By Marian Wright Edelman
The funerals for the 10 Black community members who were murdered while grocery shopping in Buffalo on May 14 are not even over — but it happened again.
This time, children. Thursday should have been the last day of school and the start of summer vacation for teachers and students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Instead, on May 24, 19 fourth graders and two of their belove teachers were shot to death in their classroom. They were murdered by a shooter who had legally purchased two AR-style rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition starting on May 17, the day after his 18th birthday. As our colleagues at the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas put it, “The only thing extraordinary about yesterday’s tragedy in Uvalde is how ordinary it is.” What a shameful indictment of our nation’s failure to act and protect children.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) struck a chord with millions of Americans as he spoke passionately on the Senate floor hours after the shooting. Sen. Murphy was the Congressman representing Newtown, Connecticut when 20 first graders and six adults were shot to death at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, so he is no stranger to responding to indescribable tragedies. He is also no stranger to watching many of his colleagues respond to gun tragedies by defiantly refusing to take action to protect children, not guns. On Tuesday, Senator Murphy asked all of them: “What are we doing?”:
“Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing? There were more mass shootings than days in the year. Our kids are living in fear every single time they set foot in the classroom because they think they’re going to be next. What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing. What are we doing? Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this? This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country. And nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school, thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk to their kids as I have had to do about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America. And it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue . . .
“What are we doing? Why are we here? What are we doing?” What are we doing? Politicians who immediately say things like “now is not the time to politicize this” almost inevitably actually mean “it will never be the time.” Too many of these leaders have no intention of taking any steps to prevent this. They do not want to act. They are not going to stand up to the gun lobby. They are not willing to protect children instead of guns.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had both been scheduled to join former President Donald Trump among the featured speakers for the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s national convention in Houston on May 27. In 2015, Governor Abbott said on Twitter: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas 2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.” Following the mass shootings at a Texas church in 2017, a Texas high school in 2018, and the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and the Midland-Odessa area in August 2019, Texas lawmakers responded by making it easier rather than harder to buy and carry guns in their state. Texas has now been the site of four of the nation’s 10 deadliest mass shootings, including the deadliest mass shooting at a place of worship, the deadliest mass shooting at a military institution, and, after the murders of these 19 children and their teachers, the second deadliest school shooting. Does this make Governor Abbott proud? Or will this shooting finally be enough to lead some of our elected politicians to new choices?
Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in our nation. A child or teen is killed with a gun every two hours in America. More pre-schoolers under 5 are killed with guns than police officers in the line of duty each year. In a nation where nearly all voters support common-sense gun safety legislation like universal background checks and two-thirds of voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, it doesn’t have to be this way.
What are we doing?
Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.