Editor’s Note: James Moore is a political analyst, author and business communications consultant who has been writing and reporting on Texas politics since 1975. He is the founder of Big Bend Strategies and publishes regularly at Texas to the World. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
Mass shootings have become so common in the US that we have developed a pathology for how to react. The aggrieved families who have lost someone they loved are the recipients of thoughts and prayers. Law enforcement is praised for keeping the tragedy from becoming even more horrific. Counseling is offered to survivors. Politicians come to town to express their sympathy and outrage, and vow that the latest community will recover and stand “Texas strong” or “Sandy Hook strong” or “Parkland strong.”
But nothing happens to prevent another shooting.
We pray. But don’t legislate. And prayer clearly is not stopping the slaughter. In all the statements to come from conservative politicians following up Tuesday’s deadly shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two adults were killed, do not expect to hear even a solitary voice suggest gun reform. The Second Amendment is always treated as more important than the lives of children. Words like “evil” and “incomprehensible” and “horrific” will be thrown around and, as Republican US Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas urged us, we will be encouraged to “come together as a nation.” But I suspect we – or some of us – already have. Some of us came together and decided that no horror caused by guns can be worse than restricting access to guns.
The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, a very conservative Republican, went before television cameras Tuesday and said, “When parents drop their kids off at school, they have every expectation to know they will be able to pick that child up when that school day ends.” The governor ought to be asked how a parent can have that assurance when he said he was upset his constituents weren’t buying enough guns.
“I’m EMBARRASSED,” Abbott tweeted in 2015. “Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.”
He helped his state compete in that gun-buying contest with California. Just last year, Abbott proudly signed into law what he called a “constitutional carry” bill, which allowed anyone over 21 to carry a gun without getting a permit, and he did it after the El Paso mass killing in 2019. There is always the flawed premise that more guns will make it likely a murderer will be stopped by one. Prior to Abbott’s signing of the measure, a license to carry required fingerprints, four to six hours of training, a written exam and a shooting proficiency test.
But that’s over. Guns in Texas won. Regulations and reform lost. Wasn’t even a real contest. Gov. Abbott is quick, however, to ban books that offend his political sensibilities, but gun ownership cannot be constrained.
When President Joe Biden, however, spoke in the hours after the Uvalde tragedy, his words were angry, though mostly aspirational because he knows the political reality confronting gun reform proponents. All he has right now is words, and his opponents have the votes. A bill to expand background checks on gun buyers passed the US House of Representatives two years ago but there is nowhere near the number of yeses in the Senate to get it to the president’s desk.
“As a nation,” President Biden said. “We have to ask, when in God’s name will we stand up to the gun lobby. When in God’s name will we do what we know what has to be done … I am sick and tired of it. We have to act and don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”
Biden pointed out that the previous ban on assault weapons reduced mass killings but when it was repealed, he said, they tripled. He said the public and politicians have to be encouraged to stand up to the gun industry and he wondered while on his 17-hour flight home from Asia why the US is the only nation in the world that deals with recurrent mass shooting incidents.
“These kinds of mass shootings rarely happen in other parts of the world,” he said. “But they have mental health problems. They have people who are lost … Why are we willing to let this happen? Where, in God’s name, is our backbone? It’s time to turn this pain into action.”
Those other nations don’t have gun lobbies?
Gun rights advocates seem to have plans while reformers struggle against a powerful manufacturers’ lobby, the National Rifle Association and with how much regulation is too much.
The Second Amendment doesn’t have to be destroyed to save our country. The Constitution is a living document. Maybe it needs to be tempered for the times and adjusted from a 1776 context to an era when there are computers that can talk to each other, and guns that can fire an astonishing number of rounds. Isn’t there a law that can be written to order state and federal databases for mental health and criminal records and gun purchases to all interact and share information? Aren’t we smart enough as a culture to find language to protect our fundamental rights and our children?
The era of mass shootings in which we live probably began in Texas on August 1, 1966, when a gunman climbed the University of Texas tower with a high-powered rifle and began shooting people walking on campus. Charles Whitman killed 16 people that bright summer day after he had already murdered his wife and mother. The incident was the first to transpire live and was broadcast to a horrified city of Austin. Since then, Texans have watched certain towns gain notoriety for dark reasons. Mass killings in Sutherland Springs and El Paso and Santa Fe and Midland-Odessa and Dallas and the cafeteria shooting in Killeen and a Fort Hood mass slaying. The full list is even longer.
Hard to deny that the horrors started here. Now let this be the time and place that creates the political will to let Texas be the place where it comes to an end.