The victims of the racially motivated murders in a Tops Grocery Store in Buffalo, NY had not yet been buried when the news cycle was interrupted by the murder of twice as many people, most of whom were 4th grade children, from the Rob Elementary School in a quiet little ranching town near the border with Mexico in southern Texas.
Normally stoic TV news reporters have regularly not been able to maintain their composure as they have continued to update us on the details of this event. I have, all week, gone to bed crying every night and wake up crying the next morning. It happens all of the time, but we cannot accept it as any kind of a new normal. It is still just the saddest thing in the world. I don’t have grandchildren, but I have recently been promised that I will have them soon and already I am afraid to send them to a public school.
America is not safe. Mass murders have taken place in the United States with greater frequency and with larger numbers of victims over the past decade. It is not just schools, as you know. It is shopping centers, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, mosques, city parks, country music shows, gay bars, as well as our universities, high schools, and elementary schools.
But here is the question that must be answered. Why, over the past dozen years, have we had 288 school shootings when Canada has had only 2. Only 2 in France, one in Germany, and none in Japan, Italy, or the United Kingdom. What makes us so different? Are Americans inherently more violent than other western democracies? Do we have more mental health problems? Is racial strife that much worse here than it is anywhere else? Do we have that much more drug addiction, domestic violence, do our kids play more violent video games than anyone else? Why, why are we so much of an outlier in the whole world?
While there are countries that have a higher death rate from guns than we do, those are typically poor countries, often embroiled in civil wars. We have the highest death rate among western democracies but where the numbers are really crazy is in how many guns are in private hands in the United States.
Most Americans, like me, do not own guns. Only about 37% of us do. But a few years ago, we crossed the line where there are more guns than people in the United States. For every 100 people, there are now 120 guns. Gun sales have risen rapidly during the pandemic, and, sadly, they also spike after ever mass murder, especially mass murders in schools.
Gun sales went up after Sandy Hook even more than they did during the early months of the pandemic, as I am certain that they will after this nightmare in Texas. What is different about the USA? Why is this such a horrible problem for us and hardly a problem at all among most of our peers in the world?
It isn’t violent video games. Japanese children play video games more than American children do, although I find it hard to imagine how they find the time. But they have virtually no incidents of school shootings or mass murders. Americans do not have more mental illness than other countries, though it must be said that politicians who cite mental illness as the cause of our mass murders while they actively stop the expansion of Medicaid, a primary provider of mental health services to the age group most often seen as the shooters in school mass murders, is just too hypocritical to let pass.
Let me now applaud the controversial and broadly criticized appearance of Beto O’Rourke at a news conference in which Texas Governor Greg Abbot was spewing lies and propaganda about the Texas school shooting. Beto was the first person in that meeting to even say the word “guns” and I am glad that he showed up and challenged the lies and propaganda. If anyone finds Beto’s appearance there to be offensive in light of the lies Abbot was telling about mental illness and the deaths of 19 fourth grade children, then let me suggest that you have not yet begun to think critically about ethics.
We have learned the steps to a dance that is carefully orchestrated every time there is a mass shooting. We have seen this dance rehearsed publicly every time mass murders get into the news, especially in the ten years since Sandy Hook.
First Republicans and the spokespersons of the National Rifle Association tell us it is too soon to discuss politics or policy. “We have to respect grieving families. We must mourn before we can discuss what must be done to prevent these incidents.”
Then we are met with trite sayings about how gun regulations do not work, even though they clearly work in every other western democracy in the world. We are told that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, when, again, even after spending more than $3 billion dollars a year on armed guards, security doors, and hardened school infrastructure, a single kid can buy an assault rifle on his 18th birthday and that very week walk past armed guards and kill 19 children, 2 teachers, and wound 17 more before a good guy with a gun can stop him.
So, again, why is mass murder a uniquely American disease? Simply put, it is because we have too many guns. They are too easy to buy and there are too few regulations in place as to who can have access to them. This isn’t complicated. The more guns we have, the more people die from being shot by a gun.
As Stephen Colbert pointed out this week, that’s why we have a relatively low rate of death from catapults. Folks, we have more gun shops than we have grocery stores. We have more than three times as many gun shops as we have McDonalds locations in America! We have gun shops next to the sports and toy departments in Walmart! So, OK, we have more mass murders because we have more guns that are easy to acquire and have little more than symbolic regulations or requirements.
But, that begs the question, why don’t we have any meaningful regulations? Why are guns so easy to buy here? And this gets to the crux of the matter. Because we have one political party in the USA, one of our two leading political parties, that has consistently stood in opposition to every single attempt at reforming gun laws and saving the lives of our elementary students, shoppers, music fans, and church goers. And that is the Republican Party. There are democratic politicians in purple states who try to stay on the right side of the gun lobby in order to garner votes but, just look at the numbers, the politicians who get the most money in donations from the gun lobby are all Republicans, and, of course, no one gets anything like as much as the most despicable Republican Senator . . . Ted Cruz… who, at least at the time of this writing, is worse than even Mitch McConnell and even I can’t believe that I am saying that someone is worse that Mitch McConnell.
Last week I delivered another “out of sequence” talk in response to the inevitable overturning of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that has, for 50 years, protected the constitutional right of all women to make reproductive decisions for themselves. Last week I insisted that the Republican Party had gone over the line and is no longer a legitimate American political party. And I am back here again this week to say more or less the same thing from a different perspective.
I have been a minister for 43 years. For the first 30 years of my life in ministry, I never put a bumper sticker on my car. I never put a political sign in my yard. I was careful that if I was critical of a politician in one party, I would include a criticism of a different politician from the other party because I was determined to be non-partisan. And, do you know what? I still insist that I am non-partisan.
This isn’t about political parties. This is about ethics. But in recent votes regarding protecting women’s rights to reproductive health, and in votes this week to protect the rights of elementary school students to simply be allowed to live, the Republicans have voted in a block. They don’t break ranks. It isn’t that McConnell and Cruz are uniquely evil. Their whole party votes together in a way that makes me say to you that they are no longer a viable political party in the United States of America.
This isn’t about disagreements. This isn’t about political parties. This is about right and wrong and today it is about life and death. This week, for the 21st time, the satirical news site, The Onion, has repeated the same headline about mass murder in a public school. The headline reads: No Way to Prevent this Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. You and I know that there is a way to prevent this. It is prevented in every other western democracy.
We need effective, sensible gun laws and the only way we will ever get them is to never again vote for a Republican. It is not going too far to say in this day that voting for a Republican is voting in favor of murdering school children and there is no remaining excuse for that.