorney General says something as monumentally incorrect and easy to disprove, it is clear what motivates him.

In Washington DC, Democratic senators are literally pleading with their Republican colleagues to break the decades-long deadlock and make changes in federal legislation like universal background checks, background checks, and safe storage laws. 

Iliana Calles cries at the Governor's Mansion, in Austin, Texas, during a protest organised by Moms Demand Action on Wednesday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Iliana Calles cries at the Governor's Mansion, in Austin, Texas, during a protest organised by Moms Demand Action on Wednesday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Instead, in a routine so infuriating it feels like they are trolling, Republican lawmakers offer prayers for the victims and their families, then trot off to speak to an arena full of gun lobbyists.

During an NPR radio interview on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut recalled his experience during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings. 

In one of the deadliest school shootings ever, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself. 

That was almost ten years ago, but Murphy still sounded shaken when describing the "gristly" scene in his home state. 

He said he hoped that Americans did not have to see what an AR-15 does to a child's body to be moved to action. 

He did not sound optimistic. 

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul called on her state's lawmakers to ban the sale of AR-15-style rifles to people under age 21. 

In Uvalde and Buffalo, both gunmen were just 18 years old, and both used AR-15-style firearms which they had purchased legally. 

Hochul said at a press conference, "How does an 18-year-old purchase an AR-15 in the State of New York, State of Texas? That person's not old enough to buy a legal drink. I want to work with the legislature to change that. I want it to be 21. I think that's just common sense."

That is what the politicians are doing. 

In the meantime, regular people are doing what they can to fit their lives around the threat of violence. 

Mass shootings are statistically just one small part of gun violence in America. 

A school shooting is unlikely to happen to someone living here but more likely than in other countries, and children are prepared for it. 

At eighteen, it's probable that the gunman who shot the children and teachers in Uvalde on Tuesday had practised active shooter drills himself as a child. 

These drills have become a regular part of school life in a way that people living in other countries find horrifying. 

Two family members of one of the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at Robb Elementary School comfort each other during a prayer vigil. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Two family members of one of the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at Robb Elementary School comfort each other during a prayer vigil. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In 2018, Shaina Feinberg, a filmmaker in Brooklyn, made a short documentary called Soft Lockdown. 

The film features an interview with a five-year-old girl named Prudence who is just home from school where she had taken part in her first active shooter drill. 

In the film, Prudence stands outside her building, a slight child in a blue dress and a red headband. 

She explains the drill in that adorable run-on way five years old have; “All the girls have to go into the cubbies area, and all the boys have to go to the bathroom, and we all have to be very quiet. 

"We all have to hide because people are going to come in, and if the lights are on, they'll be able to see us. But we turn off the lights." 

Feinberg then asks Prudence. "What did you look like when you were hiding?" 

The child crouches down and covers her head with her arms, looking tiny now. 

The sound of birdsong and the music from the passing ice cream truck goes quiet, then the picture fades to black.

More in this section

Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up