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Mass Shootings: A Uniquely American Problem

  •   11 min reads
Mass Shootings: A Uniquely American Problem
Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

As people mourn Tuesday’s mass shooting that left dead 19 students and two teachers, Republicans who still oppose any new gun control measures face growing outrage. “This is a uniquely American problem, and it’s happening with such frequency and such devastation, it’s almost hard to wrap your mind around,” says Robin Lloyd, managing director of the gun violence prevention group Giffords. The NRA has weakened in recent years, but she says the corporate gun lobby is “alive and well” and has prevented any meaningful U.S. gun safety measures for over two decades.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Vigils were held in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, a day after an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 students and two teachers at the the Robb Elementary School. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States in a decade. All the victims were in the same fourth grade classroom. On Wednesday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Angel Garza, whose 10-year-old daughter Amerie Jo Garza died in the attack.

ANGEL GARZA: I’m a med aide. So, when I arrived on the scene, they said kids inside. They started bringing the kids out, and I was aiding assistants. One little girl was just covered in blood, head to toe. Like, I thought she was injured. I asked her what was wrong. And she said she’s OK. She was hysterical, saying that they shot her best friend, that they killed her best friend and she’s not breathing, and that she was trying to call the cops. And I asked the little girl the name, and she — and she told me — she said, “Amerie.” … She just turned 10. Her birthday was on the 10th, May the 10th, two weeks ago.
ANDERSON COOPER: Two weeks ago. You had a party for her.
ANGEL GARZA: We had — we just gathered family and had a dinner. She just got her phone. She had been wanting a phone for so long, and we finally got it for her. She just tried to call the police.
ANDERSON COOPER: She tried to — she actually tried to call.
ANGEL GARZA: Yes, I got confirmation from two of the students in her classroom that she was just trying to call authorities. And I guess he just shot her. How do look at this girl and shoot her? Oh my baby! How do you shoot my baby? Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the words of Angel Garza, father of Amerie Jo Garza, who was shot dead in her fourth grade classroom in Uvalde along with 18 classmates and two teachers. Amerie was just 10 years old.

As mourning continues across the nation, Republicans are facing increasing criticism for opposing any new gun control measures. On Wednesday, Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate, former Congressmember Beto O’Rourke interrupted a news conference held in Uvalde by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Listen closely.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: I will pass the mic to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
BETO O’ROURKE: Governor Abbott, I have to say something.
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.
BETO O’ROURKE: The time —
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.
BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop this —
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: Excuse me.
BETO O’ROURKE: — was after Santa Fe High School.
SEN. TED CRUZ: Sit down!
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK: You’re out of — you’re out of line and an embarrassment.
BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop this was after El Paso, Texas.
SEN. TED CRUZ: Sit down and don’t play this stuff.
BETO O’ROURKE: The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing.
MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: No, he needs to get his ass out of here!
BETO O’ROURKE: You’re offering us nothing.
MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: This isn’t the place to talk to us over!
BETO O’ROURKE: You said this was not predictable. This is totally predictable when you chose not to do anything —
MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: Sir, you’re out of line! Sir, you’re out of line!
BETO O’ROURKE: [inaudible]
MAYOR DON McLAUGHLIN: Sir, you’re out of line! Please leave this auditorium!
Miguel Mendoza licensed under CC BY 2.0

AMY GOODMAN: After Beto O’Rourke, the former presidential candidate and congressman, was escorted out of the Uvalde high school auditorium where the press conference was held, he spoke to reporters.

BETO O’ROURKE: Because the governor of the state of Texas, the most powerful man in the state, chose to do nothing. He went to Santa Fe High School after kids were killed in their classrooms, told the parents he would do something. He did nothing. He came to my hometown of El Paso after 23 people were slaughtered. He said he was going to do something. He did nothing. In fact, the only thing he did was make it easier to buy a gun. The only thing he did was make it easier to carry a gun in public. And he bragged about the fact that there would be no background check, no training, no vetting whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaking in Uvalde on Wednesday. President Biden is expected to visit the town in the coming days.

