The United States seems to be failing to protect its people by the week. With the gun massacre in East Buffalo followed by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, many Americans have spent the past few days gripped by overwhelming incredulity and grief, exhaustion and fury over the loss of life. What can be done beyond living with heartbreak?
There is incredulity at the inaction of the police in Uvalde. Seventy-eight minutes elapsed after the gunman walked inside before police, believing “there were no kids at risk,” finally confronted him, according to Steven C. McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Meanwhile, 911 dispatchers received several calls from inside the classroom, including repeated calls from a child begging them to send the police. By the end of his rampage, the gunman had killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Mr. McCraw acknowledged the multiple failures of judgment. In response to a question about whether the commander at the scene should offer an apology to the victims’ families, he said, “If I thought it would help, I would apologize.”
Police held back a group of horrified parents who gathered even as shots continued to ring out inside the school and begged officers to move in and try to rescue their children. At least one mother was put in handcuffs, only to spring over a fence and sprint into the school to scoop up her child when the opportunity presented itself. The police, she said, were “doing nothing.”
Those officers had been training for years for just such an attack. Yet when the moment came, all that preparation did nothing to stop a gunman wielding an assault rifle in a school full of children.
There is unspeakable grief over the deaths of children like Layla Salazar, who liked to make TikTok videos, wear denim jackets and sing “Sweet Child o’ Mine” on the way to school each morning.
“They took her away from us,” Layla’s grandfather Vincent Salazar told The Times. “How do you mend a broken heart from a family as close as we had?”
Irma Garcia, a teacher at Robb Elementary, liked classic rock. Her body was found with children still in her embrace, according to her nephew. A fourth grader who survived the attack said that Ms. Garcia and another teacher, Eva Mireles, had saved his and other students’ lives. “They were in front of my classmates to help,” he said. “To save them.”
There is also a profound sense of national exhaustion that comes when tragedy is layered upon tragedy. In Buffalo, three funerals were held on Friday for victims of the mass shooting that took place at a supermarket on May 14. Ten people were killed, and three others were wounded.
“It’s like Groundhog’s Day. We’ve seen this over and over again,” Mark Talley, the son of one of the victims, Geraldine Talley, said at a news conference on Thursday.
In Buffalo, a white gunman targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood with his AR-15-style assault rifle; he was an adherent of the racist conspiracy theory known as replacement theory, which posits that white Americans are being displaced by immigrants and people of color. Nearly half of Republicans told pollsters recently that they agree with the general thesis that a cabal of powerful people is encouraging immigrants to come here to sway politics.
The combination of paranoia and firearms has led to tragedy again and again. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” President Biden asked the nation on Tuesday.
The report of each gunshot in a mass killing echoes long after the next killing eclipses it. According to his family, Joe Garcia, Ms. Garcia’s husband, died on Thursday of a heart attack. Mr. Garcia, 50, had just gotten home from the memorial for his wife on Thursday morning when he collapsed.
It is entirely reasonable to ask how much more of this a nation can be expected to bear. The answer is infuriating: There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States in the first 21 weeks of 2022. An average of 321 Americans are shot every single day. And every day, there are roughly more than 50,000 gun sales recorded. Properly maintained, those guns will fire like new for decades.
There was some hope after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, which left 20 children and six teachers dead, that America had finally reached the limit of tragedy it could withstand and that, perhaps, the gun lobby had reached the high-water mark of its power.
A decade later, neither of those holds true. On Friday, the former president Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson of North Carolina all spoke at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, a few hours’ drive from Uvalde. There is no better manifestation of the gun lobby’s total capture of so much of the G.O.P.
States around the country have made halting but commendable progress in passing sensible gun safety measures — red flag laws, background checks and age of purchase requirements. They face stiff headwinds. A federal court this month struck down a California law that set the age limit for purchasingsemiautomatic weapons at 21. But the legislature is now considering other promising bills that would limit the advertising of certain guns to children and allow Californians to sue gun makers. Anything that introduces friction into the system of gun acquisition is to the good.
In New York this week, a federal judge tossed out a challenge from gun groups to a law that allows civil lawsuits against companies that have endangered public safety. And Gov. Kathy Hochul called on the legislature to raise the age limit to purchase some assault weapons to 21. The shooter in Texas waited until his 18th birthday to buy a pair of assault weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
In Washington, D.C., there is talk that Republican and Democratic lawmakers might make a deal on some type of national red flag law, which would allow the police to take guns away from people judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.
Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, has been leading a bipartisan group of senators that is considering establishing a more comprehensive federal background check system, a reform supported by 88 percent of Americans.
We have seen these bipartisan efforts on gun safety measures come and go without results. Still, in the face of Republican intransigence, Democrats — Mr. Biden, in particular — should do whatever they can. Senator Murphy, who has led the charge for tougher gun regulations since Sandy Hook, put it well on the floor of the Senate this past week:
“What are we doing?” he asked his colleagues. “Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority” he wondered, if the answer is to do nothing “as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives?”
It’s a question that speaks to the Senate directly and the entire system of American government more broadly. Yes, the country’s democratic system represents the diversity of views in this country on guns. But as currently structured, Congress is fundamentally unresponsive to the needs of its most vulnerable citizens and has been corrupted by powerful interest groups, allowing those groups to block even modest changes that the vast majority of Americans support.
We Americans all share this vast country and need to figure out how to make it better and keep one another alive and thriving. Right now, we’re failing at that primary responsibility. There are glimmers of hope, especially at the state level, that things are changing. But even there, progress is agonizingly slow and won’t be enough for the hundreds of Americans who will be shot today and tomorrow and every day until action is taken.“