A year after Uvalde, our country remains divided on gun control

Second Amendment

In early 2018, we simultaneously saw all the potential and all the futility of the gun-reform movement in the United States. 

On Valentine’s Day that year, a 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, entered the school brandishing an AR-15-style rifle and opened fire, murdering 17 people and wounding 17 others. 

The shock felt in Florida compelled Republican state lawmakers to soften their entrenched opposition to all forms of gun control.  

Three weeks after the Parkland massacre, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill raising the age for firearms purchases from 18 to 21 and extending the waiting period for gun sales by three days. 

Then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, initially responded to the Parkland shooting with a similar willingness to consider modest gun reforms. He expressed support for federal legislation that would raise the age for assault-rifle purchases and ban bump stocks, the devices that enable the rapid firing of multiple rounds from a semi-automatic rifle after an initial trigger pull.  

But Trump’s fellow Republicans, who ordinarily maintained a level of loyalty to him that bordered on subservience, rebelled against him on guns. 

“Out in the firearms community, there is a great feeling of betrayal and abandonment because of the support he was given in his campaign for president,” said Tony Fabian, the president of the Colorado Sports Shooting Association. 

Trump abandoned the idea. 

That’s the story of America’s seemingly endless nightmare of gun carnage and legislative fecklessness.  

Related: As Uvalde leaders urge people to stay away, victims’ families welcome visitors for anniversary vigil

In the face of unspeakable tragedy, some Republican elected officials will sense the need to do something and briefly hint at a willingness to compromise. Then they receive swift and severe pushback from gun-rights activists who regard the right to bear arms as an absolute, divinely ordained power. 

A year has passed since the slaughter of 19 children and two adults at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. 

While it’s been shocking to watch Republican lawmakers in Texas react to this atrocity with a collective shrug of the shoulders and a series of diversionary tactics — state bills targeting drag shows and gender-affirming care for kids grappling with gender dysphoria — it’s hardly surprising. 

The ongoing stalemate in this state and country over guns is not, at heart, a policy dispute. It’s a culture clash. 

For 2nd Amendment absolutists, it’s about individual liberty vs. oppressive government regulation; comforting tradition vs. unsettling change; rural populism vs. urban elitism.  

It’s too facile to say that Republican politicians are gutless puppets of the National Rifle Association; that they’re afraid to budge on gun laws because they’ve grown too dependent on the flow of NRA campaign donations. 

This narrative doesn’t really explain the intransigence of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the three most powerful elected officials in this state. 

Abbott, Patrick and Cruz are fundraising machines who would get along just fine without any money from the NRA or other gun-rights advocacy groups.      

In 2022, Greg Abbott reported campaign contributions of nearly $72 million. Not a dime of it came from the NRA. 

If GOP officials are puppets of anyone on the gun issue, it’s the grassroots voters who make up their political base. For many of those voters, any compromise on firearms policy is unacceptable, because it means abandoning their values and ceding ground to forces they perceive as enemies of the state. 

Compromise would mean a tacit admission that the philosophical underpinnings of the GOP’s obstinance — the notion that the more guns we possess, the more safety and freedom we have — are questionable.   

Three months after the 2018 Parkland mass shooting, a 17-year-old gunman killed eight students and two teachers at Santa Fe High School near Houston.

In the wake of the Santa Fe shooting, Abbott made a small overture to the gun-reform movement. He indicated that he was open to supporting a state red-flag flaw, which would empower courts to order the temporary removal of guns from individuals perceived to be a threat to themselves or others. 

Abbott said the state should try to keep firearms away from those “who pose an immediate danger to others.” But a month later, delegates to the Texas Republican Convention pointedly inserted a plank into the party platform opposing red-flag laws. 

Abbott backed off. 

In a recent interview with CBS Mornings, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, suggested that at some point in this country’s history, gun ownership “became an ideological issue and a partisan issue in ways that it shouldn’t be.” 

Obama pointed out that as a society we have responded to traffic fatalities with practical solutions: installing seat belts, improving car designs and developing new road-engineering strategies. 

“Instead of thinking about (guns) in a very pragmatic way,” Obama added, “we end up really arguing about identity and emotion and all kinds of stuff that does not have to do with keeping our children safe.” 

Related: San Antonian John Quiñones and his son helped make ABC documentary on Uvalde in shooting’s wake

Ultimately, Texas’ political response to the Robb Elementary massacre can be told through the examples of Tony Gonzales and Roland Gutierrez, two San Antonio elected officials from opposing parties whose sprawling districts include Uvalde. 

Both of them felt a sense of urgency to do something to prevent another Uvalde from happening. 

Gonzales, a Republican congressman and Navy veteran, was reluctant to infringe on gun rights, but agreed to join Democrats in backing a bill (the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act) that made major investments in mental-health funding, while also creating an enhanced review process for gun purchasers under 21 and providing $750 million to help states implement red-flag laws. 

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act didn’t address the obscene proliferation of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines in this country. It didn’t close the gun-show and internet-sale loopholes for background checks. But it was a step in the right direction. 

For his efforts, Gonzales was censured by the Republican Party of Texas. 

Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator and former South Side councilman, introduced a wide-ranging package of gun-reform bills this year and found himself blocked by Senate Republicans and chastised by Patrick. 

The one true moment of hope for the families of Robb Elementary shooting victims came early this month, when two Republicans on the Texas House’s Select Committee on Community Safety, apparently swayed by the emotional testimony of Uvalde parents, joined their Democratic colleagues in advancing a bill (HB 2744) that would ban the sale or transfer of some semi-automatic rifles to anyone under 21. 

A day later, however, Republicans blocked it from meeting a deadline to get on the House calendar. 

Once again, our leaders stared into the face of an intolerable reality and decided they were okay with it. Once again, they put unfettered access to firearms ahead of the lives of our children. 


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