The horrific mass shooting at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday that left 19 children and three adults dead, including the gunman, has sparked another round of calls for gun control in the United States.
The chances of meaningful legislation getting to U.S. President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature remain grim, however, as Republicans have blocked several previous attempts at reform and conservative-leaning states move to weaken existing gun laws.
“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden asked during a late-night address from the White House. “When in God’s name are we going to do what needs to be done?
“I am sick and tired of it. We have to act,” he added, though he did not detail any plans to push for legislation. He did, however, warn lawmakers who routinely block such efforts in Congress that “we will not forget.”
As information about the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was still being confirmed, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a longtime advocate for gun control, was already speaking on the Senate floor begging his colleagues to act.
“Our kids are living in fear every single time they set foot in a classroom because they think they’re going to be next,” he said.
“What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate … if your answer is that as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing?”
In Texas, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement calling on state and federal lawmakers to pass “reasonable gun control legislation.”
“How many more children must lose their lives from senseless gun violence?” the mayor asked.
Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic presidential nominee, said it was not enough to offer “thoughts and prayers.”
“After years of nothing else, we are becoming a nation of anguished screams,” she wrote on Twitter. “We simply need legislators willing to stop the scourge of gun violence in America that is murdering our children.”
Biden lamented the ability for the gunman in Uvalde, reportedly 18-year-old, to be able to purchase assault-style weapons and body armour. He also remarked that other countries, including those in Asia where he had just returned from, do not see the same level of gun deaths despite also experiencing mental health and domestic violence issues.
“Why? Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he asked.
Vice President Kamala Harris lamented the repeated heartbreak in the wake of every mass shooting in the U.S. during an event in Washington, D.C.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action and understand the nexus between what makes for reasonable and sensible public policy to ensure nothing like this happens again.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers — one of the country’s largest teachers unions — issued a statement that called the “cancer” of gun violence a uniquely American problem.
“Only in America do people go grocery shopping and get mowed down by a shooter with hate in his heart,” Weingarten said, referring to the racist shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. just 10 days prior. “Only in this country are parents not assured that their kids will be safe at school.
“We have made a choice to let this continue, and we can make a choice to finally do something — do anything — to put a stop to this madness.”
The National Parents Union called for policy change and “more than thoughts and prayers.”
“As a nation, our track record of putting children before politics, before special interests is shameful and leaves us with little hope,” the organization said. “Please prove us wrong.”
On social media, Americans across the country said the time has long since passed for laws to be changed, arguing the deaths in Uvalde could have been prevented.
The last meaningful effort to pass some kind of federal gun control measure was in 2013, in the wake of another school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead.
At the time, Biden was vice-president to Barack Obama, who pushed Democrats in Congress to find a solution. A bipartisan compromise was eventually reached that would have expanded background checks and banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
The bill ultimately died in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed and most Republicans refused to offer support. Obama later called the bill’s defeat “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Congress should try again, urging the Senate to approve gun control bills that were passed in the House last year, including background check expansion.
“Across the nation, Americans are filled with righteous fury in the wake of multiple incomprehensible mass shootings in the span of just days,” she said in a statement.
“For too long, some in Congress have offered hollow words after these shootings while opposing all efforts to save lives. It is time for all in Congress to heed the will of the American people and join in enacting the House-passed bipartisan, commonsense, life-saving legislation into law.”
In his own statement in response to Uvalde, Obama expressed anger that the country continues to be “paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.”
Amid an increase in shootings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the gun control debate was reanimated once again just a week-and-a-half ago, after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people and wounded three more at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y. The gunman had posted online that the shooting was racially motivated.
Days after the massacre, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced new bills to further restrict people deemed dangerous from accessing firearms, bolstering existing regulations on purchasing and carrying firearms.
Those laws are currently at risk, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court is due to rule this summer on a case brought by two New York men who are challenging restrictions on concealed carry permits in the state. If the high court rules in their favour, it could weaken similar laws across the country.
Conservative-leaning states, meanwhile, are passing new laws that allow more people to own and carry guns with fewer restrictions — including Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law last year allowing Texans to carry handguns without a licence or training. Other laws passed in 2021 allow school marshalls and hotel guests to carry guns and declared gun stores as essential businesses.
Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia also saw weaker gun legislation go into effect last year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group.
The bills range from so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws — which allow residents to shoot anyone they deem a threat to their safety — to allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit and weakening background checks on some guns.
Tuesday’s shooting came just days before the National Rifle Association’s annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and Texas’ two U.S. senators were among multiple elected Republican officials who were scheduled to speak at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA’s lobbying arm.
Gun rights advocates have tried to shift the focus on addressing mass shootings toward the need for more mental health supports.
On Tuesday, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green went even further, arguing on Twitter that Americans “don’t need more gun control. We need a return to God.”
Biden has taken his own actions to try and curb shootings, issuing executive actions last year that tighten regulations on homemade guns and provide more resources for gun-violence prevention. But those measures fall short of the sweeping gun-control agenda Biden promised during the 2020 campaign.
Asked about the push for regulations last week, after he gave a speech condemning the white supremacist ideologies behind the Buffalo shooting, Biden admitted, “It’s going to be very difficult … I’m not going to give up trying.”
About two-thirds of Americans support stricter gun laws, according to an Ipsos/USA Today poll last March, although the poll found support had declined from 75 per cent in 2018. The issue has become increasingly partisan, with 90 per cent of Democrats in favour of reform compared to just 35 per cent of Republicans.
Everytown estimates that between 2009 and 2018, 1,121 people in the U.S. were killed in a mass shooting, and 836 more were wounded.
Since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, more than 300,000 children have experienced shootings at 320 schools, according to an investigation by the Washington Post.
Those shootings have led to the deaths of at least 163 children, educators and other people.
The U.S. government does not keep track of school shooting events, leaving most tallies to be done by independent advocacy groups and media reports.