On April 20, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Colorado dressed and armed for war. When they were finished, 12 fellow students and one teacher were dead, and scores more were injured. While not the first actual mass shooting in a U.S. school, the Columbine massacre is widely viewed as the beginning of an age of in-school gun violence that has accelerated in accumulated horror with each passing year.
Nine days after Columbine, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention just a few miles down the road in Denver. Greeted by crowds of gun control advocates, NRA president and former actor Charlton Heston declared, “We cannot, we must not let tragedy lay waste to the most rare, hard-won right in history.”
It is presumed Heston meant gun ownership when he described “the most rare, hard-won right in history,” and not “life,” another right codified in the same founding documents. Bog-standard NRA logic, this sentiment led to the assembly and deployment of an arsenal of pro-gun talking points, along with the ever-present offering of “thoughts and prayers” once the bodies stop dropping.
One year later, Heston once again addressed the NRA convention, this time in Charlotte. Raising an old flintlock rifle over his head, the actor bellowed, “From my cold, dead hands!” The line became his catch phrase until his retirement in 2003.
The Columbine killers did not carry flintlock rifles into that school. Between them, they brought a Hi-Point model 995 carbine rifle, a double-barrel Savage 311-D sawed-off shotgun, a sawed-off pump-action Savage-Springfield 67H shotgun, and a TEC-DC9 9-mm semiautomatic handgun. Had these weapons existed in the age of the flintlock, it is likely the Second Amendment would have been written in far less ambiguous language.
Thirteen years later, 11 days before Christmas, another gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and opened fire with a Bushmaster XM-15 E2s rifle and a Glock 20SF handgun, after murdering his mother in her home with a Savage Mark II rifle.
When it was over, the shooter was dead by his own hand, along with 20 children and 6 school staffers. Almost all of the dead children were 6 years old. Several proved difficult to identify because their faces had been blown off. Most were found huddled in a bathroom, where they had sought refuge with their teachers. In the aftermath, a push to enact new gun control laws was met with fierce opposition by the NRA, and was defeated in the Senate four months after the massacre despite enjoying massive public support.
In February of this year, Sandy Hook families were awarded $73 million in damages by a civil court against Remington, the maker of the Bushmaster rifle used in the shooting. “It was the largest payout so far in a mass-shooting-related case against a gun manufacturer,” according to The New York Times. The courts also held conspiracy theorist Alex Jones liable for spreading the gruesome fiction that the shooting was staged and the dead were all actors.
No significant attempt has been made to tighten federal gun laws since Sandy Hook.
Six years after Sandy Hook, a gunman entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When he was finished, 17 students lay dead with another 14 injured. The attack inspired a wave of activism on the part of young people, more than 311,000 of whom have now personally witnessed acts of gun violence in their schools since Columbine. Among the most vocal activists were survivors of the Parkland shooting, who fanned out across the country demanding change. No change was forthcoming.
Ten years after Sandy Hook, only yesterday, a gunman battered his way into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Before he was shot by responding law enforcement officers, 19 students and 2 teachers were dead. His motive and the weapons he used have not been made clear yet, but it is known that he purchased the weapons for himself legally on his 18th birthday.
The Uvalde horror comes hard on the heels of another bloodbath, this time at a grocery store in a predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, eight days ago. The shooter, an avowed white supremacist, killed 10 people before being detained by police. The act has been labeled as “domestic terrorism.”
On Friday, the NRA will hold its annual convention in Houston. Former President Donald Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are scheduled as featured speakers. “According to the NRA, the Secret Service is taking control of the hall during Trump’s speech and is prohibiting attendees from having firearms, firearms accessories and knives,” reports NPR. “Ammunition, laser pointers, pepper spray, toy guns, backpacks and other items also won’t be allowed. The Secret Service will search attendees with magnetometers before they enter the hall, the NRA said.”
Around 35 people in the U.S. are murdered with a gun every day. There have been more than 550 school shootings in the U.S. since Columbine. There are more guns than people in the U.S., and by a significant margin. Every time one of these slaughters takes place, gun sales soar as the NRA and other gun groups warn gun advocates the government is coming for their weapons. Nothing, to date, could be further from the truth, and gun sales have never been better. State after state — most conspicuously Texas — has passed laws making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
“The F.B.I. released alarming data showing a rapidly escalating pattern of public shootings in the United States on Monday, one day before the massacre in Uvalde, Texas,” reports the Times. “The bureau identified 61 ‘active shooter’ attacks in 2021 that killed 103 people and injured 130 others. That was the highest annual total since 2017 when 143 people were killed, and hundreds more were wounded, numbers inflated by the sniper attack on the Las Vegas Strip in October of that year.”
Democrats have fast-tracked gun control legislation in response to the events in Uvalde, and votes could be held as early as Thursday. The effort, however, is almost certainly doomed. The bills will need 60 votes to pass cloture, and while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is “horrified and heartbroken” over the violence at yet another elementary school, he enjoys an “A+” rating from the NRA. There will almost certainly be no meaningful Republican support for the proposed legislation, again.
Entropy. Degradation. Disorder. Collapse.
It is everywhere we look now. Gun violence, climate calamity, a wobbly health care “system” laid bare by a preventable pandemic, a vast and widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, the ongoing daily violence of institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia: We are surrounded and subsumed by terrible situations that are nearly all growing worse.
There are solutions to all these ailments, but one of the main mechanisms for achieving most of those solutions — the United States Congress — is itself a victim of entropy and deeply corrupted disorder. While Republicans carry the larger burden of blame for 23 years of inaction on school massacres, Democrats have their own moral stains to contend with.
Ineffective messaging and fear of the fight has marked much of their effort over these long and bloody years. Four Democrats voted with Republicans to kill the gun control bill after Sandy Hook, and Democrat Joe Manchin still refuses to surrender the filibuster even if it means the defeat of this latest round of legislation. “The filibuster is the only thing that prevents us from total insanity,” he told reporters on Tuesday. That, as they say, is that.
Entropy. Degradation. Disorder. Collapse. Not with a bang, but with the whimper of a third-grader before the bang from the dark maw of a gun barrel in their classroom. No help coming, no recourse in the law. Thoughts and prayers. As far as collapsing empires go, this one is going about it in as filthy a fashion as history has ever seen.