Full disclosure – I represent one of the 40% or so households in America that has a gun in it. A legally obtained and stored firearm that has never been on any list for potential regulation.
Last week’s murder of 19 school children and 2 of their teachers in Uvalde Texas has filled me with nauseating grief and anger. The photographs of the victims can be seen on most news sources and it seems both impossible and deeply tragic that their happy faces are no longer with their loved ones.
The idea of losing a child is a place we parents don’t go and although I can only imagine what the victims’ families are experiencing, I sincerely empathize with their emotions.
As a peace officer for nearly 30 years, I dedicated much of my life to public safety and this week feels like a failure of my profession and it is deeply personal.
Almost unbelievably, the 21 victims in Uvalde are a small fraction of people killed by firearms in America every day.
In 2020 there were 45,222 firearms deaths (mostly by suicide) in America. Put another way that’s 124 deaths every day. And the numbers are increasing.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, taken together North and South America are the most dangerous places in the world from a gun death standpoint.
One study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows the United States and its territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are the deadliest on a list of 64 high income nations. The most dangerous place in America is Washington DC. The safest is New Hampshire.
For much of our history firearm sales were essentially unregulated, so no one really knows for sure the exact number. However, there are estimated to be 400 million firearms of mixed variety in the possession of Americans. Recently, technology and loopholes have allowed a new type of firearm to become available – the “ghost gun.” Ghost guns are firearms assembled from components that taken separately are unregulated but are assembled in home workshops to become operational firearms. 3-D printing is another potential source of unregulated firearm components. Composite firearms are also criticized for their ability to evade metal detectors.
The Uvalde killer needed no such technology. Texas law allows for an 18 year old to buy firearms legally and almost unregulated. The Uvalde killer allegedly bought two rifles, one on May 17 and the other on May 20 from the same shop.
What’s legal and what’s smart, moral, or ethical are not always the same thing. One would hope that responsible gun dealers begin to accept that their role is more than the unrestricted sale of firearms. It might go like this – “Hey son, what brings you in today?” or “What are you looking to do with these rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition?” or “You know we offer a terrific gun safety class; would you like to enroll?” Any of those questions may have brought a response that raised a red flag.
In 2018 Texas made funds available to school districts to “harden” their security and establish police departments. The Uvalde School District availed itself of those funds, establishing a 4 person police department as well as spending thousands on campus security measures. Robb Elementary School had an armed officer at the front door of the school on the day of the murder. The killer simply went around back and entered through an unlocked door.
Investigators are still unravelling the course of events that followed but it appears that rather than immediately confront the shooter, law enforcement in Uvalde waited nearly an hour to marshal a robust tactical unit to enter the school. By then, of course, it was too late. Their strategy to wait and enter runs contrary to long established police tactics to immediately confront active shooters with whatever resources are immediately available. As few as three officers can do so.
Parents at the scene urged officers to save their children and one parent had to be handcuffed and another pepper sprayed by officers waiting and guarding the perimeter of an active crime scene. As a parent I can imagine their frustration and anger as the minutes turned into an hour and the shots that killed their children rang out.
When considering the killer and his twisted mind, the law enforcement response, and the lack of effective security, this tells me that my personal decision and right to bear arms is still the correct one. Both morally and legally.
The list of these tragedies continues to grow and yet their sheer number seems to have numbed us to the death toll. This cannot be the new normal and the political theater, inaction, finger pointing, and seemingly intractable partisanship needs to end.
Contrary to what many gun owners insist – a firearm is not an inanimate object any more than the 2nd Amendment is just words on paper. Both require the vigilant and responsible stewardship of citizens and their elected leaders.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute.