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The Battalion

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The Battalion

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Analysis: Hold your thoughts and prayers

Guest+contributor+Nathan+Varnell+argues+with+the+lack+of+progression+around+gun+violence+in+recent+years%2C+political+leaders+need+to+take+action+to+prevent+future+school+shootings.
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Guest contributor Nathan Varnell argues with the lack of progression around gun violence in recent years, political leaders need to take action to prevent future school shootings.

“It could have been worse.”

Gov. Greg Abbott had the gall to utter these words at his May 25 press conference in Uvalde, a day following the murder of 19 children and two brave teachers. It was the second deadliest school shooting in American history. If not for law enforcement, he reasoned, the massacre could have been far worse.

Law enforcement did not stop the Uvalde shooter from taking those childrens’ lives.

The night of May 24, Sgt. Erick Estrada of the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, told CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, law enforcement had, in fact, exchanged gunfire with the shooter. Nonetheless, the assailant managed to enter Robb Elementary and carried out his killing spree for an entire hour before a tactical unit from the Border Patrol shot him several times, killing him, according to Steven McCraw, the director of the DPS.

Where were the police, who Republicans are quick to claim will defend schools from attackers? Cowering outside? Listening to children scream instead of pursuing the killer?

As articulated by Ben Wexler on Twitter, the cops at Abbott’s press conference removed former congressman and Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke from the auditorium — where he confronted the governor’s inaction on gun violence — about 100 times faster than the police stopped the shooter.

If supposedly trained police officers could not prevent the killing spree, with ample opportunity to do so, it is doubtful arming educators would have any greater effect other than making shootings even more likely, especially in the wake of increased classroom violence between teachers and students.

Our generation has grown up with active shooter drills, cowering with our classmates in dark back rooms or around a wall of the classroom that provided a blindspot from the door. It was completely normalized — shooter drills came routinely once or twice a year, every year, until we graduated. We knew what to do when the drills came around and had long ago come to grips with our mortality in the situation, much like the schoolchildren of our grandparents’ generation who were told to duck under wooden desks to protect them from nuclear hellfire.

Our generation has grown up in the shadow of Columbine and Sandy Hook. A man named Craig Nelson, purported to be a Columbine survivor, said on Twitter his eldest son just finished his first year of college — like many of our readers. Sandy Hook was nine years, five months and 11 days ago. Several members of the editorial board still remember where they were, watching the news reports and talking with our middle school classmates in the aftermath, or having our parents sit down with us and explain what happened, and more importantly, what it meant for us and our safety. Between our nine, ten and eleven-year-old selves and our nineteen, twenty and twenty-one year-old-selves, what progress has the country made?

Much inside schools has changed. Like the active shooter drills, many schools are now built with reinforced windows, cinder-block walls and security antechambers to enter the front offices with many other preventative designs against violence. Schools are not made as much for learning as they are to be combat zones. Outside the schools, however, little reform has been made. In spite of the Majorie-Stoneman Douglas massacre survivors launching the nationwide March for Our Lives demonstrations in 2018 and pledges and pleas for political elites to make change, we have little to show for it. Multiple bills are currently stalled in the U.S. Congress due to the deadlocked Senate, according to The Hill. Our tone-deaf governor is responsible for making change, but not the kind Americans actually support by vast majorities, according to Pew Research Center in 2021. Instead of reform, he pushed “constitutional carry,” allowing Texans to carry handguns without any form of permit or license, as reported by The Battalion.

Many, like the governor and other representatives, have come out providing their “thoughts and prayers,” but Americans need action. As O’Rourke enumerated after being forced out from the press conference confrontation, the government could immediately act on multiple fronts. For starters, universal background checks for all gun sales. Even Steve Kerr, NBA coach of the Golden State Warriors, expressed his rage during a May 24 press conference and called for the passage of HB 8, one of the bipartisan bills stalled by the Senate.

More actions include “red flag” laws, also called extreme risk protection orders. These are “state laws that authorize courts to issue a special type of protection order, allowing the police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or to others,” according to The New York Times.

“Safe storage” laws should also be an immediate choice to counter many types of gun violence. Most gun deaths are due to handguns, not rifles, according to the Department of Justice. If we took after our Canadian neighbors, the UK or Japan, according to Vox, guns would be far more inaccessible to mentally ill young people or adolescents with little understanding of their danger. I’m proud to see Michigan courts charging the parents of a 15-year old school shooter with involuntary manslaughter charges, on the basis that the parents’ negligence enabled their son’s bloodshed.

Numerous shooters in the past two decades have employed semi-automatic rifles, often deemed “assault rifles,” as listed by Adam Best on Twitter. The ArmaLite AR-15 and other AR-platform firearms are a common weapon of choice, unquestionably designed to kill people as quickly as possible. We should very seriously consider banning the sale of these weapons at the state and federal level, or severely limiting the means of purchasing such rifles and many other semi-automatic firearms. 

To gun owners who, like I, believe in gun rights, safety and responsibility, we should all be able to recognize that:

  1. 18 year olds are not mature enough to handle deadly weaponry without supervision, 

  2. There are many other kinds of firearms suitable for self-defense and hunting, 

  3. Even AR-15s hardly stand a chance against a military that might as well be able to bounce a laser off of the moon and evaporate your house

Many times at venues, in school, church or The Battalion’s newsroom have I contemplated what my safety plan would be. How I could best protect myself if the worst occurred. While attending the 2022 Draggieland show at Texas A&M, there was a moment during the show when a balloon near the stage loudly popped. The sudden tension in the room, even among the hosts, was palpable — frozen at the very real possibility of dying. It felt like everyone had immediately registered the sound of a gunshot, especially in light of backlash to the event happening in the first place and record violence against transgender people in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That’s not only an indictment of contemporary bigotry, but the normalization of mass violence in public.

Do not allow this to be normalized. Do not let the stolen lives of these children be for nothing. Do not let the cries of their parents fall on deaf ears.

Gov. Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former President Donald Trump are all scheduled to appear at the annual National Rifle Association, or NRA, convention in Houston this Friday, May 27, just four days following the Uvalde shooting. This is the same NRA that has poured hundreds of millions of dollars every year into combatting any measure of gun control nationwide. Funnily enough, guns will be banned at the event, according to NPR, for the safety of the public figures appearing. Already, groups such as FIEL Houston are planning protests outside the convention center where our “leaders” will be speaking and kissing the NRA’s proverbial ring. 

I urge you to join in protest, lobby your senators and give the bastards hell for the blood on their hands. Too many years have they been complacent.

For the victims of past and present, “Here.”

Nathan Varnell is a former assistant Opinion editor for The Battalion 

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