10 days after an 18-year-old male, clad in body armor and wielding a semi-automatic weapon, walked into a grocery store in Buffalo and killed 11 people, targeting ten Black patrons, another 18-year-old male, wielding a fully loaded weapon walked into an elementary school in Uvalde Texas and killed 22 people, 19 of them children under the age of 10.
The echoes of the Charleston massacre in 2015 and the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 are deafening. Yet it just keeps happening.
There was a time when we might have thought that the mass shooting of an elementary school would have been the final straw. Targeting tiny children in their classrooms, randomly gunning them down in front of their friends who had to witness the carnage, the horror endured by the families of the victims would seem to be the sort of thing that would shock the collective conscience. And back in 2012, it did. But just for a little while. There was bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill, law enforcement and right-wing media were in accord, and even the NRA’s board understood that this had crossed a line. A teenage boy had obtained a semi-automatic rifle, killed his mother, and gunned down 20 first-graders and six teachers in an elementary school. Something had to be done.
Then Wayne LaPierre, the undisputed leader of the gun rights movement and then the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), put his foot down. He appeared at a press conference in Washington at which everyone expected him to offer a compromise on the NRA’s rigid refusal to contemplate any gun reform measures at all. But he didn’t. Instead, he gave a barn burner of a speech in which rather than offering some concessions, he doubled down. He famously proclaimed:
The only way — the only way — to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?
All reforms of the gun laws stalled from that point forward. The right, completely in the clutches of the gun lobby, never engaged in good faith again. Even the horrifying image of grade school kids being sprayed with semi-automatic gunfire didn’t move them.
The NRA and LaPierre have since been disgraced in a series of financial scandals but as is so common on the right, their dishonesty and corruption haven’t reduced their clout with the GOP. As a matter of fact, they are holding their annual meeting in Texas on Friday:
LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” speech laid down the law that the only acceptable response to mass gun violence was to call for more guns — arming teachers, armed security in public buildings, arming parishioners in churches etc. And it remains in effect today. They speak of “hardening targets” and recommending open carry laws that allow average “good guys” to be armed and ready at all times to try to stop a committed mass murderer. Yesterday, in the wake of the shooting they all dutifully spouted the party line:
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When asked why people are opposed to this supposed solution, Fox News’ Jeanine PIrro said it’s because they are “triggered if there is someone with a gun, they are frightened, that is this new narrative. You see a gun, you should be frightened as opposed to appreciating what they are doing for you!” People being afraid of guns. Imagine that.
As it happens, this fatuous “good guy with a gun” nonsense has been fully refuted by the recent mass killings. The murderers in New York and Texas encountered armed police and security guards and were able to thwart them by wearing body armor, one successfully killing the ex-police officer guarding the store in Buffalo, the other injuring several officers with whom he exchanged fire in Uvalde. It took a SWAT team to finally bring Tuesday’s shooter down.
One would think that banning body armor for personal use would be a no-brainer but it’s widely considered by the gun activists to fall under the 2nd Amendment, so any hope of banning its use is probably also off-limits. Gun proliferation zealots say they need it for when the civil war comes and the snowflake libs come knocking on their door. Breaking a filibuster for any gun-related legislation is impossible and the far-right judiciary probably wouldn’t uphold it anyway.
Ever since 2008 when the Supreme Court declared for the first time in District of Columbia v. Heller that the 2nd Amendment provides an individual right to bear arms, Republican-run states have been loosening their gun laws to the point they really don’t exist in some places like Texas. The killer apparently went out on his 18th birthday and bought himself two semi-automatic rifles, no muss, no fuss. (The law that had been in place in Texas barring anyone under 21 from owning and possessing firearms was repealed in 2019.) New York doesn’t bar 18year olds from buying guns either and for reasons that are unclear, the red flag laws designed to alert authorities to a potential shooter with mental illness didn’t work before the Buffalo massacre.
Just this week, a federal three-judge panel ruled that it’s unconstitutional to deny 18-year-olds the right to own guns.
“America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” Judge Ryan Nelson wrote. “Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.”
One can’t help but think of another 18-year-old mass killer, Kyle Rittenhouse, last seen hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump, feted by everyone on the right for his heroic killing of three unarmed protesters.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court will be handing down a decision backed by the extremist gun rights movement this term that will likely hobble any state that currently has gun restrictions on the books. If the Court goes all the way under a new “text, history and tradition” test, they will declare that public safety is no longer the proper rationale for any gun regulation. You have to wonder if they will take into account whether the American “history and tradition” of young men armed with semi-automatic weapons mowing down masses of innocent people should be considered instead.
President Biden spoke to the nation last night in his capacity of mourner-in-chief. He’s always effective at that. And he asked an important question:
“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 do we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”
The Democrats are more than willing to stand up to the gun lobby. The question is rightfully asked of Republicans who consistently block all gun safety legislation and are prepared to use the courts to unleash a free-for-all of gun violence in the name of “freedom.” If repeated massacres, even of tiny children, automatically evoke calls to put more guns in schools and on the streets I think we know the answer: Never.
I can’t think of anything that illustrates Republican nihilism more starkly than that.