For six years, I had the honor of representing Uvalde, Texas, in Congress—a close-knit community that, one year ago, was forever scarred by unthinkable violence and engulfed by pain and grief. That day, 19 innocent children and two dedicated teachers were taken from us, and their families were struck by tragedy. The Uvalde Strong flags and yard signs you see down Highway 90 toward town serve as a stark reminder that, despite the power of solidarity, no community is immune from the devastating effects of gun violence.
When I was in Congress, I had an A rating from the National Rifle Association and received support from the group for my reelection campaigns. I believe in the Second Amendment; its language is straightforward. For almost a decade, my job overseas as an undercover officer in the CIA required me to carry weapons, and I continue to be a gun owner as a private citizen, because I believe in being able to defend my home.
When I was in Washington, D.C., representing my hometown, I also listened to groups such as Moms Demand Action and Everytown. I was one of just eight Republicans at the time to vote in favor of legislation requiring universal background checks. We must and we can do more to protect Americans from gun violence, because one day a tragedy could strike in your own community.
There have been more mass shootings this year in the United States than days—more than 220 such events, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This appalling situation is simply unacceptable. A year ago, it was an elementary school in Uvalde. This month, it was an outlet mall in Allen, Texas. Tomorrow or next week, it will be another town in America.
No one-size-fits-all solution can tackle this problem, but let’s also not pretend that nothing can be done. After 9/11, we made it improbable that another attack of that scale on our homeland would happen again: revamping airport security, neutralizing Al Qaeda, and improving federal agencies’ intelligence sharing. Yet when confronted with the epidemic of mass shootings that plagues our nation, we have failed to treat it with a similar level of urgency and significance. Instead, the majority of our leaders have chosen inaction.
Some proponents of doing nothing say that gun violence is not an epidemic at all. In 2021, there were some 48,000 deaths from firearms, including suicides. As high as this figure is, these people point out, more than twice that number died from drug overdoses. Heart disease, the leading cause of mortality among Americans, accounted for nearly 700,000 deaths. For American children, however, gun violence last year surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death. We should acknowledge that as an epidemic by any standard.
After the deadly 2018 high-school shooting in Parkland, Florida, more than half of American teens said they were worried about a shooting happening at their school, and a majority of parents shared this concern. Must we accept that some 50 million of our sons and daughters experience fear and anxiety while they’re getting an education?
If my Republican Party is going to live up to its billing as the pro-life, pro-parent, pro-family, pro–Second Amendment, and pro-law-enforcement party, then it is on us to put forth the best ideas for preventing mass murders. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. What we need is common sense.
An assault-weapons ban—touted by some, including President Joe Biden—is not the magical solution for what ails this grieving country. But neither is the shortsighted, rigid dogma of putting more guns into our schools—Uvalde proved that point. The school building was soon swarming with armed officers, but that did little to nothing to stop the carnage. No single statute can in one sweep end all mass shootings, but we can assuredly save lives if we focus on practical legislative measures designed to reduce gun violence.
A recent poll conducted by Fox News shows that widespread support exists for certain measures to address gun violence. A staggering 87 percent of voters surveyed said that they support requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers. This would safeguard law-abiding citizens’ access to guns but significantly enhance our ability to stop the wrong people from buying lethal firearms.
Eighty-one percent of respondents supported raising the legal age at which a person can buy any gun to 21. This simple solution could have prevented the tragedy in Uvalde. If you can’t drink or own a handgun until you’re 21, then you should certainly be 21 to own a high-caliber, semiautomatic weapon that can hold a high-capacity magazine.
The survey also found that 80 percent of voters agree that police should be allowed to take guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others. This concept, commonly referred to in legislative efforts as red-flag laws, empowers authorities to temporarily remove firearms from those who demonstrate a clear and imminent risk—as determined by a judge, who reviews the evidence presented by a petitioning party.
Tackling access to weapons used to commit a mass murder is focusing on only one part of the problem. The more difficult challenge is to address the influences that impel someone to carry out a mass murder.
The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center, has studied every mass-shooting event in the U.S. since 1966. What it has found is that most mass shooters have experienced abuse and were exposed to violence at a young age. And the shootings almost always follow a triggering event that sends the shooter into a state of crisis. One factor that could heighten the risk that such individuals may pose is that Americans in general report feeling more lonely and isolated since the outbreak of the global pandemic, with 61 percent of young adults experiencing “serious loneliness.”
The U.S. does not have the mental-health resources—the facilities, staff, and training programs—throughout our communities that can identify, assess, and address the mental-health issues that may contribute to the evolution of a disturbed individual into a mass killer. Mental health is health. Only by investing in mental-health infrastructure, as we do in our health services, can we offer support to individuals in need. And this would give us greater capability to intervene before people’s struggles and crises manifest in violent actions.
So we can take significant steps toward curbing gun violence by implementing comprehensive background checks, empowering law enforcement through red-flag laws, investing in mental health, and raising the minimum age to 21 for purchasing a high-caliber, semiautomatic weapon that can hold a high-capacity magazine. These realistic solutions deserve serious consideration at the federal level.
We do not have to accept mass shootings as the natural order of things. We can prevent them. But to do so, we can’t retreat to our partisan bubbles and take refuge in the old familiar talking points we’ve been hearing since the ’80s. We need people who are sick and tired of the mass-shooting status quo to stand up and vote. You can’t just vote in November in general elections; you also have to vote in primaries, when there are usually better options—candidates who want to solve problems rather than just pander to their party’s more extreme elements.
The stalemate we see in our democracy right now comes from our leaders’ failure to understand a simple fact: We are better together. Solving the problem of gun violence, along with other great issues of our era, will require commonsense leadership in these complicated times, and communities across America are depending on it. “Uvalde Strong” is a message not just along Highway 90. It is a call to all of us.