President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Thursday night, hours after reports of a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. By the time the president addressed the nation shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET, the death toll in the shooting had climbed to 18 children and two adults.
Authorities say the 18-year-old suspect, who will not be named by Bearing Arms, was a student at Uvalde High School who shot and killed his grandmother before heading to the elementary school, where some 600 second-through-fourth graders were in attendance.
Abbott told a news conference hours after the shooting that 14 schoolchildren had been slain, along with one teacher. But Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez later told CNN, citing the Texas Rangers state police as his source, that the death toll had climbed to 18 children and three adults.
That third adult may have been the shooter, who Abbott said was likely shot by law enforcement.
During his address, Biden opened by speaking emotionally about the pain of losing a child, describing it as a “hollowness in your chest you feel like you’re being sucked into it and never going to be able to get out, suffocating”, adding “it’s never quite the same.”
After calling on the nation to pray for the victims and their families, Biden immediately invoked God again and asked when in His name will the nation “stand up to the gun lobby” and “do what we know in our gut needs to be done.”
The president recalled the murders at Sandy Hook and then spoke of 900 shootings on school grounds in the decade since, apparently referencing a broad definition used by the Gun Violence Archive, but invoking the names of actual active shooting incidents in Florida, Texas, and Michigan. The FBI, in its new report on active shooters in 2021, says there were two active shooter incidents in the United States in 2021.
Biden then claimed that his “assault weapons ban” led to a decline in mass shootings, but that the number tripled after the ban expired. That claim comes from a Columbia professor named Louis Kleveras, who himself came up with the figures after first defining and measuring “high fatality mass shootings” in which six or more people are killed (The Gun Violence Archive, meanwhile, defines a “mass shooting” as an incident in which four or more people are shot). Change the methodology and you get different numbers, which helps to explain why other studies have found little evidence that the Biden gun ban was effective at reducing violent crime in general or mass shootings specifically.
All of which is beside the point, at least when Biden spoke, because when he addressed the nation the only gun confirmed to be used came from Gov. Abbott’s comment about a handgun and “maybe” a rifle. That wasn’t stopping Biden, however, who said that “the idea that an 18-year-old kid can just walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong” before yet again talking about deer in Kevlar vests. The issue of gun sales to those under the age of 21 has been making its way through the courts, with the Ninth Circuit recently concluding that the Second Amendment protects the right of adults between 18-20 to purchase semi-automatic long guns. That decision is likely headed for an en banc review, but the issue is also percolating in the Eleventh Circuit, where the NRA is challenging a ban on gun sales to under-21s passed by Florida lawmakers after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people were killed.
After talking about “assault weapons,” Biden then turned his attention to “the gun manufacturers”, who he accused of “aggressively marketing the assault weapons which make them the greatest and largest profit.”
While the motive for the attack is unknown at this time, as well as how the murderer acquired his gun, Biden made it clear that Democrats will be pushing to pass his gun control agenda, or at least try to run on it in the midterms.
“It’s time to act,” Biden exhorted. “It’s time for those who obstruct or delay or block the commonsense gun laws, we need to let you know that we will not forget. We can do so much more. We have to do more. Our prayer tonight is for those parents lying in bed trying to figure out ‘will I be able to sleep again? What do I say to my other children? What happens tomorrow?’”
Speaking from my own experience, what happens tomorrow for them is something I would never wish on anyone, and Biden is right when he says you never move on. Their world will forever be scarred by the absence of their child, but scars take time to form. What likely awaits them tomorrow is a cycle of shock, unbearable grief, anger, and numbness, and my heart breaks for them.
What happens for the political class tomorrow is that instead of talking about what would lead an 18-year old to murder his grandmother, a classroom of children, and their teacher; whether or not there were any warning signs that were ignored (the Secret Service reports that in more than 90% of targeted school attacks the attacker communicated their intentions beforehand); security measures that were in place or could be improved; or any number of other critically important issues (some of them much deeper than the realm of lawmakers, incidentally) they (and we) are going to be talking almost exclusively about guns and gun control laws that wouldn’t have prevented this from happening. I don’t even mind talking about guns and gun control (I’m always ready to have a conversation about why I don’t think it’s the answer), but I hate that we’re going to completely ignore so many important factors that will inevitably emerge from the investigation in the days ahead.
Biden set the tone when he informed us, however, that there’s no time to wait and if we don’t willingly join along then we are disrespecting not only those little children who were senselessly murdered, but their parents as well. It’s vintage Biden, to be honest: callous politics entwined with genuine empathy. Get ready to see a lot more of it in the days ahead.