Guns gloom

The mass shooting at an American elementary school reopens national political debate over gun laws and the prevalence of weapons and also points to the fact that the US Administration seems helpless to act against the powerful gun lobby

The mass shooting at a rural Texas elementary school on May 25 has reopened the national debate over gun laws and the prevalence of weapons in the United States of America. On May 25, an 18-year-old man killed 18 schoolchildren and a teacher in one of the deadliest school shootings since the massacre of 20 students and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012. The gunman who went on a shooting spree in Uvalde, a small city west of San Antonio, was also killed at the scene of the horrific shoot-out.

The tragedy at Uvalde came soon after a deadly racist killing in a grocery store in Buffalo on the afternoon of May 15 in which 10 people were killed. Incidentally, the grocery mass killing was also done by an 18-year-old, who even live-streamed the shooting on an online social media platform. It had been the deadliest shooting in the US this year until the Texas massacre. The gunman at the grocery store, identified as Payton Gendron, was a White man and he targeted the Blacks.

There has been a spate of mass shootings in the US schools over the past two decades, and disturbingly all the shooters have been teenagers. This fuelled a debate about gun control laws and safety of students. The US has the highest number of estimated guns per 100 people – 120 – followed by Yemen where the number is 52. In terms of civilians owning guns, the US tops the chart of countries. As a matter of fact, the country which has four per cent of the world’s population has 46% of global civilian firearms. It’s not that the country is not seized of the issue. Various politicians and activists have called for harsher gun control measures, especially in the face of these mass shootings, but their efforts fall flat in front of the powerful gun lobby, which spends millions on pro-guns rights in election after election and the US administration appears to be helpless.

There have been 1.5 million firearm deaths in the US between 1968 and 2017 and this is higher than the number of soldiers killed in any conflict since the American war of Independence in 1775. In 2020 alone, 45,000 people died at the end of the barrel of a gun. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2021 linked the rise in gun ownership to the high rate of gun injuries among – and by – the children. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data says that 345 active shooters have caused 1,024 deaths and 1,828 injuries between 2000 and 2020.

After the Uvalde massacre, an emotional US President Joe Biden addressed the nation briefly and took direct aim at gun manufacturers, urging politicians to stand up to the power they wield. “The gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons, which make them the most and largest profit,” he said. “For God’s sake, we have to have the courage to stand up to the industry. Where, in God’s name, is our backbone?”

Vice President Kamala Harris echoed President Biden’s sentiments and said, “As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action.”

But this is easier said than done. Both the President and the Vice President steered clear of using the moment to wade directly into the gun control debate. The US is the only industrial nation in which the possession of rifles, shotguns and handguns is lawfully prevalent among a large number of its population.

With this kind of easy access, Americans pick up guns to kill others – and themselves. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 45,000 people died of gun-related injuries during 2020, and 54% of these deaths were suicides. In fact, US has the highest number of suicides by guns in the world. The country, which boasts of being a developed nation, clearly needs to spend more on the mental health of its people than on easing gun restrictions.

Ironically, it was only in June last year that Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that allows residents to carry handguns without a license or training. In April this year, another US state, Georgia, jumped on to the bandwagon and allowed its residents to carry guns without a permit.

In a country where politicians are more concerned about making guns easily accessible to its people, it is only natural that there will be carnage such as the one at Uvalde. It is high time, like President Biden said, that they showed courage to stand up against the gun lobby and brought in gun control measures to tide over the wrenching memories of school massacres of young children.

Bloody history

Robb Elementary School, Texas May 24, 2022

The 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, legally bought two rifles from a federally licensed gun store after his eighteenth birthday

A day after purchasing the gun, he bought 375 rounds of ammunition and then on May 20 he purchased the second rifle

Ahead of the attack on the school, Ramos shot his grandmother with the rifle he had bought earlier

His friends and relatives described him as a lonely 18-year-old who “was bullied over a childhood speech impediment, suffered from a fraught home life and lashed out violently against peers and strangers recently and over the years”

High school in Michigan, November 30, 2021

Four students were killed and seven others were wounded after a teenager opened fire at a high school in Oxford, Michigan

15-year-old high school student Ethan Crumbley loaded his firearm, belonging to his father, in the bathroom before firing shots in the school’s hallway

Santa Fe High School, Houston, May 18, 2018

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, opened fire at a Houston-area high school, killing 10 people, most of them students, before surrendering to officers

He was armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver that were legally owned by his father. He was wearing a trench coat with combat boots. He was wearing a ‘Born to Kill’ shirt

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, February 15, 2018

An attack left 14 students and three staff members dead at the school in Parkland, Florida, and injured many others. 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student of the school, was charged with murder

Cruz had recently been expelled from Douglas for disciplinary reasons and was enrolled elsewhere in the district

He was reportedly armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines

Umpqua Community College, Oregon, October 2015

A man killed nine people at the school in Roseburg, Oregon, and wounded nine others, before dying in a shootout with the police

The shooter identified as Chris Harper Mercer brought six guns to Umpqua Community College and later, another seven weapons were found at his home. All 13 were bought legally

Mercer enlisted in the army in 2008, but was discharged after less than a month in basic training

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut, December 2012

Adam Lanza, 19, killed his mother at their home in Newtown, Connecticut, then went to the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first graders and six educators. He then took his own life

Lanza used a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle during the shooting

Lanza was singularly focused and obsessed with mass murders and spree killings and regarded school shooters with respect and understanding

Red Lake High School, Minnesota, March 2005

Jeff Weise, 16, killed his grandfather and the man’s companion at their Minnesota home, then went to nearby Red Lake High School, where he killed five students, a teacher and a security guard before shooting himself

Weise’s grandfather was a tribal police officer, and Weise took his police-issued shotgun and semiautomatic pistol to the school and wore his bulletproof vest

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