On Tuesday, 19 children and two adults were gunned down at a school in Uvalde, Texas. The Senate will do nothing in response. It won’t pass an emergency bill to protect our children from weapons of war; little kids aren’t nearly as important to the Republican project as conservative justices.
Consider that two weeks ago, when peaceful protesters were gathering outside the homes of Supreme Court justices, the U.S Senate unanimously passed an emergency bill to protect their families. Nobody in the Senate suggested that the justices or their children arm themselves, and nobody intimated that piously offering prayers for the justices and their families was more effective than actually protecting them. From peaceful protesters. And no one suggested the existing prohibition on carrying guns within the court building or within the Capitol complex is an affront to the Second Amendment. Certainly nobody accused the Senate of “politicizing” the alleged threats against the justices. Quite the opposite. After the unanimous vote to ensure that Supreme Court justices would have federal protection from scented votive candles and hand-painted signs, senators congratulated themselves on rallying on a bipartisan basis to protect the security of important public officials.
Don’t let anyone tell you that we couldn’t have done anything to stop Tuesday’s massacre in Texas. We are in this nightmare because our broken political system produced broken laws and a broken judiciary. And that judiciary is now poised to strike down the few effective gun safety laws this system has produced.
Let us remind you that several months ago, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the most consequential case involving gun rights in more than a decade, the six conservative justices in the supermajority worried about whether their impending move to allow concealed carry everywhere in New York, excepting perhaps “sensitive places,” would sweep in college campuses, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and crowded protests. Justice Samuel Alito pressed even harder for the right of every New Yorker to be permitted to carry a gun on New York City’s subways. The court may not actually be able to find a politically convenient moment to hand down this opinion; between a Buffalo gun massacre, Orange County church murders, and a massacre of Texas schoolchildren on Tuesday, it’s clear that there will always be another mass shooting immediately before, or on, Supreme Court opinion days.
Still, there is little doubt that in the coming weeks, the majority will strike down New York’s requirement that gun owners show “good cause” to obtain a concealed carry permit—thereby forcing the state, and states with similar measures, to hand out concealed carry licenses to anyone who wants one. (One in four Americans currently lives in such a state.)
The justices themselves won’t face the lethal consequences of their own Second Amendment rulings. Justice Antonin Scalia’s reasoning from D.C. v. Heller preemptively upholding “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms” in “government buildings” will stand, although it represented dicta and not official doctrine. And Republican senators won’t face the lethal consequences of their failures to act after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, and after today. The judiciary will uphold the prohibition on guns in the halls of the Congress and the Supreme Court. Indeed, the NRA just announced that guns will be banned during Donald Trump’s speech at Friday’s NRA conference.
When the decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. et al. v. Bruen comes down next month, there will be millions more guns carried to more public places. That is a fact. The majority will pretend—as it did in the draft Dobbs opinion from May 2—that it is applying neutral historical and factual principles, when it will in truth be distorting the history and original meaning of constitutional language to achieve a partisan political outcome that is disfavored by vast majorities of Americans. That is because what majorities of Americans actually want doesn’t matter to them.
It doesn’t matter to some senators, either. As Sen. Chris Murphy pointed out yet again Tuesday night, the Senate unerringly chooses to do nothing about school killings. Two House-passed background-check bills have been stalled in the Senate since March 2021, where they can never and will never be passed under the current rules. Like the Supreme Court majority in Bruen, it seeks to bank on a short attention span to surf the present moment before enabling future violence.
If we cannot manage to sustain public horror and outrage about yet more slaughtered children between now and November, perhaps we can at least hold on to the public horror and outrage around six conservative jurists bantering about which college campuses in Manhattan deserve to be exempted from more weapons, or whether New York subway riders and Times Square revelers will get to be further terrorized by gun owners as more children are slaughtered.
If we cannot sustain our horror over 19 dead kids, perhaps we can remember the revolting sight of two Trump judges congratulating themselves for striking down a California law banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles to people between the ages of 18 and 20. Those under 21 are far more likely to commit violent crimes, including gun homicides, but that fact didn’t matter to the majority. Instead, Trump Judge Ryan D. Nelson compared today’s armed teenagers to “the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army.” And Trump Judge Kenneth Lee wrote that only “a minuscule percentage of the populace” abuses the right to bear arms, while most exercise their Second Amendment rights “in responsible and productive ways.”
The young adults among this “miniscule” percentage exact a deadly toll. The Buffalo shooter bought his rifle legally. He was 18. The Uvalde shooter also bought his rifle legally. He was 18. In fact, he waited until his 18th birthday to purchase it, and then murdered at least 21 people days later. One wonders: Would the parents inside the Uvalde Civic Center last night, whose screams were audible from the parking lot, be comforted to know that, actually, only “a minuscule percentage of the populace” misuses guns? That, as unfortunate as it is that their children were shot to death by an 18-year-old, that’s just not a good enough reason to stop 18-year-olds from buying deadly weapons? That the “heroism” of teenage soldiers in the Revolutionary War requires us all, nearly 250 years later, to sacrifice our own children on the altar of the Second Amendment as the price we pay for liberty?
Hold on to these images when the Bruen decision comes down, as well as the many more radical decisions that will follow it. Think about these judges, protected from the horrors they inflict on the rest of us in their well-guarded courthouses. Think about the justices, already shielded from actual danger by taxpayer-funded security, and ask yourself why they swiftly and without drama received extra protection from picketers this past month. The immiseration of women and children that comes at the end of this Supreme Court term—not just from reproductive health and gun rulings, but from the gutting of environmental protections and public health measures—should not surprise us, even if it shocks our consciences. Nor should the failure of the Senate to do a single thing to prevent the next Sandy Hook, or the next Buffalo, or the next Uvalde.
We know what is required to fix this mess. And “call your representative” is not the answer. End the filibuster. Expand the Supreme Court. Admit new states. Shift political power away from the rural whites who hold a disproportionate amount of it and toward the multiracial urban centers that make up a majority of the country. Create the truly representative democracy that people have been denied for far too long—democracy for precisely those people who receive platitudes about prayer and God’s will in lieu of meaningful public safety, dignity, and respect.
Until then, we will be at the mercy of conservative jurists and lawmakers making choices that kill us and our families. That they can still exempt themselves from these ravages isn’t a coincidence. It’s both evidence of the crime and proof that, as long as they’re in charge, the killing will never stop.