When Will It End?

I had already written a different column for this week. Then Uvalde happened. On May 24, an 18 year old wearing body armor and carrying an automatic rifle, entered the Robb Elementary School in the small border town of Uvalde, Texas, population 16,000, and shot nearly three dozen people. He killed 19 children — mostly 7, 8 and 9 year olds — and two adults before he was killed.

There were other victims. Uvalde Memorial Hospital spokesperson Tom Nordwick told media 13 children and a man in his 40s were being treated for injuries. University Hospital in San Antonio said in a tweet they received a child and an adult from the school shooting. 

33 children and 5 adults shot by one teen with a gun in mere minutes. 

The shooter, identified by Texas officials as Salvador Ramos, of Uvalde, also shot his grandmother before crashing his car near the school, Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Erick Estrada told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in a live interview on Tuesday night. The grandmother remains in critical condition.

The Uvalde massacre of small children comes just days after a different 18-year-old, Payton Grendon, killed 10 and wounded 13 Black shoppers at a TOPS market in Buffalo. That crime, in which the shooter survived, was revealed as a white supremacist hate crime, an act of domestic terrorism. Grendon had a long manifesto detailing his hatred of Black people, Jews and others.

President Biden gave a brief, but moving speech from the White House Tuesday night about the Uvalde shooting. It reminded Americans that he lost two children — his infant daughter and his oldest son, Beau, the former Attorney General of Delaware.

Biden ended his poignant commentary saying, “May God bless the loss of innocent life on this sad day.”

Biden’s speech left me in tears. They were tears of anguish for the families who, even as the President spoke, were walking through the bloody crime scene of the elementary school to find the bodies of their children, still lying where they fell. Tears of rage that there have been 30 school shootings this year alone in America and there is just no political will to end the carnage. 

So far in 2022 there have been at least 39 shootings in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, resulting in at least 10 deaths and 51 injuries. The Uvalde shooting increases those numbers exponentially.

Juliette Kayyem, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Intergovernmental Affairs, told CNN late on Tuesday night that the reason there had been no press conference yet from Uvalde was that the bodies of the dead had to be identified. She spoke in raw terms of the damage an automatic weapon could do to the tiny body of a child. Only the parents would be able to ID these dead children — from their clothing or birthmarks. They were, she noted, too young to be carrying identification.

The Uvalde shooting was horrifyingly reminiscent of the Sandy Hook shooting December 14, 2012 in which 20 first graders and six adults were murdered. Those kids would be teenagers now. And we have, collectively as a nation, done nothing to end the violence. There are actually 100 million more guns in circulation now than there were a decade ago.

Since the pandemic, Philadelphia has become the gun homicide capital of big city America, outstripping New York, Los Angeles and even gang-ridden Chicago. In 2021, 562 Philadelphians were shot to death, with an increasing number of teens and younger children becoming victims.

On Saturday night, three 14-year-olds were shot in an altercation at Penn’s Landing. They remain in critical condition. On Monday, three teens, 15 to 17, were shot as they sat outside Simon Gratz High School after classes, just hanging out. Every week kids are being shot to death or wounded in Philadelphia. 

Some of these killings are obvious targeted gang or drug related shootings, with one victim being shot multiple times. Others are random. All beg the question of why there is so much killing in our city and nationally. And always: Why so many guns?

I live in a North Philly neighborhood whose pretty sycamore-lined streets belie the gun violence here. There are bullet holes in my living room and dining room windows, which I have never gotten fixed, that serve as a reminder of the transitory nature of gun violence. In the past five years, three Black men have been shot to death in front of our house. In one of those killings, on Thanksgiving Eve, the shots were right outside our window and we had to flatten to the floor, the muzzle flashes as obvious as our fear.

Over two decades I have written countless articles about gun violence for a range of mainstream, feminist and queer media. I have appeared on panels and on TV and radio discussing the issue. But nothing has changed in those years. More families have been made bereft by guns. There are mass shootings nearly every day in America. 

One has to ask, doesn’t the bloody, violent, incomprehensible slaughter of 19 children and two adults by an 18-year-old wearing body armor and carrying a military-grade firearm prove that we absolutely must at the very least regulate automatic weapons and insist on background checks?

The fear my wife and I felt that Thanksgiving Eve right before the pandemic, as the automatic weapons fire resounded just outside our window, was palpable. That fear is being felt daily throughout America.

Biden tweeted Tuesday night, “These kinds of mass shootings rarely happen elsewhere in the world. Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it? It’s time to turn this pain into action.”

I would ask: Who’s the “we” to whom Biden refers? Not me, nor my neighbors, nor anyone I know. “We” continually vote for candidates who promise to end the violence. Biden and VP Harris were among those. 

The GOP, NRA and the white nationalist base of the Republican party are obsessed with and dedicated to guns. Dave McCormick, currently locked in a battle with Mehmet Oz for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, had several campaign ads that were just about guns. In one his mother appears to say how important guns are to the McCormick family. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday night, as those little bodies lay on the floor of their classrooms, that “We need to ‘harden’ schools by possibly arming teachers and administrators.”

Paxton said, “Having the right training for some of these people at the school is the best hope.”

More guns is never an answer to gun violence — every other nation on earth makes that clear. This is a U.S. problem, not a school problem. Biden saying it’s a “we” problem is wrong. It’s a right-wing GOP problem, and America is caught in the crossfire. 

Philly D.A. Larry Krasner called out the gun violence here on Monday morning after there were 18 shootings, including those teens at Penn’s Landing. But where is our Mayor and where is our Police Commissioner? Where are the plans to stop Philly being the straw purchase and ghost gun capital of the East Coast?

The gun problem in America has reached critical mass. People are solving minor problems with guns. Angry young men with political grievances are taking their frustrations out on innocents — 19 children in Uvalde, 10 mostly elderly Black people in Buffalo. 

The tenor of our national discourse breeds violence. Incidents like Buffalo are literal warning shots. Those of us in historically marginalized communities are at ever-higher risk from men whose rage can only be assuaged at the end of a weapon.

If we can pass laws every day in America curtailing the rights of LGBTQ people to healthcare, pass “Don’t Say Gay” laws and pass laws banning books with LGBTQ content, we can certainly pass laws to keep our kids and ourselves from being shot to death at school, on the streets, in our own homes.

Biden says it’s time for a plan of action. Agreed. What is that plan, Mr. President? We are dying to find out. 

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.