Tuesday’s attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, 85 miles west of San Antonio, was the deadliest gun rampage in an American school in almost a decade. But I am not going to discuss the Second Amendment or any of the finer points of gun legislation. Nor am I going to rail against Republican inaction in the face of another mass murder of innocent children.
Nor am I going to ridicule the Republican call for more guns and more armed guards in schools. Besides, Robb Elementary already had an armed guard. The heavily-armed shooter, kitted out in body armour, insouciantly fired upon him as he entered the school.
No, I’m just going to take seriously the standard Republican blather about how “now is not the time” to discuss it. I’m going to say, okay, let’s just say for the sake of argument that now is not the time to start talking about how to stop this madness. Fair comment, let’s take that as our axiom and see where it leads. Let’s see what it means.
Let’s further state that if now is not the time, then surely that suggests there should be a time to talk about it. Okay, let’s say, to be fair to all parties, that at least a couple of days needs to pass before we can begin a civilised debate about mass shootings and what steps we can take to prevent them. Still not enough time you say? How about an even week then?
Still not enough time? Okay, let’s make it 30 days. I think most reasonable people would say 30 days is enough time to take before we should be allowed to talk about the problem of mass shootings, a problem that is endemic to America alone, and see what we as a nation can do about it. After all, in 30 days’ time all 21 funerals will be concluded and the tragic affair will be largely gone from the news. Only the devastated parents and friends and loved ones of the dead children and adults will continue to mourn invisibly — off camera, of course.
Fair enough? Even if you don’t agree, I’m going to draw a line under it. We will wait 30 days after any mass shooting before discussing what to do about mass shootings. If you don’t like it you can take it up with your representative in Congress.
So, according to the informal statute that we have just devised, we have 30 days. That should take us to on or about the 24th of June before we should be allowed to discuss the problem of mass shootings in America.
Now I think we should have a definition of “mass shooting.” There is no universally accepted criteria for what qualifies as a mass shooting, but many US organisations, such as the non-profit Gun Violence Archive and the Congressional Research Service, define it as an incident in which four or more people, excluding the perpetrator, are shot at one location at roughly the same time.
I’m going to go with that definition. After all, if I really wanted to be a stickler about it, mass shootings should include a mere plurality of victims, that is, two or more. Again, if you don’t like the standard definition, take it up with your representative.
That would certainly work here in England. It’s rare indeed when 30 whole days pass and there’s more than one shooting involving 4 people. Hell, whole years go by where that doesn’t happen. Even decades.
But Houston — to pick a city at random — in the United States at least, we have a problem. Because by our metric of four or more victims at one time, there have already been 248 mass shootings in the US so far in 2022. As I write this we are only 146 days into the year.
Okay, maybe 30 days is a wee too long to wait. If we waited that long we’d never get 30 days away from the latest mass shooting. How about a week? Sorry, that won’t work either. On a good day on average we might get a few hours away from the latest mass shooting. Something tells me Republicans already know this. Something tells me they hope you don’t.
The fact of the matter is Republicans never want to discuss it. Because they don’t give a shit. The “Party of Pro-Life” is simply too pro gun. And they’re pro gun because the NRA has bought and paid for them to the point that the Republican party line no longer allows for any discussion about it at all.
Ordinarily I end my articles with what I call my “Hitchens Benediction,” created in honor of the late Christopher Hitchens, who often addressed his audiences as “ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends,” to which I include the admonition that you stay safe. But in the context of the topic of this article I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to advise you to “stay safe.”
I cannot blithely tell you to stay safe in a land where guns and murder and death by firearms proliferate. And for that, brothers and sisters, I am truly sorry. I can only say that now, emphatically now, is precisely the time we need to talk about it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.