Almost 10 years ago, 20 children were murdered alongside six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Those kids would have been teenagers now, learning to drive and going on first dates, if they had not been slaughtered with an assault rifle meant for war.
When I wrote about Sandy Hook, I calculated that more than a thousand years of life had been stolen from those children. Now 19 children and two teachers have been murdered by firearms in Uvalde, Texas. A thousand more years of life stolen. Those kids could have grown up to be painters or doctors or maybe even teachers who would, years in the future, have thrown themselves in front of another angry man with a gun. We’ll never know. The only thing we do know is that the cycle will continue, because America is broken.
Words lose their power after an event like this. So many words were spoken after Sandy Hook, about how things would finally change, that the mass murder of young children would cause Americans to confront the gun violence that rots the country from within. After the murders, U.S. president Barack Obama wept and pledged that change would come. He sent his vice-president, Joe Biden, to fight for even the smallest victory in legislation to control gun ownership. Change did not come. Instead, things got worse.
Words fail, so let’s look at numbers. Everyone appreciates metrics, even when they quantify insanity. There have been at least 27 school shootings in the United States this year alone, according to Education Week, which have killed 27 people and wounded dozens more. There have been 119 school shootings in the past four years. Guns are now the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States, superseding vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Ten days before the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, 10 Black people were murdered in a racist killing spree at a grocery store in Buffalo. There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, revealed by the Gun Violence Archive. There have been at least 3,500 mass shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook.
Gun deaths in the United States soared by 35 per cent between 2019 and 2020 to reach their highest levels in 25 years. Guns have killed more than 1.5 million Americans in the past 50 years, writes the historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, more than the dead in all the country’s wars. This cult of the gun primes the country for a descent into authoritarianism, she writes: “The scale and scope of gun violence in America doesn’t just desensitize us to violence. It also cheapens the value of life. It fosters political, social and psychological conditions that are propitious for autocracy.”
In the United States, 42 per cent of households own guns, and it is No. 1 in the world in terms of gun ownership. Firearm sales rose from four million in 1997 to more than 20 million in 2020, which former gun-industry executive Ryan Busse describes as a deliberate strategy playing to a divided country. The murders in Buffalo, he wrote, “are the byproduct of a gun industry business model designed to profit from increasing hatred, fear, and conspiracy.”
Gun-rights lobbying nearly tripled the year after Sandy Hook and rose to a peak of nearly US$16-million last year, according to the Open Secrets database. The National Rifle Association will hold its annual convention this weekend and its speakers include one former president, Donald Trump, one current governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and one Texas senator, Ted Cruz.
The number of senators holding the country “hostage” by refusing to pass legislation on background checks is 50, according to a fiery speech made by Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors. (They are Republican senators.) He pointed out that upward of 90 per cent of Americans support background checks on gun purchases. Another bill is languishing in Congress because it requires background checks be increased from three days to 10.
The man who murdered 19 fourth-graders in Texas was 18 years old. The man accused of murdering 10 people in Buffalo is 18 years old. They were old enough to legally own firearms, but not to buy beer. The amount of gun control legislation to pass in Congress since Sandy Hook, nearly a decade ago, is zero.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.