America Mourns Another Shooting by a Young Man With Access to Military-Grade Weapons

People mourn outside of the Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

At least 19 children and two adults were murdered by an 18-year-old male using a military-style assault weapon at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon. In the wake of the tragedy, feminists, lawmakers and average Americans are collectively grieving the senseless loss of life and grappling with next steps. 

President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Tuesday evening, capturing the national mood of horror, frustration and eyes to the future: “For every parent, for every citizen in this country, we have to make it clear to every elected official in this country: It’s time to act. … As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

Reporting continues to paint a clearer picture of the events that unfolded on Tuesday and in the days leading up to the killing spree. The gunman turned 18 just days before the shooting, and bought an AR-style rifle legally on May 17, the day after his birthday; 375 rounds of 5.56-caliber ammunition on May 18; and another assault rifle on May 20. Before heading to Robb Elementary on Tuesday, May 24, he shot his grandmother, critically wounding but not killing her. Coworkers of the gunman told reporters he had an “aggressive streak” and allegedly sent inappropriate messages to female employees.

The 18-year-old then headed to Robb Elementary with the guns in tow and entered a fourth grade classroom. He “barricaded himself inside that classroom, and … just began shooting numerous children and teachers that were in that classroom, having no regard for human life,” according to Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Across the nation, grief is palpable. 

Beyond grief, Americans are raging at a perceived lack of action on meaningful gun control legislation. Hours after news of the shooting broke, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, who as a member of the House represented the district where Sandy Hook Elementary is located, gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate to his colleagues: “What are we doing? Days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing?”

The U.S. is an outlier among its peers in gun violence. Each day in the U.S., over 35 people on average are murdered by a gun; no other wealthy country’s gun homicide rates come close.

The U.S. has the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, and is an outlier among nations with average GDPs per capita above $30,000. (Our World in Data and World Bank, via New York Times)

The U.S. is also unique from its peer countries in the way it protects gun manufacturers. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC enabled corpor­a­tions and other groups to spend unlim­ited funds on elec­tions. This permitted the gun lobby to funnel copious amounts of dark money to elected officials on a large scale—and they continue to do so.

Another federal law protects manufacturers from being sued for deaths caused by weapons they design and sell to kill people. Notably, families of nine Sandy Hook school shooting victims took Remington, the maker of the AR-15-style rifle, to court—and this February, they won. The case successfully argued that marketing of the weapon had violated Connecticut consumer law by appealing to lonely, troubled men, who disproportionately commit mass shootings.

The state of Texas is a particularly easy place to access guns, where most types of weapons—including assault rifles—can be purchased and possessed by anyone 18 years or older with very few exceptions. Last summer, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who boasts an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), made gun access even easier when he signed into law the implementation of “constitutional carry” in Texas, which effectively allows anyone in the state to carry a weapon without a permit. Today, the state is ranked the 10th most friendly state for guns and boasts one the nation’s highest rates of gun violence. Abbott says he still plans to attend the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action annual convention in Houston this weekend. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, another Texas Republican with a perfect score from the NRA who plans to attend the NRA conference this weekend, told CNN’s Jessica Dean that gun control laws “[don’t] work” and “[don’t] prevent crime.” But study after study shows that common sense gun reform—including universal background checks, permit requirements, laws that give local authorities discretion in deciding who can carry a weapon, and laws banning people convicted of violent misdemeanors from possessing firearms—significantly reduce gun-related deaths. Conversely, U.S. states with more relaxed gun control laws have higher rates of mass shootings.

There is overwhelming bipartisan support for gun reform. In a Politico poll from last year:

  • Universal background checks are supported by 90 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans.
  • Creating a national database of gun sales is backed by 87 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans.
  • A national three-day waiting period is a good idea, according to 86 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans.
  • Banning guns from schools and college campuses is supported by 84 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans.
  • Raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 has the support of 88 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans.

A Pew Research poll from 2021 shows high support from Democrats (80 percent) for a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines—the weapons used in the Uvalde shooting—while 40 percent of Republicans support these measures.

So when it comes to gun control, what is possible? And what, and who, stands in the way?

Senate: The U.S. House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has passed gun reform legislation:

  • H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 backed by House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), would close the “Charleston loophole” and expand background checks on all commercial gun sales. This same loophole allowed a white gunman to legally purchase a firearm to kill nine people at a historically Black church in Charleston in 2015.
  • H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, would significantly expand background checks for all gun sales and transfers, closing another loophole that allows unlicensed gun sellers to sell to felons, domestic abusers, the severely mentally ill and other groups that would otherwise be barred from owning a weapon. Over 20 percent of U.S. gun purchases were made without any background check, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety.

But without filibuster reform (which seems unlikely given the current makeup of the Senate), Senate Democrats would need 10 Republicans to consider a bill like this. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged to renew efforts to pass stricter U.S. gun control laws and implored his Republican colleagues to support the bills and stand up to the NRA. “Please, damn it, put yourself in the shoes of these parents for once,” he said from the Senate floor.

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is currently deciding how it will rule in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which will weigh the constitutionality of a New York law that allows officials to deny applications for concealed-carry licenses without demonstrating a “special need” for self-defense. The ruling will have a ripple effect in states with similar restrictions, like California.

Working to dismantle the NRA: Lawsuits from groups and elected officials—from Giffords, the gun control advocacy group, to New York Attorney General Letitia James—have attempted to derail and diminish the power of the NRA over the years, with varying success. Additional campaign finance reform laws could also help to keep the NRA’s power in check.

Holding elected officials accountable: In the upcoming midterms, know where your candidates stand on gun reform.

Community members gather at the Uvalde Town Square for a prayer vigil in the wake of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. (Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images)

Rest in power: Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, 10; Eliahna Garcia; Uziyah Garcia, 8; Amerie jo Garza, 10; Xavier Lopez, 10; Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10; Eva Mireles, 44; Annabelle Rodriguez, 10; Jailah Nicole Silguero, 11; Eliahana Cruz Torres; Rojelio Torres, 10; the other victims; and all victims of gun violence.

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast "On the Issues With Michele Goodwin." Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.