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

The Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia Seller, comforts families outside of the Civic Center following a deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
The Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia Seller, comforts families outside of the Civic Center following a deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

At least 19 children and two teachers dead at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

It’s the second deadliest school shooting on record. The 212th mass shooting in the U.S. — just this year.

When he addressed 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, On Point: What it will take to find the political will to address this crisis.

Guests

Lee Drutman, senior fellow in 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, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

On a feeling of frustration in America

Lee Drutman: “Not sure anything I can say will help anybody who’s processing this tragedy. But … give yourself time to process it. And then, there’s work to do. And there’s a political solution that’s in plain sight, which is just to make it a lot harder to get guns. And to ban the assault-style rifles that are so often used in these mass shootings. You know, this is not exactly brain surgery here. We can look across different states in the U.S. and see that in states where it’s harder to get guns, there are fewer gun deaths. In states where it’s easier to get guns, there are more gun deaths.

“We can look around the world. And note that gun deaths are remarkably high in the U.S. compared to everyone else, and gun ownership and use of access to guns is uniquely high in the U.S. 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, and Republican voters and Republican elected officials overwhelmingly believe that if you make it harder to get guns, somehow, crime will go up. I mean, there is, despite the facts and mounds of evidence, there’s just this, you know, fanatical flat-earth belief that somehow if you make it harder to get guns, crime will go up.

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

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

Jack Beatty: “I have no evidence for this, but I think this is intimately related to our program of the other day, about the replacement theory. You know, shortly after protests last year in 2020 over police violence, I was watching Tucker Carlson. And he said, When they come for you. And he posited, you saw pictures of mobs. Mobs? They were demonstrators, you know, trying to protest police killing of Black people. But he said, When they come for you, you need to be ready. I think driving a lot of this is a fear of when they come for you, that there’s a kind of fear that the other, that the replacement people, that the people of color … are going to come for me.

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

On gun culture in our nation, and whether it’s possible to find optimism

Lee Drutman:“I think for a somewhat counterintuitive reason that the fact that we are having this conversation, and that we are talking about the crisis of American democracy, and that many of us are angry and engaged, is actually the thing 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 takes a recognition that we have a problem, that we are in a crisis, in order for us to start to actually organize and mobilize for a better future for all of us. And that’s the thing that gives me optimism. When I look at history, it’s precisely the moments in which everybody feels that the institutions are broken, that we are in crisis, that people begin to organize, and mobilize and start doing the hard work of making the changes that are necessary for this ongoing experiment in collective self-governance that we are now in, almost getting over two centuries.

“I think we’re going towards our 250th anniversary as a country. I mean, this is a long running experiment. But there have been moments in which it 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 eventually I feel like we figure it out. And, you know, it’s a generational story, but it’s in these moments in which it feels like everything is falling apart, that we do start the hard work. And I feel like we’re kind of getting 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 you just made, that, yes, it’s clear that Congress has not acted since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. And yes, since that time, many states have weakened their gun laws. However, there has been change, in response both to Sandy Hook, to the horrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“There have been more almost 20 states now, I believe, that have so-called extreme risk protection laws to allow law enforcement and courts to take action to remove firearms, individuals who appear to be threatening or planning 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 stronger regulations on gun dealers. We passed handgun purchaser licensing laws, which actually my own research has shown is associated with reducing rates of fatal mass shootings. So some states have acted. … Of course, I think everyone knows we live in a very divided country now, and we see acts of horrendous violence of this sort, and there are different reactions and mindsets.

“There’s one reaction that says the only solution to this is more people with guns. To, in essence, shoot it out with someone who wants to carry out an act of violence. And then there’s another group who sees the same horrible events and says, We need to do a better job of keeping guns from the hands of people who are too dangerous to have them. So that’s what we face. And that’s why we see movement 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, that’s a great challenge. And we do see the minute there are momentous acts of mass violence, and we begin to talk about gun regulations. You know, more people buy guns. I think that we have to take a deep breath there, though, and recognize that, yes, there are some risks with more gun ownership, but most people who purchase guns are not going to represent a public safety threat.

“What I’m more concerned about is those increases in gun purchases that are completely sort of outside of a regulatory environment. And allow for easy transfer to people who clearly have histories of violence or are planning acts of violence.

“So I think that we shouldn’t, just because gun sales go up broadly, that’s not necessarily the big issue. The big issue is are our policies set up in a manner that minimizes any public safety threat? But clearly, there is a cultural challenge here. Because as we said earlier, you know, fear is a really powerful thing. And political and corporate actors understand that quite well.

“So typically, you know, we’ve had spikes in violence over the years. And it’s never one thing. There’s a coalescing of strategies put together to lower violence, to then lower fears. And just as we now see things sort of escalating up, we can also escalate down. And that’s why we typically see cycles of gun violence.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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