GUN REFORM - As I write this column on Wednesday 25 May, the death toll from the US's latest mass shooting, at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde, Texas, has climbed to 21—19 children aged between eight and ten, and two adults.
Each time another tragedy captures the public's consciousness (most mass shootings do not), resulting in demands for action, Democrats are stymied by Republicans' obstruction.
When he got the news of the 24 May shooting, Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, literally begged his Republican colleagues to "find a path forward" to working with Democrats toward sensible gun regulation and efforts to mitigate America's mass shooting problem.
Senator Murphy later told reporters that he would be willing to support a compromise as opposed to doing nothing at all, but that it seemed to him Republican opposition to sensible gun reform had only hardened, making even modest legislation on gun control highly unlikely. It's the same story after every mass shooting.
Indeed, the radicalised Republican Party, with its white Christian nationalist vision for the US and increasing penchant for political violence like that seen on 6 January 2021, is the problem.
So far in 2022, there have been 212 mass shootings in the US. For those who are counting, that's substantially higher than the number of days in the year so far: just 145.
Tuesday's massacre took place only ten days after a racist gunman motivated by the white supremacist trope of the "great replacement theory" slaughtered ten African Americans in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Like many Americans, I am saddened and outraged at these latest horrors in our country's seemingly endless gun violence epidemic.
As a rule, Democrats want to take action to address the problem. But each time another tragedy captures the public's consciousness (most mass shootings do not), resulting in demands for action, Democrats are stymied by Republicans' obstruction.
Indeed, Republicans are so opposed even to the enforcement of what minimal gun regulations we do have on the books that for the last seven years they have prevented the appointment of a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—the federal agency that regulates firearm use.
Since the news of the Uvalde shooting broke, Republicans have been engaged in their usual mix of doing nothing; sending "thoughts and prayers"; and deflecting by accusing Democrats of "politicising" a situation that clearly and urgently calls for a political solution.
Texas governor Greg Abbott and Texas senator Ted Cruz, both Republicans, have given no indication that they will cancel their speaking engagements this coming Friday with the National Rifle Association, the most powerful pro-gun lobbying organisation in the US.
The second amendment argument—again
And then, of course, there's the threat to carry out violent insurrection if the president moves to curtail the wanton access to assault weapons that Republicans insist—absurdly—is required by the second amendment to the US Constitution. The amendment reads, in its entirety: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
On that note, just one day after Uvalde—which is the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 that killed 26—Florida state representative Randy Fine apparently thought it would be a good idea to post the following on Twitter: "I have news for the embarrassment that claims to be our President – try to take our guns and you'll learn why the Second Amendment was written in the first place."
Fine's comment recalls an infamous moment from Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, in which he told a crowd: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the second amendment. If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people—maybe there is. I don't know."
These comments were widely understood at the time to be hinting at the potential assassination of either Hillary Clinton herself, Trump's Democratic opponent for the presidency, or any justices she might appoint to the Supreme Court if she won the election.
Rhetoric like this stokes the political violence that has marred America's social landscape for far too long. And it certainly does nothing to curtail the grim frequency of mass shootings in this country, many of which are motivated by hateful right-wing ideology.
Indeed, political analyst John Stoehr has convincingly argued that we should understand Republican acceptance of frequent mass gun violence in the context of the political violence right-wing Americans have increasingly turned to as they strive to impose minority authoritarian rule by white Christian men who can no longer win nationally under fair democratic conditions. (Such conditions are, of course, lacking in the US, which grants disproportionate power to small rural states, and where Republican-controlled states engage in brazen voter suppression.)
I think Stoehr is right. And until the American people somehow manage to wrest control of this country from the authoritarian party of white supremacist patriarchy and Christian theocracy, it is highly unlikely that we will make progress addressing gun violence.
I wish I could end this column on a more optimistic note, but the most likely scenario is that things will continue to get worse before they get better.
(Chrissy Stroop is an ex-evangelical writer, speaker and advocate, (with Lauren O’Neal) co-editor of the essay anthology ‘Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church’. A senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, her work has also appeared in Dame Magazine, Foreign Policy, The Boston Globe, Playboy, Political Research Associates and other outlets, including peer-reviewed academic journals.)