Opinion: Our guns are more important than our children

As in Georgia, students in Texas last week were in the midst of class parties, award ceremonies and anticipation of a long, happy summer. Proud parents snapped photos of their beaming children, including 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, who displayed her honor roll certificate at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Within hours, Amerie, 18 classmates and two teachers — watching a movie and eating popcorn — died in a barrage of bullets from an automatic weapon. The teenage gunman bought two AR-style rifles after he turned 18 on May 16 and days before he stormed Robb Elementary.

Now, America is grief-stricken and wondering why we alone — out of all the developed nations in the world — relive this nightmare so often. The slaughter at Robb Elementary was the 27th school shooting this year with injuries or deaths, according to a database maintained by Education Week. When you count up all mass shootings in 2022 as of Friday the tally soars to 214.

Within a day of the massacre, photos of a smiling Amerie and her classmates began to appear. We saw, too, pictures of their beautiful teachers and heard stories about their dedication.

In a tribute to fourth grade teacher Eva Mireles, her daughter wrote: “I don’t know how to do this life without you, but I will take care of dad. I will take care of our dogs and I will forever say your name so you are always remembered, Eva Mireles, 4th grade teacher at Robb Elementary who selflessly jumped in front of her students to save their lives. My heart will forever be broken.”

On her faculty page, teacher Irma Garcia shared, “I am Mrs. Garcia and I will be one of your 4th grade teachers this year. I am so excited to begin this new school year already. I want to share some fun facts about myself. I have been a co-teacher for 5 years now with Ms. Mireles. My husband’s name is Joe Garcia. We have been married for 24 years and have 4 children.” She wrote that her eldest son was in Marine boot camp while another attended college. Her youngest were in middle and high school.

It is not just sadness over these lost lives and devastated families that we are feeling. It is the realization teachers are eyeing classrooms to determine if they should move a bookshelf or a desk to better hide their students. It is the helplessness of knowing this will happen again, that we have done nothing to prevent another Robb Elementary, Columbine, Newtown, or Parkland.

Unlike other countries that experienced a school shooting and tightened gun safety laws to prevent any more, we just hold prayer vigils and debate arming teachers after each new bloodbath.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill in April allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a license from the state to appease voters who believe the only America where they can feel safe is a heavily armed one with no restrictions on private arsenals.

I understand most gun owners are law-abiding and don’t go on shooting rampages. Most car owners follow laws, too, yet Georgia mandates drivers pass a test and register their vehicles. Kemp’s office issued a 1,000-word statement after the Texas killings on how to prevent a similar tragedy in Georgia. The word “gun” wasn’t mentioned.

I have been writing about gun violence for more than 30 years. In that time, U.S. firearms ownership has soared. So have gun deaths.

Fifty years ago, there were about 90 million guns in private hands. Now, the Small Arms Survey reports American civilians own more than 393 million guns. That is 64 more million guns than people. The United States leads the world in firearms per capita. A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 4 in 10 U.S. adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 30% who say they personally own one, largely for safety.

Yet, no one ever answers this question: If our guns keep us safe, then why aren’t we safe?

Why do we lead the developed world in gun deaths? Why does the repeated annihilation of innocents from military-grade weapons fail to spur reforms?

And, why, nearly a decade after another disturbed young man with a semiautomatic rifle killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are the families of Uvalde, Texas, burying 21 loved ones?