Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was in the middle of a news conference Wednesday on a stage in Uvalde, Texas, where the latest horrific example of random gun violence had shocked the world only a day earlier, when his political opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, approached.
“You are doing nothing. You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything," O’Rourke said as the mayor of Uvalde tried to shout him down and television cameras rolled.
Abbott lobbed his own ammunition during the news conference, saying gun control hasn’t worked in places like Chicago. O’Rourke, in return, lobbed the standard pro gun-control arsenal back.
This wasn’t the only venue in which an unspeakable tragedy became political opportunism after Tuesday. Facebook and Twitter offered its fair share of shots fired by regular folks and celebrities, alike.
And the nation didn’t move even a millimeter toward a solution.
By all indications, once the funerals are over and the public shock has worn off, life will return to its normal rhythm and nothing will have changed.
Surely, the anguished tears of parents whose smiling little children never came home from school Tuesday deserve better than that.
We all know the talking points about gun control. Americans slip into them as comfortably as old shoes every time a mass shooting occurs. They are fired through the air, over the heads of opponents, and fall harmlessly to the ground.
For all the noise coming out of mouths on the right and left, no one is listening.
Until each side decides to change that, to listen, rather than talk, nothing will happen.
Does anyone really believe the greatest nation on earth, capable of sending people to the moon and inventing smartphones, has met its match in a seemingly endless series of random loners who shoot children and other people at random? Do we really believe this problem is beyond anything the best minds can tackle?
Of course not. But the bigger question is whether the fund-raising opportunities and other political benefits of repeating the same arguments again and again are more important than the victims who lie on the floors of schools, churches, synagogues, nightclubs, movie theaters, grocery stores and many other crime scenes.
We should at least be able to start with what we know, and that’s quite a bit. The National Institute of Justice has amassed an extensive database of information from mass shootings in the United States for the past 50 years.
We know. for instance, that most such shooters are suicidal — 30% exhibited signs before their crime, and another 39% were suicidal during it. Among shooters who were high school seniors or younger, 92% were suicidal, and among those in college it was 100%.
Trauma is a common ailment, with 31% having experienced severe childhood trauma of some sort, and 80% were described as being in a state of crisis at the time of the shooting.
Mental illness is a complicated factor. Psychosis played a primary role only 10% of the time, and a secondary role in about one-third of the cases. More importantly, nearly half the perpetrators told people what they were planning to do ahead of time. That was the case with the shooter in Uvalde. He posted his exact intentions, including wanting to shoot his grandmother, on Facebook not long before carrying them out, Gov. Abbott said.
The overwhelming majority of shooters are male (97.7%). Only a slim majority, 52.3%, were white, and nearly two-thirds had criminal backgrounds and a history of violence.
Also, we know this: Research has shown that gun buyback programs don’t do much to reduce crime, although recent studies have begun to challenge this. Also, there is a Second Amendment. No matter how you want to interpret it, it can’t be erased.
Even using the most expansive definitions of a mass shooting, the victims make up only a fraction of gunshot victims in the nation each year. But they they have an overwhelming psychological impact, especially when children are involved.
So, start with these facts. They may be locked in an election battle, but Abbott and O’Rourke could set the tone by climbing out of their foxholes, laying down their ideological weapons and agreeing to craft some sort of plan forward based on what we know.
Do we expand funding to help health workers detect and treat warning signs? Do we launch public campaigns to help people be more aware? Do we agree on red-flag laws that let courts remove weapons from someone considered a danger? Should Washington fund bipartisan studies on gun violence? Where is the common ground?
If the two of them won’t do this, someone in Washington should. We shouldn’t tolerate foxholes any longer.