Editorial other views

The following editorial published in the Austin American-Statesman on July 20:

A damning state legislative report released Sunday describes pervasive failures to prevent or effectively respond to the Uvalde school massacre, but it fails to drive home a key point: If a disturbed 18-year-old had been unable to buy a powerful AR-15-style rifle, the slaughter of innocent children and teachers might not have happened.

The 77-page report by the Texas House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting gives a chilling and detailed account of the circumstances leading up to the horrific day of the shooting. It reveals that the attacker’s family noticed alarming changes in the young shooter’s behavior, including violent threats, but failed to notify authorities or try to get him help. It describes how school faculty failed to follow security policy by habitually leaving doors unlocked or propping them open for the sake of convenience. And the report details how armed police ignored their active shooter training and failed to stop the gunman sooner.

Republicans and the gun lobby have long claimed that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun, but there were 375 “good guys” with guns at Robb Elementary who failed to stop an 18-year-old with a more powerful AR-15-style rifle. Instead, several spent 70 minutes pacing and waiting in hallways outside the classrooms where the shooter had executed schoolchildren and their teachers. Finally, a U.S. Border Patrol officer went in and killed the gunman.

These failures are both heartbreaking and infuriating to consider, but they aren’t entirely new. We’ve seen similar negligence in the nightmarish wave of mass shootings across our nation. While the House investigative committee’s report shines a powerful light on failures that led to the Uvalde shooting, it gives only brief reference to the easy availability of the AR-15-style rifle, ammunition and magazines that enabled the shooter to kill and maim his victims in mere minutes.

“There was no legal impediment to the attacker buying two AR-15-style rifles, 60 magazines, and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition when he turned 18,” the report’s conclusion says. “The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) was not required to notify the local sheriff of the multiple purchases.”

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and a member of the committee that conducted the investigation, noted the shooter was unable to buy a gun before he was 18 and failed to convince others to buy one for him.

“I think this is actually a concrete example of the laws we have working, but not being sufficient,” Moody told our editorial board. “He tried to get these weapons before he was 18 and was unable to. If the law had been 21, I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have been able to acquire them until he would be 21.”

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde and who has called for reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, agreed.

“This doesn’t happen if we don’t have these types of weapons in the hands of this 18-year-old,” Gutierrez told us.

Despite some police organizations’ calls to limit the sale of assault weapons, Republicans in Congress refuse to consider banning them, and most Republicans in the Texas Legislature oppose raising the age to purchase guns to 21. This despite wave after wave of mass shootings and polls showing most Americans favor stricter gun control.

Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican who led the legislative investigation into the Uvalde shooting, told reporters it was premature to discuss additional gun control measures.

At some point, Burrows said, policymakers would share their opinions with the committee and others about the steps needed to prevent another Uvalde, “but right now, we’re gonna let the report speak for itself and focus on the facts that were found in there.”

Yes, let the facts speak. They tell us and Burrows, Gov. Greg Abbott and any other politician willing to listen that if we are to end the gun violence terrorizing our state and nation, we must first admit we can’t do it without addressing the root of the problem: the ease with which some can get their hands on weapons capable of killing so many innocent people in so little time.

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