A school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, gun control and American politics

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Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

It is the second deadliest school shooting on record and the 212th mass shooting in the United States this year alone.

When addressing the nation last night, President Biden asked the question so many Americans are asking:

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why are we letting this happen?”

This hour, About: What it will take to find the political will to deal with this crisis.

Guests

Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow of the Political Reform Program at New America. (@leedrutman)

Daniel Webster, professor of American Health in Violence Prevention at Johns Hopkins University. Co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. (@DanielWWebster1)

Jack Beatty, About news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

On a sense of frustration in America

Lee Drutman“I’m not sure anything I can say will help anyone dealing with this tragedy. But…give yourself time to process it. And then there is work. And there is a political solution that is in plain sight, which is to simply make it much harder to get guns. And to ban the assault rifles that are so often used in these mass shootings. You know, it’s not exactly brain surgery here. We can look at different US states and see that in states where guns are harder to get, there are fewer gun deaths. In states where guns are easier to obtain, there are more gun deaths.

“We can look around the world. And note that gun deaths are remarkably high in the United States compared to everyone else, and that gun ownership and use of gun access is especially high in the United States. United. So if you want to save lives, you make it harder to get guns. But the problem is that we have a political divide in which the Republican Party, Republican voters, and Republican elected officials overwhelmingly believe that if you make it harder to get guns, one way or another, crime will increase. I mean, there’s, despite the facts and the piles of evidence, there’s just this bigoted flat earth belief that somehow if you make it harder to get guns fire, crime will increase.

“And there’s this, you know, religious, bigoted attachment to what’s an extremely sweeping interpretation of the Second Amendment that the Supreme Court imposed on him in the Heller decision. And it’s likely to go even further in an upcoming ruling that says the Second Amendment gives everyone the individual right, you know, to get a gun very easily and not even have to show it . I mean, it’s just this radical commitment to a radical view of gun rights in this country that has no real basis in history.

On the lack of mass shootings in other countries where gun ownership is high

Jack Beatty“I don’t have any evidence for that, but I think it’s intertwined with our program the other day, on replacement theory. You know, shortly after the protests last year in 2020 against police brutality, I was looking at Tucker Carlson. And he said, When they’ll pick you up. And he applied, you saw pictures of crowds. Monster? They were demonstrators, you know, trying to protest against the killing of black people by the police. But he said: When they come to get you, you have to be ready. I think it’s the fear of when they come to get you, that there is a kind of fear that the other, that replacement people, people of color… come and get me.

“So it’s not just the government that will come and get you and take away your weapons. I think that paranoia and fear is crucially involved in this for many voters. After all, a third of Americans believe in this replacement theory. And if you believe it, if you believe that people are coming to take your place, take you out of the electorate, so to speak. Well, it’s only a paranoia dial away from, They’re coming to kill me. And I think it’s so connected to the American curse of racism.

On the culture of guns in our country, and whether it is possible to find optimism

Lee Drutman“I think for some somewhat counterintuitive reason that the fact that we’re having this conversation, and we’re talking about the crisis of American democracy, and a lot of us are angry and engaged, is actually what That gives me hope, because if we weren’t talking about the crisis of American democracy, and we weren’t angry and engaged, then I would be pessimistic.

“But it’s about acknowledging that we have a problem, that we’re in crisis, so that we start organizing and mobilizing for a better future for all of us. And that’s what gives me optimism. When i look at history, these are precisely the times when everyone feels that the institutions are broken, that we are in crisis, that people start to organize, to mobilize and to start working hard to bring about the changes necessary for this ongoing experiment in collective self-reliance in which we now find ourselves, spanning almost two centuries.

“I think we are heading towards our 250th anniversary as a country. I mean, it’s a long-term experience. But there were times when I felt like the thing was going to fall apart. And Americans have this intense spirit of self-improvement that sometimes, always, it takes a crisis. But finally I have the impression that we understand. And, you know, it’s a generational story, but it’s in those moments when it feels like everything is falling apart, that we start the hard work. And I feel like we’re kind of coming to that turning point now.

Since Sandy Hook, little has been done in Congress to curb gun violence. Is there any reason to believe this time could be different?

Daniel Webster: “Well, one thing I want to say, just on your point that you just made, that, yeah, clearly Congress hasn’t acted since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012. And yes, since that time many states have weakened their gun laws, however there have been changes, in response to both Sandy Hook, the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida .

“There have been over 20 states now, I believe, that have so-called extreme risk protection laws to allow law enforcement and the courts to take action to remove guns, individuals who appear to threaten or plan acts of violence against others or themselves Some states have expanded background checks, so there has been action in my own state of Maryland.

“There have been stricter regulations on arms dealers. We’ve passed handgun licensing laws, which, in fact, according to my own research, is associated with reduced rates of lethal mass shootings. Some states have therefore taken action. … Of course, I think everyone knows that we now live in a very divided country, and we see horrific acts of violence like this, and there are different reactions and different mentalities.

“There’s a reaction that says the only solution to this is to have more people with guns. Basically, shoot them with someone who wants to commit an act of violence. And then there’s another group that sees the same horrific events and says, We need to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of people who are too dangerous to have them. So that’s what we’re up against. And that’s why we see movements in different directions. We see the same problem. We see different solutions to it.

On what it would take to change America’s cultural relationship with guns

Daniel Webster: “Well, it’s a big challenge. And we see the minute there are memorable acts of mass violence, and we start talking about gun regulations. You know, more people are buying guns. I think we need to take a deep breath here, though, and recognize that, yes, there are risks with more gun ownership, but most people who buy guns won’t pose a threat for public safety.

“What concerns me most are these increases in arms purchases which are completely outside of a regulatory environment. And allow easy transfer to people who have a clear history of violence or who are planning acts of violence.

“So I think we shouldn’t, just because arms sales are going up massively, that’s not necessarily the big deal. The big deal is that our policies are set to minimize any threat to the public safety? But clearly, there’s a cultural challenge here. Because like we said earlier, you know, fear is a really powerful thing. And political and corporate actors understand that very well.

“So generally, you know, we’ve had spikes in violence over the years. And that’s never one thing. There’s a fusion of strategies put in place to reduce violence and then reduce fears. And just as we now see things getting worse and that’s why we usually see cycles of gun violence.

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