Joe Biden gave one of his more eloquent speeches yesterday in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. He didn’t sound doddery, possibly because it’s pretty much the same speech that he and/or Barack Obama have given after almost every school shooting for over a decade. He’s passionate about this issue. He’s also well-rehearsed.
‘To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,’ he said, speaking as someone who has lost two of his own children:
“There's a hollowness in your chest you feel like you're being sucked into it. And never going to be able to get out. Suffocating. And it's never quite the same. It's the feeling shared by the siblings and the grandparents and the family members and the community that's left behind.Scripture says – and Jill and I have talked about this in different contexts, in other contexts – the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Fine words, no doubt, and emotive – but just words. ‘As a nation, we have to ask, when in God's name are we doing to stand up to the gun lobby?’ That sounds like a good question – but it is one that never gets answered, least of all by politicians like Joe Biden. Who is the ‘we’ there? America? Or the White House? Or the Democratic party? He never quite specifies.
The awful truth is that mass shootings – even ones as shocking as yesterday’s – have just become a regular part of political life in 21st century America. The same pattern plays out. First, the shooting happens. There may or may not be a pop-up debate about racism and white supremacism in America, depending on the race of the killer. The murderous kid yesterday was an Hispanic 18-year-old, Salvador Ramos. Democrats then ask why an 18-year-old psychopath can get their hands on an assault weapon. They attack their political enemies for standing in the way of gun reform. The Republicans respond by accusing the Democrats of exploiting a tragedy for political gain.
Both parties are right, in a way. But the politics gets in the way of any sensible discussion. The argument for gun control, especially in the wake of tragedy, suits the story that the Democrats like to tell themselves about themselves. They are the party of progress and sanity opposed by God-and-gun crazy Republicans. But, even when they have a majority in the House of Representatives, the Democrats struggle to push for stronger limitations on the right to bear arms.
Yesterday, Barack Obama tweeted: ‘We’re also angry for them. Nearly ten years after Sandy Hook – and ten days after Buffalo – our country is paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.’ But Obama is the paralysis. He had a supermajority and never passed the laws he says are so obviously needed.
After the school massacre at Sandy Hook, riding on a wave of public anguish, Obama introduced some tepid gun control measures – but the political will to oppose gun control is at least as strong as the political will to enforce it. So not much happens. Roughly 52 per cent of Americans support tighter gun control, but that majority has been thinning in recent years. Since the Black Lives Matter riots, when cities burned for weeks and politicians appears to cheer the ‘protestors’ on, Americans have become more sceptical about federal attempts to control the supply of deadly weapons. Covid, too, added to a widespread sense that the federal government is out to suppress human freedom. That sense – call it paranoia, if you want – is what makes Americans support their Second Amendment. The social fabric of America is falling apart, as shootings such as yesterday’s show. That makes Americans want more weaponry, not less.
Biden can make more impassioned speeches. He might even enjoy a bounce in the polls, which a cynic might say is what drives him more than anything. But these murder sprees will keep happening. Just in Texas, since 2014, there have been four mass shootings – 26 dead at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017; 19 dead at the Midland-Odessa shooting spree; ten people at the school in Santa Fe. Yesterday’s horror was in another school. It will be politicised. Not much will change.