Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 516, 25 May 2022

The US: Another school attack kills 19 children
D Suba Chandran

In the news
On 24 May, in the US (in Uvalde, Texas), a teenager gunman killed eighteen children in an elementary school. He had earlier purchased two semi-automatic AR-15 rifles in a local gun store.

On 24 May, the US President, in his address on the issue, said: "…tonight, I ask the nation to pray for them, to give the parents and siblings the strength in the darkness they feel right now. As a nation, we have to ask: When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God's name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done? It's been…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."

On 25 May, a story in the Economist said: "By one estimate, Americans own 400m guns. If they were evenly distributed, each family of five would have six. In 2020 more than 45,000 people in America died from firearm-related injuries. Guns now kill more young people than cars do."

Issues in background
First, the recurring and increasing gun attacks in US schools. Between a similar attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 (20 children killed along with six members of the school staff) and the latest attack in Uvalde, Texas, there has been a series of attacks in the US schools. In 2018, in Parkland, an attack in a High School witnessed the killing of 17 students and a staff. While Sandy Hook (2012), Parkland (2018) and Uvalde (2022) witnessed more than 15 getting killed, there have been other attacks with smaller casualties. According to a Wall Street Journal report, "there has been a school shooting every year during the past 40 years, except for 2020, when most schools didn't meet in person because of the pandemic."

Second, the bleeding hearts, prayers and amnesia. While the attacks invoke immediate condemnation across the US society and call for prayers, there has been little action to prevent violent actions in the schools. The schools are left to deal with the issue with mock drills and be prepared for an attack like the one that had happened in Uvalde.

Third, access to guns in the US. In Uvalde, the killer could purchase two semi-automatic AR rifles in a local gun store should highlight the easy access. Data would also reveal the number of weapons, including high powered guns available in the US.

Fourth, the missing consensus on gun control. The US Congress has been discussing gun control for a long time, without any consensus. There is a huge divide between the two parties – the republicans and the democrats on the nature and extent of gun control. While those who argue for tighter gun control focus on the devastation it causes, those who are apprehensive hide under the constitutional right to own a gun in the US.

In perspective
First, the question, why only in the US, there are mass shootings in the schools, and not in other countries – developed or developing? The arguments about the mental health of the perpetrators, violence in schools, broken families, and the right to self-protection cut across many countries, but the mass shootings seem to be US specific. Why? There a specific problem that the US has to address.

Second, the rise of lone gunmen. Whether it is hate crime or shootings in the schools, one could see a trend in the rise of lone and disturbed gunmen. In retrospect, one could analyse their views, and how their action could be prevented; however, these gunmen could not be pre-empted.

Third, the government action or inaction in the US. Nikolas Kristoff in an analysis in the New York Times, after the recent attack, wrote: "… we're tired of commemorating gun violence in America only with thoughts and prayers. We didn't respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine simply with thoughts and prayers, or to the 9/11 attacks only with moments of silence, or to Pearl Harbor just with lowered flags and memorial services." He is right.

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