To look more at the gun crisis in America, we’re joined by Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, a gun violence prevention organization led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who in 2011 survived being shot in the head by a gunman who killed six people and injured 12 others at a constituent event in a parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, and has since become a leading gun control advocate.

Robin Lloyd, welcome to Democracy Now! First, your response to what took place? And the fact that the U.S. is alone in the world for these mass shootings, in schools or other places, the fact that of every 100 people in this country, there are 120 guns — more civilian guns in this country than people. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the world. If you can talk about this?

ROBIN LLOYD: I completely agree this is a uniquely American problem, and it’s happening with such frequency and such devastation, it’s almost hard to wrap your mind around. As you know, the tragedy in Uvalde on Tuesday was the third-deadliest school shooting in this country, second — or, third only to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting. It’s also the fourth-deadliest shooting in Texas. Of the most deadliest shootings in recent history in this country, four out of 10 have occurred in Texas in recent years. So, there’s definitely something specific to the United States and our lack of strong gun laws and our patchwork of gun laws that we have across different states that allow this to keep happening, in addition to the sheer number of firearms that exist in this country and how easy it is to access them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you explain: Why is it so easy to access guns in the U.S.? And also, who are the weapons manufacturers? Who is manufacturing these almost 400 million guns that are in civilian hands in the U.S.?

ROBIN LLOYD: So, here in the United States, we don’t have strong gun laws at the federal level. There’s very few updates to federal gun regulation in the past 20-plus years. The last kind of significant push occurred in the early 1990s. At the state level, it’s a different story. Some states, like New York, have very strong gun laws, but they are still susceptible to the lax gun laws of their neighbors, and it’s very easy for firearms to travel across state lines and to get into the hands of those that shouldn’t have them. Other states, like Texas, have virtually no strong gun laws.

Texas, unfortunately — at the Giffords Law Center, we give a letter grade rating to every state in the country. Texas has an F, which is probably not very surprising. But as you heard in the clip from Beto O’Rourke earlier, all Texas has done in recent years, despite the tragic shootings that have occurred — El Paso, Sutherland Springs, Odessa, just to name a few — they’ve only rolled back gun laws, and they’ve actually made it easier to carry concealed weapons, no questions asked, no training, no permit, no requirements whatsoever for anybody to carry a concealed firearm in Texas. So, that’s all they’ve done in recent years. They’ve made it easier to do that.

And really, this is by design. The American gun lobby, which is supported by American gun manufacturers, is alive and well. The National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been weakened due to self-inflicted wounds of greed and mismanagement of funds. But other organizations, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the lobbying arm for the gun industry and gun retailers, is alive and well. And actually, the National Shooting Sports Foundation spends more on lobbying against gun violence prevention measures here in Washington than the NRA does. So, they’re the true face of the American corporate gun lobby. And quite frankly, there’s a lot of money at stake. There has been an incredible surge of gun sales in the past decade, largely driven by fear and conspiracy promulgated by the corporate gun lobby here in the United States, and that has meant an incredible increase in their bottom line.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you explain how exactly this works? I mean, these gun manufacturers, do they fund these lobbyists, who subsequently give money and funding to politicians, or is it possible for corporations to directly engage with politicians? Because just the scale of the problem, the fact that 90% of Americans support minimal restraints, background checks, and yet that’s not occurred. So the scale of the problem seems enormous. What needs to be done also seems obvious. And yet nothing happens.

ROBIN LLOYD: Nermeen, you hit the nail on the head. It’s an incredible, concentrated, historic lobbying effort by the corporate gun lobby. So, manufacturers, other companies affiliated with the firearms industry, they pay into these trade associations, and then those trade associations represent their viewpoint in Washington and in state capitals all across the country. And again, the NRA has historically been the primary figure in that, but, really, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, NSSF, has really taken up the mantle in recent years and is, self-proclaimed, the new face of the American gun industry.

