Texas shooting: A history of gun violence in US, and a call for tougher laws

  • On his 18th birthday, Salvador Ramos shot and killed at least 19 students and two adults after he opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, highlighting how out of control America’s gun problem has become.
Law enforcement work the scene after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School where 18 children were killed in Uvalde, Texas.(AFP) PREMIUM
Law enforcement work the scene after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School where 18 children were killed in Uvalde, Texas.(AFP)
Updated on May 25, 2022 06:54 PM IST
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On his 18th birthday, a few months ago, Salvador Ramos went out and bought two assault-style rifles from a store in Uvalde County, Texas.

“That was the first thing he did on his 18th birthday,” Texas state senator Roland Gutierrez said.

Around 11:30 am (local time) on Tuesday, he shot and killed at least 19 students and two adults after he opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a community of mostly Latin-American origins, near the United States (US) border with Mexico.

The motive for the attack is not entirely clear. Hours before, Ramos shot his grandmother, who is now in critical condition.

Authorities were not able to say for certain whether the weapons used in this attack were the same that Ramos bought on his birthday, because he was also in possession of a handgun. But the incident highlights how out of control America’s gun problem has become.

Tracking rising gun violence

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Monday noted a more than 50% increase in the number of active shooters last year from the previous year.

In the report, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2021, the FBI said there was an upward trend in the number of active shooter incidents for the period between 2017 -2021. “The FBI defines an active shooter as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. Implicit in this definition is the shooter’s use of a firearm,” it said.

There was a 52.5% increase from 2020 and a 96.8% increase from 2017. In 2021, there were 61 active shootings, 40 in 2020, 30 each in 2019 and 2018, and 31 in 2017. Of these shootings, 32 were reported in an area of commerce, while two were reported at education institutions.

The FBI report comes on the heels of another report by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which notes that gun homicides in the US reached their highest during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was a 35% rise in the number of homicides from guns (here meaning, the killing of one person by another with the use of a firearm) in the first year of the pandemic since 1994. The report, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, noted that the homicides using firearms rose from compared with 4.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 6.1 per 100,000 people in 2020.

Over 19,000 people were killed by guns in 2020 compared to the more than 14,000 deaths in 2019, excluding suicide, the report said.

This confirmed provisional data released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in October last year on rising firearm homicides. “The provisional firearm injury death rate also increased from 11.9 firearm deaths per 100,000 in 2019 to 13.6 per 100,000 in 2020 – a 14 per cent increase,” it said.

The US has seen 212 mass shootings this year alone as of Tuesday, according to Gun Violence Archive, an independent research group. There were 693 mass shootings in 2021 and 611 in 2020.

The Uvalde shooting comes a little more than a week after a racially-motivated shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 people were killed, and an attack on a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in California, motivated by opposition to Taiwan’s independence, which resulted in one death and five injuries.

“It’s been 340 — 3,448 days — 10 years since I stood up at a high school in Connecticut — a grade school in Connecticut, where another gunman massacred 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Biden said in his address to the nation on Tuesday.

“Since then, there have been over 900 incidents of gunfires reported on school grounds.”

“I’m sick and tired. We have to act and don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage,” he said.

A history of school shootings

The massacre at Uvalde is the 27th school shooting to take place this year, according to Education Week which began tracking “shootings on K-12 school property that resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths” since 2018.

It said that there have been 119 school shootings since 2018. At 34, the highest number of shootings occurred last year, despite the ongoing pandemic restrictions. At least 10 shootings were reported in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018.

At least 27 people have been killed in 2022 so far, which includes 24 students or other children and three school employees. At least 40 have been injured in such violence, not including Uvalde.

The massacre in Texas has become the worst school shooting in the state’s history and the deadliest since 2012, when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

In 2018, on Valentine’s day, a 19-year-old former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, opened fire killing 17 people and wounding 17 others after his expulsion from the school for disciplinary reasons.

The same year in May, a 17-year-old killed nine students and one adult, injuring 13 others in Sante Fe. That shooting was the deadliest in Texas till Uvalde.

In 2021, a 15-year-old opened fire in Oxford High School in Oxford township, Michigan, killing four students and wounding seven others. It was among the deadliest shootings in the US last year.

Weak laws and a never-ending debate

“Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Santa Fe High School in Texas. Oxford High School in Michigan. The list goes on and on.” Biden said in his statement after the attack, asking a crucial question, “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?”

Uvalde adds to the debate in the US around gun ownership, which barely had time to die down after the two high-profile shootings last week.

Only last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed seven laws to “protect” Second Amendment Rights — the right to keep and bear arms — in the state, including and not limited to allowing “law-abiding” Texans to legally carry a handgun without a license, “protecting Texans from new federal gun control regulations”, and removing the “criminal offense of possessing, manufacturing, transporting, or repairing a firearm silencer”.

“Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session,” Abbott said afterwards, surrounded by representatives of the National Rifle Association.

Uvalde also highlights the endemic nature of gun violence in Abbott’s state. On average, at least 3,647 people die because of guns in Texas every year since 2011, according to Every Town, a non-profit that advocates against gun violence. The state has the 19th highest rate of gun violence in the US.

Some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent years have occurred in Texas, including the 2019 El Paso shooting at a Walmart, which left 23 dead.

Uvalde adds to the debate around the age of firearm possession, which was renewed in the aftermath of last week’s targeted shooting in New York. Like, Ramos, the New York shooter was 18. He was also in possession of a semi-automatic rifle.

“The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong,” Biden said yesterday.

Anti-gun violence activists have argued that adding restrictions like background checks can help reduce gun violence in the country, but pro-gun activists – usually Republicans – say that any such curbs will be a violation of the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. Gun advocates also argue that Americans should be able to possess guns so that they may protect themselves during such shootings.

The issue is expected to feature prominently as the US heads into midterm elections in November when all seats in the US congress are up for grabs

Call for tougher laws

Both Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris, speaking after the incident, called for tougher gun laws.

“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said. “There’s a hollowness in your chest you feel like you’re being sucked into it… you’re never quite the same,” Biden said.

“For every parent, every citizen of this country. We have to make it clear to every elected official in this country: it’s time to act. It’s time for those who obstruct or delay or blocked the common-sense gun laws – we need to let you know that we will not forget.”

Harris called for "reasonable and sensible public policy to ensure something like this never happens again”.

Pope Francis said it was “time to say ‘enough’” and called for tougher gun controls, speaking to the crowd in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

“I am heartbroken by the massacre at the elementary school in Texas. I pray for the children and the adults who were killed and for their families It is time to say “enough” to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons. Let us all make a commitment so that tragedies like this cannot happen again,” he said.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talked about “pragmatic” gun laws in an appearance on an American talk show with Stephen Colbert.

“We saw something that wasn’t right and we acted on it, and I can only speak to that experience,” she said, referring to the swift change in gun laws following the 2019 mass shooting in New Zealand in which 51 people were killed by a White supremacist.

The US police say that Ramos was shot and killed by arriving officers after he fled the scene. They have yet to determine a motive, but believe he acted alone.

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