19 children among 21 shot dead at US school

By: AFP
Published: 09:06 AM, 25 May, 2022
19 children among 21 shot dead at US school
Caption: People grieve outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, where the community has gathered in the wake of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.–AFP
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A teenage gunman killed at least 19 young children and two adults at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, prompting a furious President Joe Biden to denounce the US gun lobby and vow to end the nation's cycle of mass shootings.

The attack in Uvalde -- a small community about an hour from the Mexican border -- was the deadliest US school shooting in years, and the latest in a spree of bloody gun violence across America.

File photo of the shooter.

"It's time to turn this pain into action for every parent, for every citizen of this country," Biden said, his voice heavy with emotion.

"It's time for those who obstruct or delay or block commonsense gun laws -- we need to let you know that we will not forget," he said.

"As a nation, we have to ask when in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God's name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?"

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, addressing an earlier news conference, named the suspect as Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old local resident and a US citizen.

"He shot and killed, horrifically and incomprehensibly," Abbott said.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials told CNN the gunman is believed to have shot his grandmother before heading to Robb Elementary School around noon where he abandoned his vehicle and entered with a handgun and a rifle, wearing body armor.

The gunman was killed by responding officers, the officials said, adding later two adults also died in the attack.

Footage showed small groups of children weaving through parked cars and yellow buses, some holding hands as they fled under police escort from the school, which teaches students aged around seven to 10 years old.

It was the deadliest such incident since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut, in which 20 children and six staff were killed.

The White House ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in mourning for the victims -- whose deaths sent a wave of shock through a country still scarred by the horror of Sandy Hook.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Robb Elementary -- which teaches more than 500, mostly Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students -- called on parents not to rush in to get their children.

"You will be notified to pick up students once all are accounted for," the school said on its website soon after the attack.

- 'Happens nowhere else' -

Ted Cruz, a pro-gun rights Republican senator from Texas, tweeted that he and his wife were "lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde."

But Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook shooting took place, made an impassioned appeal for concrete action to prevent further violence.

"This isn't inevitable, these kids weren't unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking that they might be shot that day," Murphy said on the Senate floor in Washington.

"I'm here on this floor to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues: Find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely."

The deadly assault in Texas follows a series of mass shootings in the United States this month.

On May 14, an 18-year-old man shot 10 people dead at a Buffalo, New York grocery store.

Wearing heavy body armor and wielding an AR-15 rifle, the self-declared white supremacist livestreamed his attack, having reportedly targeted the store because of the large surrounding African American population.

The following day, a man blocked the door of a church in Laguna Woods, California and opened fire on its Taiwanese-American congregation, killing one person and injuring five.

Despite recurring mass-casualty shootings, multiple initiatives to reform gun regulations have failed in the US Congress, leaving states and local councils to strengthen -- or weaken -- their own restrictions.

The National Rifle Association has been instrumental in fighting against stricter US gun laws. Abbott and Cruz are listed as speakers at a forum that is being held by the powerful lobby in Houston, Texas later this week.

The United States suffered 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 percent compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its latest data.

Another mass shooting, another US gun control debate

A mass shooting that left 19 schoolchildren dead in the deeply pro-gun state of Texas on Tuesday increased pressure on US politicians to take action over the ubiquity of firearms -- but also brought the grim expectation of little or no change.

It was the eighth mass shooting this year, according to the Everytown gun control group, and came 10 days after another 18-year-old murdered 10 African Americans at a supermarket in New York.

But nearly 10 years after a man slaughtered 20 children and six others in an attack on the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and four years after 17 were killed at a Florida high school, restrictions on gun purchases and ownership have not significantly changed.

"I had hoped, when I became president, I would not have to do this, again," a distraught President Joe Biden said as he led national mourning, vowing to overcome the US gun lobby and find a way to tighten gun ownership laws.

"Another massacre... an elementary school. Beautiful, innocent, second, third, fourth graders," he said. "I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don't tell me we can't have an impact on this carnage."

But guns of all kinds, especially high-powered assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols are cheaper and more widely available than ever across the United States.

And the all-too-familiar arguments over guns, public safety and rights re-opened immediately on the news of Tuesday's mass shooting.

- Gun massacres 'politicized'? -

The debate is set to intensify going into the weekend when Houston, Texas hosts the annual convention of the country's leading pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

Scheduled to speak at the convention is former president Donald Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other prominent Republicans.

Senator Chris Murphy, who represents Connecticut, made an emotional call on the Senate floor on Tuesday for lawmakers to take action.

"Nowhere else does that happen except here in the United States of America and it is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue," he said.

But Cruz quickly pushed back, saying people will use the shooting to attack the right of people under the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment to own guns.

"When there's a crime of this kind, it almost immediately gets politicized," Cruz said.

Attacking constitutional gun rights "is not effective in stopping these sort of crimes," he added.

- More guns, more shootings -

Yet data shows the grim national cost of gun crime.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of gun deaths in the United States underwent a "historic" increase in 2020.

And the US racked up 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 percent over 2019, and 24,245 gun suicides, up 1.5 percent.

At 6.1 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, the firearm homicide rate was the highest in a quarter century. 

Mass shootings have also risen, according to Everytown.

"Since 2009, there have been 274 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 1,536 people shot and killed and 983 people shot and wounded," the group says.

The country is swamped with guns. US firearms makers produced more than 139 million guns for the commercial market over the two decades from 2000, and the country imported another 71 million.

That includes high-powered assault rifles, which can be found for $500, and 9 millimeter pistols that combine ease of use, high accuracy and semi-automatic triggers with prices as low as $200.

- Gun laws eased in Texas -

But at every incident, proposals by state and federal lawmakers to tighten laws are rebuffed by conservative colleagues, who count on voter support from a sizeable portion of the public opposed to gun control.

Last year, a Pew poll said just 53 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws, and only 49 percent think tougher laws would decrease mass shootings.

Politicians like Abbott have instead moved to ease controls. Last year, the Texas governor signed a law allowing anyone in the state over 18 to openly carry a handgun without a license or training.

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand, an activist arm of Everytown, pointed out that Texas is one of the country's largest gun markets and has a high firearms death rate.

"If more guns and fewer laws made Texas safer, it would be the safest state with declining rates of gun violence," Watts wrote on Twitter.

"But it has high rates of gun suicide and homicide, and is home to four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings."

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.