May 24, marked a year since an eighteen year old male, armed with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle, walked into the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and shot to death 19 grade school children and three teachers. He wounded seventeen others who somehow managed to survive, even though most of them had been shot and lay bleeding for over an hour before police officers finally confronted the shooter and killed him.
The grim anniversaries pile up: There was a one-year anniversary after the mass killing of 12 people and wounding of 58 more at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The mass murder of 60 concertgoers in Las Vegas, and the wounding of 413 others, had a one-year anniversary, too. So did the murders of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in a suburb of Pittsburg, PA, where six others were wounded. Several of the victims in that shooting were survivors of the Holocaust.
There was a one-year anniversary for the mass murders of 49 patrons at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, during which 53 other people were wounded. The killing of 26 churchgoers and wounding of 22 more in Sutherland Springs, Texas, had a one-year anniversary, and so did the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso that killed 23 people and wounded 23 more.
The weapons used by the killers in all of these mass murders were AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles. The killer in Las Vegas used fourteen AR-15 rifles, some of them outfitted with so-called bump stocks to make them fire automatically, and ten other firearms he had bought legally in the months leading up to the massacre.
There will be an anniversary next year for the killing just two months ago of nine children and three adults at a church school in Nashville Tennessee, and another anniversary for the murder of five people in a home in Cleveland, Texas last month, and yet another anniversary for the murder of nine people at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas, just a week later.
But the one-year anniversary of the murders of schoolchildren in Uvalde stands out, because of the horror of the deaths of the innocent children and because almost nothing happened afterwards. More than 400 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting at the school on May 24 of last year. The officers, many of them wearing full combat gear, including bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets and carrying thick bulletproof clear plastic shields, armed with fully-automatic AR-15 rifles, waited an hour and fourteen minutes before breaching the classroom and killing the shooter. “Breaching” is an exaggeration of what actually happened. After waiting at least part of the time for a key to the schoolroom and a battering ram, the tactical force that entered the school room found that the door was unlocked and entered by turning the door handle.
Ninety of the officers responding to the shooting were from the Texas Department of Public Safety. One officer was fired. Another officer is still under investigation. A third officer resigned before a disciplinary hearing could be held. The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Colonel Steve McGraw, has not been fired, nor has he resigned. The chief of the Uvalde School District police force was fired by the county board of trustees.
The city of Uvalde attempted to block the release of public information about the shooting because it was “highly embarrassing information” that had the potential of revealing “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,” despite the fact that none of those methods, techniques or strategies worked on May 24, 2022. There were also attempts to block the release of hallway video taken during the entire hour and fourteen minute incident. Some of the video showed officers standing around chatting with one another, resting their protective shields on the ground, and fiddling with the tactical gear they were wearing. Part of one video showed an officer availing himself of hand sanitizer mounted on the wall of the school and two other officers giving each other a fist-bump before the shooter had been engaged and killed.
You would think that the state of Texas would take some steps to prevent another shooting like the one in Uvalde, but you would be wrong. A year before the killings in Uvalde, the Texas legislature passed and Governor Gregg Abbott signed a so-called “constitutional carry” bill that allows firearms to be carried without a license or training. Texas law permits the sale of AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles to persons over the age of 18. In August of 2022, just three months after the killings of the schoolchildren in Uvalde by an 18-year-old male, Governor Abbott told the Dallas Morning News that raising the age to 21 to buy a so-called “long gun,” including the AR-15, would be “unconstitutional.”
According to the Texas Tribune, “Texas lawmakers have approved more than 100 bills that loosened regulations on firearms over the last two decades.” Some of those laws allow guns to be carried on college campuses and forbid hotels from banning handguns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has figures that show deaths by firearms in the state of Texas have risen steeply over the past 20 years. In 1999, there were 10 deaths from firearms per 100,000 citizens. By 2021, there were 15 gun deaths per 100,000 people in Texas “Over the same period, firearm-related homicides rose 66% and suicides involving firearms rose 40%,” according to the Texas Tribune.
If you have people walking into grade schools and killing schoolchildren, and people going next door and killing their neighbors because they complained that the noise of shooting a gun in the front yard was keeping their baby awake, and people driving up to shopping malls and parking their cars and getting out and shooting at crowds of people that include toddlers and young children, and you do nothing to stop it, and in fact, you double-down on rhetoric surrounding gun “freedom,” then what you get is the madness of more dead people, and then more dead people, and close on the heels of those dead people, even more of them.
May 24th is the anniversary of the day that an 18-year-old young man celebrated his freedom to walk into a gun store and buy a military-grade AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition, including 375 rounds of military-grade 5.56 mm NATO ammunition, by using that rifle and that storehouse of ammunition to kill 19 children and three teachers.
All anniversaries of deaths are sad for the family members and friends left behind. When the deaths are violent, they are doubly sad. When death comes from the barrel of a gun, the heartache is unknowable. When the deaths of innocents can be linked to laws allowing the easy purchase of weapons of war by young people who are not even old enough to buy a drink at a bar or a can of beer from a 7-11, the tragedy is ours, because the laws of this country, including its gun laws, and the legislators who make them and the governors and presidents who sign them and the Constitution which has been interpreted to allow them, belong to all of us.
Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.