The Texas church shootings, in which 26 people were killed as they attended worship services in a small town outside of San Antonio on Sunday, are the fifth deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Three of the five deadliest shootings have taken place in the last 18 months. The worst, in which 58 were killed as they watched a country music festival in Las Vegas, took place 36 days ago.
This frequency has created a bit of consternation in the news media, as it lurches from one scene of carnage to the next, barely able to process the full impact.
“This has become our new normal and it has become very dispiriting how these kinds of tragedies can be eclipsed by the next tragedy,” said Kris Brown, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been pushing for expanded background check legislation that is currently polling at more than 90% approval.
Brown added, “I don’t find fault with the media but wish that they would focus a bit more and ask tough questions, to politicians who say they are offering their ‘thoughts and prayers’ or that it is ‘too soon’ to talk” about gun violence prevention measures.
In the week after the Las Vegas massacre, Democrats on Capitol Hill held a series of press conferences to highlight the need for legislative action, including an expansion of background checks. For a time it looked as if there was movement on one issue: banning the use of bump stocks, the devices that allowed the shooter to greatly expand the capacity of his firearm into an automatic weapon.
Then, the measures to ban bump stocks stalled.
In the wake of the Texas shootings, President Donald Trump stated that the shootings stem from a “mental health problem,” not guns, as the assailant had a history of domestic violence.
Yet Brown said that the real question is why the shooter was able to gain access to a firearm, given his criminal history.
“It is a gun issue — it is about access to guns by violent people,” she said.
She calls the mental health issue a “red herring,” but says that if mental health is indeed the problem, then “the question is, what are you going to do to improve the mental health issue.”
She also noted that Trump in February reversed an Obama-era rule — which had yet to go into effect — that would have added those who receive Social Security checks for mental illness into the background check database. The Texas shooter reportedly purchased the assault rifle used in the attack from a gun dealer in San Antonio last year. It’s still unclear, however, whether his military court martial should have disqualified him from purchasing a weapon.
18 years ago, 13 people were killed in school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, and it provoked weeks if not months of coverage on the origins of gun violence. Five years ago, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed, led to a White House task force and proposed legislation that ultimately went nowhere.
Brown admits that she is cynical that the Texas shootings will lead to congressional action but remains “hopeful because it is not difficult to act. We know what to do.” Instead, she said, the Brady Campaign is working to make gun violence measures a top-tier issue heading into the 2018 midterms.