But you’re right, the overwhelming majority of Americans — and I’m not talking about a majority; I’m talking about a supermajority, you know, 85, 90, 95%-plus people — support doing something to address gun violence in this country by supporting meaningful gun safety measures, something like a background check on every gun sale. That has been politicized over the past several years, but really what it is is saying that no matter how you buy a gun, whether it’s at a gun dealer, whether it’s at a gun show, whether it’s online, whether it’s meeting somebody in a parking lot, you have to have a background check. And right now that does not exist in this country. It is left up to the states, and thus we have a patchwork of laws that make it very easy for criminals and other people who cannot pass a background check to get their hands on a firearm. So, there are very clear things that we can do to make our country safer, but we need to have our elected leaders to have the political will and the courage to make that happen.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

AMY GOODMAN: Why does it take political will and courage, Robin Lloyd, when the overwhelming number of Americans — Republicans and Democrats — support gun control? This is the part that’s so hard to understand, also with the NRA at its lowest ebb and facing all these corruption charges, etc. I mean, again, Pew Research Center: Support creating a federal gun database to track gun sales, overall, more than two-thirds of people in this country support this. Supporting banning high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, overall, 64% of Americans support this, 83% Democrats and Republicans. You have support banning assault-style weapons, 83% of Republicans, a third — I mean, of Democrats, a third of Republicans, overall, 63%. How is it that the elected leaders can go against the electorate every single year?

ROBIN LLOYD: You’re absolutely right. If we were talking about those numbers for any other issue area, it already would have happened. The fact that we’re talking about something that only has 66% of American public supporting it versus 90% of some of our other issues, like background checks, is really incredible. But the fact of the matter is, there’s a tremendous amount of money at stake. The gun lobby is in the business of selling more guns, period. And that impacts their bottom line. That’s how they make their money.

And they have hoodwinked American politicians and some members of the public into believing that the only way that we can protect ourselves is to arm ourselves. And that’s an absolute lie. It’s a strategy based on fear, but it is a lie. More guns do not make us safer. In fact, they make us far less safe, as we see play out time and time again in this country on a day-to-day basis, to say nothing of the recent tragedies in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, on the past 10 days alone.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Robin, could you speak specifically about the issues surrounding assault weapons, assault rifles? Because you pointed out earlier that there’s more that’s been done at the state level than at the federal level, 400 pieces of legislation signed into law in states since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook. And yet only eight states have bans on assault weapons. So, could you explain why that’s the case?

ROBIN LLOYD: Absolutely. So, the proliferation of assault weapons in this country is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s something that’s happened really in recent years, in part because there was a federal assault weapons ban that went into effect in 1994, but it sunset in 2004. So this has been relatively recently that we’ve seen the proliferation of assault weapons. In light an absence of a federal ban, states have taken up the charge. And as you noted, seven states and the District of Columbia currently ban assault weapons. But in many other places, you know, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak. There are so many assault weapons in this country, it seems like it might be hard to address what to do with them now.

And I think there’s varying degrees — there are various proposals that can address that. It certainly can be done. But there is a reality that we have so many assault weapons already in circulation, and I think there is some reluctance by politicians, whether they should have it or not, to do more. But we absolutely can do more on assault weapons, I want to be very, very clear.

But it is absolutely driven by marketing, again, by the gun lobby. This is a way for them to, you know, kind of, quote, “militarize” civilians. If you see some of their marketing campaigns, they use phrases like “It’s time to get your man card,” and they show somebody who’s a civilian, but almost as — you know, dressed as a soldier or a law enforcement person in tactical gear with an assault weapon. And they’ve really made it seem like it’s, quote, “the cool thing to do.” But the reality is that assault weapons are incredibly deadly. They are designed to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time, given their firepower, their accuracy and, of course, the ability to accept extended magazines.

AMY GOODMAN: Robin Lloyd, we want to thank you for being with us, managing director of Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization.

When we come back, we’re going to talk to an Australian gun activist — Australia, a country of gun lovers. How, over a series of days after a massacre that took place several decades ago, did it have a complete paradigm shift and change all of its laws? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by the Scottish musician Ted Christopher, a tribute to the 1996 Dunblane Primary School shooting in Scotland, when a gunman shot dead 16 children, ages 5 and 6, and a teacher. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.K. history. After the shooting, the U.K. changed its gun laws. There hasn’t been a school shooting there since.

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