Yesterday’s horrific massacre of 21 people—19 of them elementary school children—in Uvalde, Texas, has sparked widespread grief and outrage, together with a grim and sickeningly familiar awareness that our political system is unlikely to respond to the country’s permanent epidemic of gun violence in any meaningful way. The Uvalde killings come just 10 days after another 18-year-old shooter massacred 10 African Americans in Buffalo, New York—a brutal assault that was the latest in a long line of shootings carried out under the hateful and racist teachings of the Great Replacement Theory.
As painful as it is to absorb the impact of these two devastating events so close together in time, it’s crucial that we don’t view them in isolation. Indeed, it speaks volumes about the woefully inadequate and unserious character of our public discourse that the horror of the Buffalo attack was already fading from the news cycle at the time of the Uvalde shooting.
As we at AAPF have insisted, these attacks are not “lone wolf”-style assaults, somehow out of line with the broad sweep of America’s history and moral make-up. The attack in Uvalde appears to have been an intra-racial assault, but there is a clear throughline that connects these mass shootings, and many others: the fantastical belief in individual gun ownership as the ultimate protection of liberty—a faith that is grounded in the profound insecurities of a white-dominated nation founded on racialized theft and genocidal violence. Any effort to learn about this history is a direct threat to the taken-for-granted dimensions of the racial order—and today’s American right systematically treats it as such.
In Texas, the Uvalde shooter was able to purchase a pair of assault weapons on his 18th birthday under the state’s extremely lax “open carry” law. Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott—the same leader who created this lethal situation—claims to have protected school children by signing legislation banning the teaching of the 1619 project and critical race theory in the state’s K-12 schools. Right-wing political leaders throughout the country have made it clear that they prefer teenagers to have lethal weaponry than to know the simple truths of our racial past. CRT bans and the proliferation of open-carry laws are bound together by the vision of a society forever armed against racialized “others”—and a fabricated version of our past designed to leave that social order intact.
This same dynamic—pitting a racial vision of libertarian power and impunity against the demands of simple justice—routinely plays out on Capitol Hill, where tragedies like Buffalo and Uvalde briefly spark renewed debate about federal gun control legislation, only to founder under the familiar weight of gun-lobby campaign contributions and the veto power held by a right-wing Senate caucus under the exercise of the filibuster. The filibuster itself, of course, is rooted in the consolidation of white supremacist power, and continues to thwart basic demands of racial justice and democratic equity well into the twenty-first century. As the tragic massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde make abundantly clear, the filibuster kills—as does the broader logic of white supremacy that treats the violent extermination of peoples, livelihoods, and cultural traditions as the tolerable outgrowth of business-as-usual in America’s racialized social order.
These critical connections are at the heart of the grievous crisis gripping our country—but unless and until we are empowered to engage with them seriously and deeply across all our public institutions, from school classrooms to state legislatures to courtrooms, we will be condemned to be helpless bystanders before the violent gutting of our multiracial democracy.
Understanding and grappling with our history—critically and fully—is how we change its trajectory. And this is precisely why the same right-wing demagogues who refuse to stop the bloodletting want to censor our ability to understand its origins. We have to understand these intersections to resist the whole of it, together. The stakes of preserving and sustaining our multiracial democracy are nothing less than our own and our children’s lives.